Why the Fuss Over Sally Rooney Is Justified

Anyone remotely bookish has heard of Normal People. At its core, the story follows a ‘will they won’t they’ coming of age relationship between two teenagers, set in Ireland. At face value, it appears to be nothing out of the ordinary. 

Suddenly, by April 2020, as England and much of the world was in a state of lockdown, it was hard to escape Sally Rooney as the BBC produced a TV adaptation of Normal People, which drove numerous sales of the book. 

Rooney has now become somewhat of a buzzword within the bookish community. She’s often viewed as being like marmite. Either loved or hated. I was part of the latter camp for a while, but this was before I gave Normal People enough of a chance and had read any other novels by Rooney. 

For an author who has only just hit her thirties, she’s done well. Normal People, her second novel after Conversations with Friends, was named the Book of the Year by the British Book Awards and won the Costa Book Awards for Best Novel in 2018. In the US alone, sales of the book have recently topped 184,000

In 2021, the book community were on tenterhooks, awaiting the release of Rooney’s latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You (BWWAY). In the days after the release, the media published images of queues of fans outside bookshops across the country who wanted to be the first to get their hands on a copy. 

Although I saw a lot of discourse online about how cool it is to dislike Rooney and, on the contrary, liking Rooney is akin to showing how ‘cultured’ you are, something is impressive about the publication of a book causing so much excitement. 

In a time of shortened attention spans, TikTok and reality TV, it’s wonderful the publication of a book can still cause excitement and anticipation. 

I’ve ridden the waves with Rooney. I’ve gone from disliking her work to not understanding the hype and to falling in love with her novels. Wherever you stand with Rooney, I hope this article will shed light on why her work has become so popular and what she adds to the literary scene. 


Her Focus on Imperfection Is Refreshing 

Like any edited art form, novels can sometimes succumb to presenting life as a glorified highlight reel. As a result, they can sometimes give readers false expectations of themselves, relationships and friendships. Life always seems better in films, and with books, this can also sometimes be the case. But reading Rooney is different. 

Imperfection is at the heart of all her novels. All of her characters and protagonists are deeply flawed human beings. They make countless mistakes, are selfish, and often harm their own relationships. Rooney’s critiques often point out that creating such dislikable characters alienates a group of readers. 

After all, how can you empathise with a cold, bitter character like Marianne in Normal People, who only wants to punish herself with detrimental relationships? How can you like Connell, who is too childish to tell his friends he’s seeing Marianne?

More recently, how can you like Alice, the recluse writer in Beautiful World, Where Are You, who likes to tell people she has more money than what’s good for her but struggles to maintain friendships and communicate with people in the real world?

Well, we like these characters because of their flaws. They don’t glorify real life or give us false expectations. Instead, through their mistakes and downfalls, we learn about how fallible we are as human beings, and Rooney paints an accurate picture of life in your 20s. It’s precisely about screwing up. 

Creating flawed protagonists and characters may make it more difficult for readers to sink into their shoes, but it’s worth it as we walk away realising that to be young and to be human is messy, complicated and flawed. 


Her Writing Is Accessible 

Many highly acclaimed or well-known authors only appeal to certain readers. This can be applied to the greats or classic writers like Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte or Jane Austen. Even though all these authors should be celebrated in their own right, they do not necessarily provide the most accessible writing. By that, I mean something easy to read for everyone. 

Rooney does that. Initially, at face value, I thought her characteristic neglect of speech marks and dialogue was pretentious. I didn’t see the point. I thought it was purely a literary technique designed to get her acclaim. I was wrong. After reading all of her work and particularly Beautiful World Where Are You, I finally get it. 

The third person address Rooney uses simplifies the reading experience. You’re not distracted by dialogue, speech marks, or other structural conventions usually present in a novel. The lack of this allows you to sink into the story. Sure, it can take some getting used to at first, but before you know it, you forget it is not there. 

This lack of dialogue and speech marks makes you feel like you are part of the conversation or scene. It opens it up for Rooney, and she can then focus on other things. Like painting scenes, emotions and conversations with more depth. Each of her books, as a result, have so many layers to unpack. It took me three reads and many conversations with others to finally understand and grow to love Normal People

Rooney has a unique writing style. But for once, it’s not purely literary or for acclaim. It has an effect. And that effect makes her work accessible, addictive and fully immersive. 


Her Stories Hit The Spot 

Image provided by the author

Every book that’s ever been written is in part a reflection of the society the author is writing within. Even without trying, they offer insight into that particular time in history when a story was being written, whether by writing style or the technologies or commentary featured within the stories that are written throughout time. 

Rooney has witnessed so much success as an author because she perfectly encapsulates what it is like to be living through this moment. In her latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, she brings climate change, the problems with capitalism, the difficulties of maintaining human relationships, friendships, class and loneliness all to life in a unique way that can only be set during this time. 

At their core, all of her novels deal with love, sex and relationships. In Normal People, we see how miscommunication and a lack of trust drives a relationship apart over the years. 

The difficulties of maintaining friendships feature in every one of her novels. Rooney does this wonderful thing in BWWAY where she addresses her critiques that writing about love within the contemporary fiction framework is a privilege. 

But do you know why it works? Because it’s what we need. Rooney is deservedly popular because she hits the nail on the head with her socio-political commentary, set within a very readable love story framework. 


Rooney Is Self-Critical and Understands Her Audience 

Writers often get the reputation of being full of themselves. You’ve got to be, to spend your whole life sitting in a room, thinking you’re going to be the next Booker Prize winner, all the whilst forgetting about to live normal, human lives. Well, this isn’t always true, but sometimes it is. 

A fascinating element about BWWAY is when Rooney frequently addresses some of her own biggest criticisms but in a subtle way. She does this through the protagonist, Alice, who is a new writer. As Alice gets into a new relationship with Felix, he questions her on her chosen career path. This often delves into money, privilege, the publishing industry and the challenge and benefits of being an author. 

Throughout the novel, Rooney creates a broader conversation about being a writer and the publishing industry as a whole. Alice is often used to focus on the critical stereotypes of the writer life. For example, being sheltered, away from the world, writing in a huge house, and never worrying about money. But Rooney also displays the difficulties of being a writer, coping with fame, self-doubt and wanting to hide away from the world when all you’ve ever wanted to do is write, not become a household name. Alice, the protagonist, also struggles to maintain in-depth relationships and keep in contact with another protagonist in the novel, Eileen. 

Although, of course, it’s not Rooney writing about her life, you can’t help but view it as a way for her to address and respond to her many critiques over the years. It’s not only very clever but shows us, readers, that she is self-critical, far from hubristic — but in tune with her audience and doesn’t think too highly of herself. 


Her Writing Offers Something Different that Doesn’t Try Too Hard 

For everything I’ve already said about Rooney and why I think she’s so popular — it boils down to one overriding reason. Her books read and feel different from the usual contemporary fiction selection. They talk about the significant issues of our times, but not in a ranty overbearing way. Her characters are flawed and imperfect. The stories themselves are simple because they are not the centrepiece and never aim to be.

Reading Rooney is like gulping fresh air after you’ve been stuck all day indoors. Once you start breathing outside, you don’t want to go back indoors, and every other book you read after will feel subpar. Rooney wins all around because she doesn’t try too hard. Take it from someone who spent months despising Normal People, who is now raving about her at every opportunity and who is even writing this post to convince fence-sitters otherwise. 

Rooney is different. She’s what we need right now and what we’ll always turn to in the future for a fresh look at the world. 


You may think doing a one-eighty on Sally Rooney shows how fickle a person I am. Maybe it does. But it wasn’t other people who managed to change my mind about her; it was Rooney herself. As I read more of her work and Normal People three times over, I well and truly got hooked. I could unpack layers I hadn’t noticed before and started to appreciate why she has become so popular. 

Rooney’s writing is effortless but, at the same time — manages to do everything all at once. She is one of those authors who are worth the hype. Now, anyone will have to fight to convince me otherwise. 

“What if the meaning of life on earth is not eternal progress toward some unspecified goal — the engineering and production of more and more powerful technologies, the development of more and more complex and abstruse cultural forms? What if these things just rise and recede naturally, like tides, while the meaning of life remains the same always — just to live and be with other people?”


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Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

The Inheritance of a Colonial Past: On ‘Assembly’, by Natasha Brown

TW: Mentions of racial discrimination.

My experience with Assembly as a really short audiobook was full of pauses because of the way it made me introspect. This tiny book packed a punch in the ways it broke down the mantle of privilege, race, gender, and power. Do not be misled by its size (like I was). It is going to live with the reader for an undoubtedly long time.

I want to begin by saying a big thank you to Libro.fm for this amazing experience. And before we begin, here is a short synopsis from Goodreads:

Come of age in the credit crunch. Be civil in a hostile environment. Go to college, get an education, start a career. Do all the right things. Buy an apartment. Buy art. Buy a sort of happiness. But above all, keep your head down. Keep quiet. And keep going.

The narrator of Assembly is a black British woman. She is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the carefully assembled pieces of herself. As the minutes tick down and the future beckons, she can’t escape the question: is it time to take it all apart?

Assembly is a story about the stories we live within — those of race and class, safety and freedom, winners and losers. And it is about one woman daring to take control of her own story, even at the cost of her life. With a steely, unfaltering gaze, Natasha Brown dismantles the mythology of whiteness, lining up the debris in a neat row and walking away.


Writing Style

This story was written in the stream of consciousness style, meaning it was often non-linear. An unnamed Black British woman with Jamaican roots is our protagonist and we get to think as she does and observe things through her eyes.

Essentially we are given a glimpse into her mind — what she thinks of versus what she says out loud, what she observes but only keeps to herself, what she wishes to say out loud, but realizes that she can’t.

If you are not familiar with this writing style, it may be abrupt in the beginning but it doesn’t take much time for the reader to get sucked in — after all, this is the way humans think — we jump from one topic to the other.

Apart from that, the language was witty and erudite, matter-of-fact and after some time, the protagonist’s voice becomes the voice in your head.

Disclaimer: I am not a Black individual, and hence I do not completely understand some of the issues talked about here. However, I am a POC from a country that was once a British colony, and as such, there are certain issues I do relate with. At no point, do I mean to be disrespectful. 


A Colonial Heritage built on Colour, Class, and Politics

When it comes to Britain, and our Black woman protagonist, it is inevitable that the issues brought on by colonialism, will be discussed here. And it really does too — as we see our protagonist’s observations.

Colour and Race

Despite what many ‘woke’ people claim, that they “no not see” colour (which in itself is absurd and needs a whole discussion on), it is an essential fact of life, of living that determines the way people’s lives pan out.

“Be the best. Work harder, work smarter. Exceed every expectation. But also, be invisible, imperceptible. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Don’t inconvenience. Exist in the negative only, the space around. Do not insert yourself into the main narrative. Go unnoticed. Become the air. Open your eyes”

Life is not as easy for Black people. Like the protagonist too says, they have to be twice as good, twice as hardworking, and twice as able and deserving, to get the same things as their contemporary White people. It is a fact of life for them and unavoidable.

“… no, you’re not a real Brit, go back to Africa”

This racial history is not new — as we all know. It stems from centuries of slavery — the effects of which are still seen today. The trauma of this is inherited in the minds of all the descendants and despite this tragic and inhumane history, there was still a need for the Black Lives Matter movement that took place recently. 

Even when her relationship with her White boyfriend is not overtly opposed by his parents, our protagonist is compelled to think of what they presume to be the reasons the relationship was not right — a lack of “purity”.

“… purity — not in any crass, racial sense, no. Of course not. It was a purity of lineage, of history: shared cultural mores and sensibilities. The preservation of a way of life, a class, a necessary higher echleon of society. Her son’s arrested development (and what was this relationship, if not childish folly?) should not wreck the family name”

The lives of Black people continue to be endangered even today — in all times and instances. Even, as the protagonist says, a Black person who goes shopping is followed by a security guard at all times. 


Class and Privilege

In this story, as we live through the experiences of the protagonist, we get to see clearly the obvious differences in the way life is perceived by different people.

Her boyfriend does not really understand strife; “he is easily convinced, accustomed to happy endings and painless resolution”. He jokes that he wishes to be as rich as her. But money is different from wealth isn’t it? As the protagonist rightly observes.

“Well, money is one thing. He has wealth. Tied up in assets in trusts and holding companies with complicated ownership arrangements… Compounded over generations. What’s the difference? he asks. I tell him. One of us goes to work at six a.m. each morning. The other sits browsing the papers at the cafe down the road”

And this issue of class is something the protagonist faces everywhere — from her boyfriend in the bedroom to powerful older men at work.

“Buoyed by a wealth he’s never had to earn, never worked for… from this vantage, he points a finger… at you: The problem. Always, the problem”

And despite all her hard work, and after all that she has earned, it is still not easy to say that she wants more. So much has been internalized. She says of a friend,

“she wants a bigger house, a better boyfriend, more money! She want all these things without shame or subtlety nad I’m both fearful and admiring of her appetite”

And so, detachment is the way ahead for her. “To protect myself, I detach.”

After all the hard work (because of all the hard work), to achieve security, it becomes difficult to finally go for things she (and most Black people) actually want to. Giving up the security is fearful — will they be losers then? Will they not be safe anymore? Will they, therefore, not belong? What is it, if not simply “generational persistence, without meaning or memory” as the author claims?

“Generation o sacrifice; hard work and harder living. So much suffered, so much forfeited, so much — for this opportunity. For my life. And I’ve tried, tried living up top it… But after years of struggling, fighting against the current, I am ready to slow my arms. Stop kicking. Breathe the water in. I’m exhausted”

The protagonist finally sums it all up in these words and I do not think anything could be more apt!

“You don’t owe anything. I pay my taxes, each year. Any money that was spent on me: education, healthcare, what-roads? I’ve paid it all back. And then some… I am what we’ve always been to the empire: pure, fucking profit. A natural resource to exploit and exploit, denigrate, and exploit. I don’t owe that boy. Or that man. Or those protestors, or the empire, the motherland, anything at all. I don’t owe it my next forty years. I don’t owe it my next fucking minute. What else is left to take? This is it, end of the line. I am done”


The Woman Question 

Being a woman, and that too a Black woman is a multiply jeopardized position in a world such as this. 

Here, Feminism is about tokenization — to be “the right sort of diversity”. 

“A woman harmed, another rewarded”

Here, being a Black woman in power (a position reached due to her hard work) is to be ridiculed, her position questioned.

“I know this woman. My colleagues call her that woman. They say they know how that woman got that job. They say worse, too. She’s a frequent, favourite topic of theirs. This successful woman. This beleaguered, embattled woman. Kicked about and laughed about. Anyway, now she supports other women. She’s a regular speaker on the women’s events circuit”

In the workplace, it often comes down to this.

“It’s so much easier for you blacks and Hispanics. He says that’s why I was chosen, over qualified guys like him. He says he’s not opposed to diversity. He just wants fairness, okay?… The unquestioned assumption is of something given; something unearned, taken, from a deserving and hardworking [White man]”

Here, if a Black person does well and is exceptional, they “transcend race”. And despite it all, they do not belong.

“Born here, parents born here, always lived here — still, never from here”

Here, her position is only for the sake of appearance.

“I understand the function I’m here to perform… My thoughts, my ideas — even my identity — can only exist as a response to the partygoers’ words and actions… Reinforcing both their selfhood, and its centrality to mine. how else can they be certain of who they are, and what they aren’t? Delineation requires a sharp, black outline… the thumping nationalism of this place. i am the stretched-taut membrane of a drum, against which their identity beats”


The Modern Burden and therefore Decolonisation (and the Post-Colonial)

Yet another interesting thing that the author referred to is the “Modern Burden”. And I thought what is the Modern Burden?

What is this Modern Burden… as opposed to the White Man’s Burden?

It was therefore further interesting that the protagonist thinks of decolonisation. But one may think, colonisation has been over for years, hasn’t it?

But has it? When this trauma is still so fresh? When White Supremacists continue to commit race crimes even today? And thus, we see how Colonialism works in the modern-day scenario.

“Britain continues to own, exploit nad profit from land taken during its twentieth-century exploits. Burning our futures to fuel its voracious economy. Under threat of monetary violence. Lecturing us, all the while, about self-sufficiency. Interfering in our politics, our democracies, our access to the global economic stage; creating LEDCs… pour money into a government that forever tells them they are not British. This is not home”

This quote was therefore very interesting, and it was especially more as when the next one is seen as a continuation of it.

“… neither of us were there, were responsible for the actions of our historical selves? Yes. Yet, he lives off the capital returns, while I work to pay off the interest? Yes. But, here I am now, waking through the fruits of it; land he owns, history he cherishes; the familiar grounding, soil, bricks and trees stretching metres high; the sense of belonging, of safety, of being home. He has that here, always, to return to? Yes. Sleeping this morning, did he look renewed? Yes. Yes, of course. He is home”


Finally, the Interconnection

And despite all the ways in which I tried to section off the topics, it is all related, isn’t it? History, class, race, colour, power, privilege, politics, are mere synonyms at this point.

“… we came and built and mended and nursed; cooked and cleaned. We paid taxes, paid extortionate rent to the few landlords who would take us. We were hated. The National Front chased, burned, stabbed, eradicated. Churchill set up task forces to get us out. Keep England White… New laws were drawn up; our rights revoked”

Change happens from within — therefore to place the onus on the Black woman; is that merely a joke? To be that condescending? It is as if this struggle for equality is for her alone and not for the racist White supremacist who needs to work on themselves first.

“Why aren’t you off shaking up change in the Labour Party?’ He winks. Ushering in a new world order.’”

How has it come to this, though? Our protagonist looks towards the education system.

“Because they watch (us). They’ve been taught how to, from school. They are taught to view our bodies (selves) as objects. They learn an MEDC/LEDC divide as geography — unquestionable as mountains, oceans and other national phenomena. Without whys or wherefores, or the ruthless arrows of European imperialism tearing across the world map.

At its most fundamental: the nameless, faceless, unidentified (black) bodies, displayed, packed, and chained, side-by-side head-to-toe, into an inky-illustrated ship. Conditions unfit for animals. In perpetuity, they’re shown these pictures, over and over in classrooms again. Until it becomes axiom; that continuous line from object, to us”

So my thoughts on this book were a mix of anger, disbelief, and pure outrage. While I tried to be as erudite as our protagonist, I think she may have put it a bit better than I ever will be. 

Nonetheless, this is a book I recommend to all. Read it, form your own thoughts, and try to make the change in ourselves — to be the catalyst for a much-needed change — because it all begins with the self.

Further Reading

Also, reading this book reminded me of these two texts (read them, they’re amazing!):

  • “Ruins of a Great House”, a poem by Derek Walcott
  • “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”, an essay by Audre Lorde

Nayanika Saikia graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and was also a Dean’s List student. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree and is also a Booktuber and Bookstagrammer. She can often be found on her Instagram account Pretty Little Bibliophile. You can support her by Buying Her a Coffee.

‘Someday, Someday, Maybe’ Encouraged Me to Do What I Love

Do you ever come across a book you didn’t know you needed?

I was scouring through the shelves, bypassing titles and skimming through back covers, for a book to read. I didn’t have anything specific in mind so I lingered in the mystery section for a bit, meandered through romance, took a quick look through thriller, and spent a good 20 minutes in fiction until I found myself back in mysteries — only to have a made a full circle and no progress in my search.

Nothing was interesting. I kept going back and forth between sections and, like absentmindedly going through the list of Netflix shows, nothing seemed to be sticking out. It’s not like none of them sounded good, it’s just that none of them sounded good at the time. I’m sure if I came back next week, one of the many books I picked up would be chosen without a second thought.

But I couldn’t come back again and I didn’t want to waste any more time. I was now frustrated and fed up with my ridiculousness for looking at the same books I had considered 2 seconds ago.

So, I settled.

I grabbed a seemingly interesting enough novel that wasn’t too thick or too small, not too expensive or marked on clearance, and made my way out the door. After finishing the book a week later, I can now say that I’m glad I left with a book in my hand because that book was one I didn’t know I needed.


Book Summary

Someday, Someday, Maybe By Lauren Graham is about a girl named Franny Banks who moved to New York City to achieve her dream of becoming a famous actress. 

Despite the praise and encouragement from her father, teacher, and friends, she’s bogged down by self-doubts, not quite fitting the mold, and the pressure of trying to make a living in New York City. As her 3-year deadline is approaching, she does whatever she can and desperately seeks out the secret to becoming famous in this industry.


Book Review

Overall, the novel sends a message of hope. Franny is always trying to pinpoint her place in the world and, with all her self-imposed deadlines, ultimatums, and backup plans, she can’t help but not give up. Through her journey, you see her lose over and over again, and when she does win, it feels like a loss in disguise. But with every mistake, mishap, or misunderstanding, she gets back up and performs better. 

What I love most about Franny’s character is her incredibly humane thought-processing. She overthinks, compares herself with others constantly, is severely critical of herself, and doubts whether she’s worthy enough for her jobs. She knows she’s not perfect but she makes what she has her own, whether it’s about her appearance or skills.

I wasn’t too keen on the romance storyline in the second half of the book. I felt like the romance storyline intermingled with the main plot (her dream of becoming an actress) too much and shouldn’t have made as big of an impact as it did. In my opinion, I think it shifted the main plot’s focus. 

However, while I wasn’t a huge fan of the romance storyline, I was okay with it overall. It wasn’t supposed to be a focal point, but relationships — especially romantic relationships — affect your work and sense of self especially when it’s fragile. It was sufficient for the story and didn’t deter the main storyline too much.


Personal Reflection

When I was reading the book, there were a lot of things that just weren’t settling in the right places in my life. I was lost, didn’t know if I should keep doing what I was doing, and, like Franny, was on the brink of my own self-imposed ultimatum. The part of me that wanted to be reasonable urged me to accept that not everyone can be what they dream

But Someday, Someday, Maybe came to me at the right time — or at least that’s what I would like to believe. When I was looking for something to read, I didn’t try to seek out a story that mirrored the phase of my life. In fact, the book made me reflect more and more on my life. 

I saw similarities between Franny’s thoughts, actions, and the trajectory of her life, and could relate with her. I heeded the advice given to her by other characters, learned from her mistakes, and was inspired to keep hoping as well.

After finishing the book, I realized I needed a morale booster. I needed a story of someone who decides to keep striving for her dream. Franny taught me it is okay to be lost. It’s okay to fail again and again and to not know what will happen in the future. As long as you keep trying, that’s all that matters.

Next time you’re looking for a book and nothing seems to be piquing your interest, don’t leave empty-handed.

Pick up a book, any book, because it might just be the one you needed.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

What If a Pirate Had a Daughter with a Siren?

I’m sure that most of us who consider ourselves avid readers have experienced starting a book at night thinking that you will just read a couple of chapters and then go to sleep, but then rather than just read a couple of chapters you end up reading the whole book. 

My question is have you ever experienced this two nights in a row with both books in a duology? Well, I did this month. It was the first time that it has ever happened to me, but I am happy that it did.

The Daughter of the Pirate King duology by Tricia Levenseller features the books Daughter of the Pirate King and Daughter of the Siren Queen. I have considered picking up the duology on several occasions since I read Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us in 2020.

Warning: This review contains spoilers for both books.


‘Daughter of the Pirate King’

Synopsis

Alosa Kalligan, daughter of the pirate king is tasked with retrieving a portion of a map from the sons of a pirate lord. The map leads the way to a massive treasure trove. Alosa allows herself to be captured by the crew of the ship to give herself the perfect opportunity to search it for the map piece. Unfortunately for Alosa, the first mate of the ship, Riden, has a penchant for disrupting Alosa’s efforts to find the piece of the map. Will Alosa successfully retrieve the map piece?

Star Rating

Five out of Five Stars


My Thoughts

I will probably say this a thousand times, but I love this book. I love the banter between Alosa and Riden. The way the two of them get under the other’s skin is pure gold. The ending of the book includes some fantastic plot twists. For most of the book, Riden and his brother are framed as the antagonists, but another antagonist is introduced towards the end of the book. 

There are three map pieces needed to find the treasure. Alosa’s father has one, Riden’s father hid the second, and a pirate lord, Vordan, has the third. Vordan shows up at the end of the book to capture the piece of the map hidden on Riden’s ship.

I love that the book does not downplay the atrocities committed by pirates. In the first chapter alone both main characters kill members of each other’s crews. Alosa is objectified by many members of Riden’s crew as would be expected of pirates who spend weeks at sea without seeing any women.

Throughout the book we as the audience get glimpses of a secret that Alosa is keeping from Riden. The secret is not hard to figure out if you know the title of the second book. Alosa is not only the daughter of the pirate king but also of the siren queen, making her half-human and half-siren. 

What I enjoyed about the reveal of this information as it happened in the book is that it is not explicitly stated until the climax of the story. We learn that Alosa is half-siren from her using her siren powers throughout the story to get out of various positions that she puts herself in. 

I also like that the author took the route of Alosa already having the knowledge of her heritage and having tested her abilities rather than it being something she learns as a part of the plot.

The best part of the book is easily the interactions between Alosa and Riden. Both are snarky and brilliant but see life differently because of the different experiences they have had in life so far. They are also both well aware that whatever they feel for the other is dangerous and does not make sense given that they are literally enemy pirates.


Favorite Quotes

“Everyone has something dark in their past. I suppose it’s our job to overcome it. And if we can’t overcome it, then all we can do is make the most of it.”

― Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Pirate King

“I am me because I choose to be me. I am what I want. Some people say you have to find yourself. Not I. I believe we create ourselves to be what we want.”

― Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Pirate King


‘Daughter of the Siren Queen’

Synopsis

Alosa Kalligan has successfully obtained the two pieces of the map that her and her father need to sail for the treasure kept by the sirens. Alosa is looking forward to the search for the treasure until she discovers a secret that her father has been keeping in his study. 

Upon discovery of this secret, Alosa uses copies of the map pieces to sail for the treasure herself as it may be the only way to escape the wrath of her father. Who will win the race for treasure: the pirate king or Alosa?

Star Rating

Four out of Five Stars


My Thoughts

I liked the second book a little less than the first because Alosa makes several mistakes that she knew to avoid. At one point she makes a move to kill her father. She has the thought to just shoot him but chooses not to. This almost leads to an absolute defeat for Alosa because she cannot beat him in a fight. Something she knows for a fact, but she still chose not to shoot him.

There were also a couple of deaths that felt unnecessary for the author to include. I expect death in a story about pirates, but I also expect those deaths to make sense. One of Alosa’s pirates being eaten alive by cannibals created by sirens falls in the category of senseless. 

First of all, the cannibals did not need to exist. Second of all, it seems illogical for a horde of them to sneak up on someone scouting for danger. The shooting of the six-year-old was also unnecessary.

Past these two points, I loved this book as well. In this book we see Alosa explore what it really means to be half-siren and what her life could have been like if she were raised by her mother rather than her father. We see her struggle with releasing her siren side even though it is often the only reason her and her crew remain alive. 

We get to see her in her role as a pirate captain. I much preferred her character in this book for that reason. In the first book, she is mostly baiting Riden and trying to find the map. In this book, she has to make several hard decisions to try and keep her crew alive because she genuinely cares about all of them. 

When she first sets out to beat the pirate king to the treasure she even gives members of her crew a chance to leave in order to give them a higher chance of survival.

I love the interactions between Alosa and her crew. They treat each other as a found family. They all care about each other and try to keep each other from doing stupid things. Alosa’s first mate is the one that pushes her to figure out how to control her siren side by reminding her what is at stake if she does not. Alosa took in a father and his six-year-old daughter, Roslyn. 

Any interaction between Roslyn and Alosa is pure gold. Alosa gives Roslyn limited responsibilities designed to keep her safe in the event of an attack, while Roslyn does everything she can to decrease the time before she is treated as a real pirate.

In the end, Alosa beats her father with the help of the sirens. Her troubles do not end there. She has to decide what her next actions are now that the pirate king is dead. Does she join the sirens or does she become the pirate queen? This one I will let you figure out for yourself by reading the book.


Favorite Quotes

“My stomach drops at our salvation right ahead of us, our doom right behind us. We cannot have one without the other.”

― Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Siren Queen

“It’s not a question of if you’ll win, I continue. The only question is whether you will choose to fight. Will you fight for your queen? Will you fight for your waters and treasure? Will you fight for your little ones?”

Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Siren Queen

Both of these books are fantastic and fun reads. I recommend them to anyone who wants to read a book about a pirate adventure. In fact, I recommend Tricia Levenseller as an author for anyone who enjoys reading fantasy. 


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

Be Careful with the Favors You Accept:A Review of ‘Small Favors’ by Erin Craig

If you keep up with my blog or have seen any of my previous posts you know that in August I read and loved “A House of Salt and Sorrows” by Erin Craig. At the time I was reading the book, Erin Craig’s newest book “Small Favors” came out. I decided to read it since I loved her first book so much.

Synopsis

“Small Favors” takes place in the small town of Amity Falls. There are stories of monsters lurking in the woods since the founding of the town, but no one has seen these monsters since the time of the founders. When members of a supply run are found dead in the woods, the people of the town start to suspect that the monsters have returned.

While the townspeople are concerned about surviving a harsh winter, beasts capable of tearing men apart in seconds, and the appearance of weird mutations in animals, Ellerie Downing becomes aware of a different type of monster lurking around the town. These monsters convince the townspeople to do terrible things to each other in return for small favors.

Will the townspeople survive the winter without the necessary supplies or will the monsters get to them first?


My Thoughts

Erin Craig’s Writing

I absolutely loved this book. I rated it five out of five stars and actually enjoyed it more than “A House of Salt and Sorrows”. As with her first book Craig’s writing is amazing. 

The atmosphere of the town and the woods is haunting and dark. Sometimes the woods themselves feel like the monster of the story. Craig does a wonderful job of describing the horrors that occur in the town and the woods. 

There are several plot threads woven throughout the entirety of the book that do not come to a conclusion until the end of the book. Many of the conclusions to those plot threads are unexpected. 

Throughout the story, we see how the townspeople start to go mad and fight each other at the urgings of the monsters. The truly fascinating part is that the monsters are not wholly responsible for the chaos and madness in the town. All the monsters do with the favors is pull on the strings already tearing the town apart.


Characters

The characters are all well written and truly keep the story moving forward. It is the interactions of the characters and the ancestors of the characters that gave the monsters something to feed on. The monsters did not create all of the discourse between the characters but rather fed on the ideas they held about their fellow townspeople. The characters felt like real people with real struggles and desires. These struggles and desires help you as the reader understand how the monsters were able to send the town spiralling into madness. 

The characters are the driving force behind the story. If the characters were poorly written, the story would not work as well. The struggles and desires of the townspeople needed to be known so that the reader could understand the actions taken by both the townspeople and the monsters.


The Retelling Elements

“Small Favors” is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story. I love the way the Rumpelstiltskin elements are woven into the story. The two main characters Ellerie and Whitaker Price have multiple conversations about the importance of names as he has given her a fake name. 

The monsters in the story are the Rumpelstiltskin character. The monsters give the townspeople what they want in return for small favors. The small favors are designed to further the discourse and madness within the town of Amity Falls. 

Every townsperson in Amity Falls is the character of the miller’s daughter who receives what they want in return for a favor. The monsters can only be defeated when their target learns their true names. Ellerie is able to figure out the name of the head monster thanks to the conversations she had with Whitaker who was one of the monsters plaguing the town.

“There’s a power in names, don’t you think? Once your name is given away, you can’t help but be pulled along by those who have it.” 
Erin A. Craig, Small Favors


Cons

The next question that I am sure is on your mind given the praises I have for this book is whether or not there are any elements of this book that I did not enjoy. The answer is yes, just not enough to knock down my rating of the book. 

The first con so to speak is that I wish the book had been longer. I am not just saying this to spend more time in the story, but rather that I would have preferred a slower descent into madness for the town rather than how quickly the madness took over at the end of the book. 

The second con is that the book ends with Ellerie and a couple of other people leaving the town. We do not know whether or not they made it to the nearest city to Amity Falls. We do not know if the story of Amity Falls becomes as known as the story of other towns plagued by the same monsters. 

We do not see Ellerie reunite with her parents after they left Amity Falls when her mother was injured even though we know that they are alive. The book did not need to be too much longer, but it could have benefitted from an epilogue where Ellerie and her sisters are reunited with their parents.


Should You Read This Book?

Absolutely!

“Small Favors” is a haunting book that delves into the human psyche and the lengths people are willing to go to to get what they want. It is a perfect book to read during the spooky season. Erin Craig has officially become one of my favorite authors.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

The Great Resignation Exit Strategy: 3 Books to Frame Your Perspective 

It’s impossible to ignore The Great Resignation. Starbucks has reduced hours, school districts are cancelling bus routes due to lack of drivers, and, if Reddit is a reliable source for the temperature of worker climate, people in the service industry are fed up. 

But it’s not just the service industry. It’s estimated that, over the next 12 months, 55% of workers — in every industry — will seek new employment. 

The reasons why are obvious. The pandemic has brought out the best and worst of people. With forced closures in most of the entertainment and service industry, alongside stay-at-home orders, everyone has had a lot of time to re-prioritize their life. 

And, as employers scramble to hold on to their workers while enticing more to join their organization, there’s a lot more thought going into what makes for a satisfactory career. 

Understanding our history, as well as human nature, can help you understand some of the larger themes of the time in which we’re living. And specifically, how those themes might be affecting your outlook and unconscious desires. 

Things like understanding how to actually build a skillset from square one, the role randomness plays in our lives, and more. If you’re still sorting out what you want your life to look like, here are a few books that can help frame your exit strategy.


Quit, Apply, and Read: 3 Books to Provide Pandemic Career Perspective 

Best of all? All of these encourage critical thinking without encouraging you to “be a badass” or posit that the secret to success is in washing your face.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

You might have heard that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of study to master skills. That nugget of information comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s exhaustive research on successful people, and what helps them thrive. 

Key takeaway: It’s a unique mixture of culture, family, and more that can indicate greatness, but one of the biggest indicators is attitude. 

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

“We all understand that genius doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s seductive to assume that success must come from genius.”

It’s all in the title. Randomness is a huge factor in how our lives turn out, from who we choose as a partner to wine ratings to living through a pandemic and beyond. But while randomness is unavoidable and inevitable, it’s still governed by probability. And that is something that we can control to some degree.

Key takeaway: there’s a lot that we can’t control in life, which makes those things that we can control even more important.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari

“Biology enables, culture forbids.”

Things that are inevitable in hindsight are invisible at the time (or, at least, obfuscated by those whose interests wouldn’t be served by public knowledge). Harari talks a lot about the pursuit of happiness through this book, with findings that affect your own personal philosophy. I read this pre-pandemic, but it would be doubly interesting to ready as we (hopefully) near the end. 

Key takeaway. As a society, we’ve made it through a lot, and climate change/pandemic/etc notwithstanding, we’ll hopefully weather more calamities.


Work Accommodating Life

These three books won’t give you a blueprint to what your career trajectory should be — and, honestly, they might just give you more questions — but they will, ultimately, give you some perspective. It might be my toddler daughter watching “Moana” on repeat, but Maui’s advice to know where you’re going by knowing where you’ve been feels very appropriate. 


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

8 Parabolic Books like ‘Animal Farm’

George Orwell’s allegorical novella looks at power, the control it breeds, and the corruption it nurtures. By exposing the manipulation tactics of the pigs running his titular farm, Orwell shows us how authority figures often quell and distort revolutionary ideals to keep a firm grip on control. By doing so, he challenges us to dig beneath the surface, where humanity is known to thrive. Here are eight parabolic books like Animal Farm.

1. ‘Filth’ by Irvine Welsh

We feel rage. The feelings must be followed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ideologue or a sensualist, you follow the stimuli thinking that they’re your signposts to the promised land.

Welsh’s work hones in on the perverse nature of corruption. Detective Sergeant Robertson is looking forward to his yearly, sex-driven holiday in Amsterdam. 

However, dreams of his hedonistic escape are not as imminent as he would like them to be. The matter of his missing wife and child, eczema on his nether regions, an aggravated cocaine addiction, and an itch for a promotion at work all threaten his fast-living ways.

Robertson is an anti-hero through and through. No excuses are made for his controversial behaviour, and no quarter is given to the victims of his alarming motives. 

The depth of the novel’s satirical voice is uncovered when the tapeworm living inside Robertson takes on the role of his advocate, referring to itself as The Self. 

Its proprietary grip on Robertson seems to stem from the intimacy it gains with the man’s mind. The debauchery in the book is addictive, as is Welsh’s dissection of the parts of ourselves few have the stomach to inspect.


2. ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding

Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.

Following a plane crash, a group of boys find themselves stranded on a desert island. Their first taste of freedom, offered by the absence of rule-asserting adults, quickly takes on a foul aftertaste. As their survival instincts kick in and a need for order is begrudgingly addressed, the boys set about forming a hierarchy. 

The class stratification is based on their ruthless perception of each other’s weaknesses, which they covertly seek to exploit. As fear of the island’s hidden dangers threatens the system they’ve established, the boys soon find themselves grappling with the loss of innocence. 

What remains is only the darkness unleashed by the loosened hold of civilisation, and the violent impulses it demands.

Golding’s novella traces the link between human depravity and the forces that trigger our return to base instincts, much like Animal Farm. What we end up with is a reflection on both the human psyche and the societal mechanisms used to keep it chained. Power appears as the common denominator, and its poor handling leads us to a similarly horrifying conclusion.


3. ‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams

They did not talk for talking’s sake, in the artificial manner that human beings — and sometimes even their dogs and cats — do.

A group of wild animals sets out in search of a new home after the intrusion of man, an event that has disastrous consequences on the order they’ve come to rely on. As a result, their journey turns into the pursuit of a perfect society. It’s spurred on by reflections on the nature of man, as well as the “animality” he lacks. 

It’s seen as a quality that purifies instinct-driven animals but condemns the conniving ways of man. Fraught with dark adventures and loveable characters, Watership Down questions the ethics of captivity by alluding to the inherent darkness of the system in place.


4. ‘Heart of a Dog’ by Mikhail Bulgakov

Nobody should be whipped. Remember that, once and for all. Neither man nor animal can be influenced by anything but suggestion.

Bulgakov’s satirical novel tells the story of a stray dog that is found and later operated on by Filip Filippovich. On his first attempt, the surgeon transplants human organs to the animal’s body, including the pituitary gland, which controls growth and development. 

As the dog turns impossibly rebellious in the aftermath, Filippovich decides to reverse the operation, transforming the dog into a man.

The work serves as a scathing criticism of Soviet society, in particular the excesses of the Russian Revolution. Much like Animal Farm, the plot thrives on the tension between the classes, which fuels a corrupt ideology. 

This becomes clear when the influential and the newly rich are given the power to manipulate the law. And so, Bulgakov questions the essence of human nature, famously stating that “the ability to speak does not make one a human being.”


5. ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus

I know that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.

The large Algerian city of Oran is gripped by a plague. The silently encroaching threat first lays claim to rats, sweeping their lifeless bodies onto the streets to feed mass hysteria. 

As death claws its way to the human population, Dr Rieux struggles to come to terms with the authorities’ denial of the ongoing calamity. But as quarantine is imposed on Oran, the inhabitants’ perspective begins to acclimatise, leaving them aware of the collective nature of their suffering.

Camus’ work is a testament to how quickly we forget scenes of human suffering. And by incorporating elements of absurdism, he’s able to transform the horrors he describes into a haunting allegory. What we end up with is an outline of the fear and paranoia that influence the workings of the human psyche.


6. ‘The Outsider’ by Colin Wilson

The Outsider is always unhappy, but he is the agent that ensures happiness for millions of ‘Insiders’.

Wilson’s novel portrays an outsider’s influence on society and vice versa. The Outsider abides by his own rules, challenges the status quo in the name of self-exploration, and suffers from a crippling sense of alienation as a result. 

In the end, we follow both the transformation of the Self and the effect it has on a society that seeks to draw it in. The novel is most memorable for its pursuit of a “new religion” that would breathe life back into a broken system.


7. ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Iain Banks

Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn’t really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.

Frank is a dysfunctional teenager. He survives by shaking off his conscience, which leads to moments of shocking cruelty. When Frank’s brother, Eric, escapes from a psychiatric hospital, a deeper dive into the mysteries of the past threatens to unsettle Frank further. As a result, we begin an exploration of moral deviancy.

By loosening the processes of Frank’s psyche, Banks succeeds in challenging societal values. He does this simply by depositing us in a world controlled by an unhinged mind. 

Its mechanisms become even bleaker when Frank’s values appear in direct opposition to the ones that manage the system he has to navigate. Power becomes a key factor, one that links rules to violent acts of defiance.


8. ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka

You do not need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, a bank official named Joseph K. is arrested without justification. Outraged and confused, he embarks on a journey to rationalise the actions of the Law, which he has never doubted before. 

His quest proves exhausting and alienating and sees him caught in a whirlpool of mindless bureaucracy. When, a year later, he’s presented with an impossible sentence, K. finds himself resigned to his fate.

Kafka’s surreal novel captures the anxieties of an individual struggling against an obstructive authority. In a society, which preaches that justice is a moral good, ideals appear corrupted. Kafa also shows us how systems of power are easily manipulated by those, who seek to hold fast to the control they have been given.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

Books by Memory: ‘Justine’ by Lawrence Durrell

As the second of my Books by Memory series this is a rather tangential book review that uses memory to approach a book, rather than focusing in a more analytical way. This time I am reminiscing on Lawrence Durrell’s Justine. Before getting into my memories, I feel it is worth clarifying that I am not talking about the novel by the Marquis de Sade, although I’m sure that would provide many interesting memories to explore.


I cannot actually remember when I started reading Justine. I think I bought a copy of The Alexandria Quartet, after getting hooked on the TV series The Durrell’s (loosely based on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy), but did not ever get more than a few pages in for some time. In a way it was the complexity of the plot and the intricate, almost filigree nature, of the prose that meant I kept picking it up but never reading more than a handful of pages.

The thing that spurred me into properly picking up Justine, was a nice blend of situations. First of all, I was getting a train from London back to university in Exeter and knowing that for the claim that it is only a 2-hour train, it can be more like 3, I felt I should take a second book as well as the novel I was currently reading.

As I already was stretching the limits of my bag, I wanted a very slim book that would slot into a coat pocket. I then saw a copy of Mr Durrell’s Esprit de Corps, which is a collection of narrative sketches from Durrell’s time in the diplomatic Corps.  

Having finished my novel before Bedwyn (the train had a technical hitch so had a little rest just after Newbury, giving me plenty of reading time), I ended up reading Esprit de Corps for the rest of the journey. I enjoyed it so much that the next evening, when I had some friends coming over for drinks, I dipped back into Justine.

That could have been it, and just another faltering start to the book, but as I seem incapable of organising drinks with any sense of detail, I had a bit of time to kill before people turned up and I thought I might as well make myself a drink. After all I had already done the hard part of juicing lemons and mixing up some sugar syrup.


So, there I was sitting, sipping a White Lady, seeing that everyone I’d invited was a bit delayed. What else was I to do but sit, watch the sunset, and read. There is something about reading as you watch the sun set.

I was rather lucky that in second year I lived in a flat on the top floor of a building, which was almost perfectly oriented so one of the windows in the kitchen got a view of the sunset (apparently the other window gave an equally good view of the sun rising, but I will have to take my flatmate’s word for it, as I never woke up so ruinously early).

This might all sound rather perfect, fitting the sense of luxury present both in Mr Durrell’s prose, and in his presentation of Alexandria in the ‘30s. Yet, I wasn’t reclining on some threadbare, yet chic, chaise longue, instead I was perched on the most uncomfortable sofa that could possibly exist, short of being made of nails, and even that might have been better for my back.

It was the sort of fake leather sofa that tries rather too hard to be trendy, and was so solid that you could use the seats as a solid flat surface for drinks.

Such a book, was not harmed by my discomfort as once became immersed, I was far too immersed to care about how I was sitting. In part it is the almost poetic attention to the prosody that makes the prose flow so well. I also do think there is a specific mindset needed for reading such prose.

You need to be alert enough to deal with complex sentences that might go in different ways to how you expected, but also if you are overly intently reading, you will get hung up on the individual sentences and fail to appreciate their effect as a whole.

Plus, the way the plot of Justine jumps around in time, means that you need to get into the rhythm of the work to naturally get what is going on, rather than having to step back from the narrative to consider how it fits into the book.


Although I say that it was the long wait for my friends that let me get fully immersed and so build the momentum to properly launch myself into the narrative, I cannot think of Justine without thinking of a specific word. Perhaps I think too much about words in isolation, but often I will come away from a book, or even a whole authors range, with a very strong memory for a single word.

This tends to be stronger when it is a word I have not seen before. In the case of Justine, it was “pudicity” which did not hinder my understanding, as the context and my knowledge of related words in other languages meant it only took a moment to grasp its meaning. But that moment of thought, even if it is just that it is a rarely used word, always seems to cement that word into that memory.

It does help that in this instance the nature of the book makes me think of a related word. I recently saw the word “apudity” invented on Twitter (By Dr Francis Young, in this tweet) and it used the way “pudicity” words as a justification. “pudicity” means something like “modesty” and has a Latin root, “apudity” follows the same pattern of formation and uses the Latin “apud” as its root, and means something like the sense of a being in a specific place.

You cannot read Justine, without seeing Durrell’s specific feeling of Alexandria, and how particular those feels are to it. It is not a feeling that can easily be condensed into attributes or descriptors, instead it flavours every aspect of the novel.


That is why, as I was sitting there, sipping my White Lady (or rather my second, as I waited a good half hour) Justine was able to capture my mind in that moment, for it is really just a single moment stretched into a narrative. Time might pass, but the moment remains.

And I can easily imagine myself sat in that same kitchen, watching the sun sinking over the centre of Exeter with Exewick framing the distant sky, reading the other volumes of The Alexandria Quartet, even if I now live in a different city.

Similarly, each time I raise a White Lady to my lips, there will be a hint of the memory of Justine. Even if that hint is overlaid with more pertinent memories, and perhaps for those other memories, for Justine, is a book of memory, both in its narrative structure, but also in its writing, for it is undoubtedly based on Durrell’s memories of Alexandria and Cairo in the ‘40s.

So, it feels fitting, that such a book has left such strong memories, and will continue to assert such gravitational pull over any future memories of The Alexandria Quartet.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

5 YA Faeire Books for Beginners

First and foremost, I have to dedicate this reccommendation to the faerie queen Holly Black. It was hard for me to not reccommend only her books, because she’s talented in the area of introducing faerie to urban/contemporary fantasy. So, I only included two.

Whereas vampires and werewolves were popular in the early 2000s, it appears that faeries/fae have been gaining more popularity in the past few years. I’ve always been fascinated by the fairies and have been since I was a child. Many authors thrive at incorporating Celtic folklore into their works, while others prefer to concentrate on their own. Nonetheless, we all have to start somewhere, and the fantasy genre can be daunting and overwhelming initially.

Here are some books that do a good job of not throwing you in at the deep end of the faerie realm but let you slowly ease in.


1. ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest‘ by Holly Black

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Romance, LGBTQ+, Contemporary Fantasy

The storey follows twins Hazel and Ben, who dwell in Fairfold, a peculiar town where Fae reside directly next door in the forest. The twins have been aware of the fae’s existence from being little, and they adored the boy who has spent generations asleep in a glass coffin in the woods.

Until he awakens one day, and Hazel’s journey starts where she discovers that fairies are far more dangerous than everyone believed. Her entire world alters, and she must keep her wits about her if she is to keep those she loves safe in a world where innocent play of knights in shining armour saving the sleeping prince turns into real life.

Although not Holly Black’s first faerie novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest was the first I read, and it’s what got me hooked on her writing and all things faerie. Black is a gifted and efficient writer, and this book brilliantly demonstrates this. It’s first in the list because it was my first faerie book and I think it did a wonderful job introducing me to the world of fae and urban fantasy.

In this novel, the sibling interaction is depicted wonderfully, with a hint of romance thrown in the mix. Whereas many YA books largely revolve around romance, this one does not, which is refreshing and intoxicating. After just a taste of the faerie realm, we’re left with a want for more of the twisted, sardonic, and intoxicating decadence.

2. ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses‘ by Sarah J Maas

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, YA, NA, Retellings, Fae

The theme of this book is survival. Feyre is dragged to the dangerous yet magical faerie kingdom following slaying a wolf while out hunting in the depths of winter to feed her starving family to survive. Feyre must keep her wits about her to simply stay alive as a plain human girl surrounded by fairies. However, as she learns the truth about her captor, passion blooms between them, and Feyre must once again rely on her survival skills to survive the perilous faerie realm.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first installment of the series, with it containing 4 novels and 1 novella. Sarah J Maas has created an incredible Beauty and the Beast retelling that yet manages to astound us with all of the shocking revelations.

My favourite fairytale retelling, and it does a wonderful job of presenting you to the faerie world through Feyre’s perspective. Despite the fact that it is labelled as a Young Adult novel, many individuals believe it is too mature for the younger end of the audience, and that older teens are better suited to reading it.

3. ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone‘ by Laini Taylor

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Karou, a seventeen-year-old Prague art student, isn’t your usual teenager. She possesses bright blue hair that grows straight out of her head, hamsa tattoos on her palms, and the ability to grant wishes. Her classmates like the wickedly gorgeous creature she depicts in her artwork, but they have no idea they’re authentic.

Karou isn’t your typical adolescent; she explores the globe in search of teeth for the chimaera who raised her. A hauntingly beautiful angel assists her in discovering the truth about herself, as she has no memory of who she is other than the chimaera. Learning her true identity and unveiling secrets of a violent past ignites an unearthly war. With Karou at the centre.

When I was sixteen, I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone for the first time, and it made me fall in love with reading all over again. Laini Taylor published the book in 2011 and since then has developed and explored her universe with two other series. Taylor’s writing and storytelling are engrossing for adolescent girls, and she writes excellently for YA.

Despite not being in the faerie genre, I included this one because it does a fantastic job of introducing you to non human characters and worlds. Through the viewpoint of Karou, we discover all of the truths alongside her, and it compels us to keep reading to uncover them faster.

4. ‘The Iron King‘ by Juilia Kagawa

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Romance, Faerie, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal

Megan has felt out of place ever since her father disappeared ten years ago. Megan’s home and school lives are both bleak and miserable, leaving her feeling as if no one besides her one friend, Robby, and younger brother, Ethan, are conscious of her existence.

This all changes on her sixteenth birthday, when everything she’s ever known completely changes. From a mysterious stranger watching her from afar, Megan learns of her true heritage and what the cost is.

The Iron King was released a few years after Twilight by Stephanie Meyer was published and just a year after the film debuted and it seemed to fill the paranormal romance hole in many readers hearts. Although it isn’t on my ultimate top ten list, I believe it does a wonderful job of introducing you to the world of the Fair Folk, and with nine books in the series, it also explores it thoroughly. The writing is appropriate for younger readers, so I’d encourage it if you’re not already an avid reader.

5. ‘Tithe‘ by Holly Black

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Faeries, Romance

Sixteen year old Kaye goes from a chaotic, nomad way of life to an insanely dangerous one. Usually, her mother relocates from city to city with Kaye towing along behind. But a trip back to her childhood home leads to her discover a mysterious, white haired young man bleeding to death in the woods. After saving his life, Kaye is plundged into an inhumane world containing two faerie kingdoms, that could ultimatley lead to her death as well as her true identity.

Tithe is book one of three in Modern Fairy Tales and leaves us craving more. A wonderfully written, darkly engrossing work that perfectly immerses us in urban fantasy. Everything is flipped upside down rapidly, and just like Kaye, all we can do is take in everything as it goes on.

The Modern Fairy Tale Series is a phenomenal and remarkable introduction to the world of fairies without unloading too much too fast. Everything is thoroughly explained, allowing readers to better comprehend and appreciate the tale in each book. The best part about this amazing series is that it’s in the same universe as The Folk of the Air, Holly Black’s most successful series to date.


Special Mentions

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

Celeana Sardothien, an eighteen yea old assassin, is taken from the salt mines where she’s been laboring in order to compete in a competition to select a new royal assassin. The first book in the series, Throne of Glass, is the first in a series of seven novels. From the first to the last book in the series, there has been a clear, consistent evolution that takes it from a novice to an advanced read.

Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

Deirdre is a painfully timid sixteen-year-old who is nevertheless an exponentially talented musician. She becomes the Faerie Queens’ target for her musical ability after discovering she is a cloverhand, an individual who can see faeries. Maggie Stiefvater manages to develop a dark faerie tale that is rich in Celtic lore, leaving readers fulfilled.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!

12 Disturbing Books like ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray stood out not for its philosophy of art, but its perceived immorality. Ultimately, it also proved to be Wilde’s downfall. The novel’s suggestion of homoerotic male relationships ties in naturally with its thematic admiration of youth and beauty. 

Wilde’s work also exposes the superficial nature of society, pointing to the negative consequence of influence. By doing so, it emphasises the importance of individualism. So, here are twelve disturbing books like The Picture of Dorian Gray.


1. ‘Faust’ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Goethe’s novel, a scholar makes a deal with Mephistopheles, a demon often featured in German folklore. It seeks to bestow onto the scholar both knowledge and pleasure so forceful that the human will wish for it to last forever. Consequently, falling straight into the demon’s clutches. It’s a tragedy of pride, self-delusion, yearning, and infernal ruin. It conveys the same desire, both evident and implied, that we see woven into Wilde’s prose.

2. ‘Nausea’ by Jean-Paul Sartre

Categorized as existential fiction, Nausea features a protagonist troubled by his own existence. Antoine works through his feelings about the world and the people around him, but the sensations he experiences cumulate into nausea so visceral that it overwhelms him. The novel reflects the individual’s sense of confinement in a ruptured society, amplifying Dorian’s philosophical struggles with psychological ones.

3. ‘In a Shallow Grave’ by James Purdy

In Purdy’s novel, instead of internal decrepitude, the protagonist suffers from outward disfigurement. Worse still, Garnet’s appearance serves to distance him from the love he seeks so desperately. His body has been defiled by war, burned to a crisp by erupting shells. 

A single look in his direction causes people to retch. And yet, he clings to a romantic connection that might spread roots beneath the surface. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s a tale of individuality and transformation, as well as an obsession with looks, which inevitably dictate one’s worth.

4. ‘Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall’ by Neil Bartlett

The novel presents the tensions that exist in the gay world, the moody backdrop of which is slashed by a literal, recurring knife. The weapon alludes to the unprovoked violence against gay men, who engage in the ritual worship of youth and beauty in The Bar. 

The pairings within the story possess an eeriness that translates both into literal and figurative violence. What’s more, the passion that acts as the novel’s focal point is later influenced by the appearance of a pseudo-parental figure, whose claim to the protagonist is rather dubious.

5. ‘The Marbled Swarm’ by Dennis Cooper

Cooper’s novel navigates the veiled passageways and secret rooms that accommodate the disturbed mind of the narrator. The mystery is ever-evolving, and its cannibalistic theme is as transgressive today as The Picture of Dorian Gray must have seemed in the 19th century. 

Similarly absorbed by appearances, the story embraces aesthetics with an ardor that eclipses Wilde’s subtle insinuations. We’re ambushed by art and high society, forced into a system of intimidation and surrender. And so, within the novel’s social context, its thoughts outpace those of Wilde.

6. ‘Like People in History’ by Felice Picano

One of the less obvious options on this list, Picano’s novel centers its narrative on the wealthy and beautiful character of a gay man named Alistair Dodge. He manages to get away with unspeakable betrayals, all seemingly thanks to his charisma, youth, and beauty. The blend of these attributes allows him to abandon his morals.  

What’s more, Picano’s work doesn’t shy away from the terror caused by the AIDS epidemic, both in terms of the unsettling lack of action on the part of the society, and the graphic decomposition of the victims.

7. ‘The Monk’ by Matthew Gregory Lewis

Much like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lewis’s novel is a Gothic portrayal of a shocking subject. Ambrosio, the titular monk, suffers from the rift between the spiritual and corporal aspects of his existence. Repression leads to overindulgence, which seems appalling because of its culmination in murder, rape, and obsession. Its heavy reliance on scandal and titillation forces the novel to operate as a form of social commentary, not unlike Wilde’s work.

8. ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Often thought of as a mere thriller, Shelley’s novel actually functions as a transgressive reflection on society’s shallowness. Frankenstein criticises our presumption that, as humans, we have authority over life. In the same way that Lord Henry desires to mold Dorian into the realisation of a type, Frankenstein finds himself trying to quell the unruly nature of the Creature. In this respect, both novels dissect the theme of art and its imitation of life.

9. ‘The Demon’ by Hubert Selby Jr.

Harry White falls victim to an obsession, which feeds his violent need for fulfilment and retribution. The novel presents the slow unfurling of his psyche, illuminating the mechanisms that drive people to extremes. It’s a gritty story about madness, delusions, and the tangles of torment that seduce us. In short, The Demon captures The Picture of Dorian Gray’s anxiety and debauchery and spins it into a shocking tale of horror and woe.

10. ‘Hunger’ by Knut Hamsun

Published the same year as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Hamsun’s autobiographical novel shocks with its focus on the poverty and despair experienced by a writer searching for the ultimate form of individualism. Namely, his artistic self-expression. The novel serves as a psychoanalytic study of obsession, alienation, and masochism. Like Wilde’s work, it leads us to the edge of propriety, and deposits us in the crannies of the human soul.

11. ‘Dancer from the Dance’ by Andrew Holleran

Holleran’s novel takes a look at a particular aspect of the gay community, which is the worship of beauty and youth. The hedonism that trudges through the pages of the book is always weighed down by the men’s need to conform to the surface-level desires that dictate their happiness. These, by nature, are never fulfilling, and leave the men harrowed by the passing of time. As a result, the men’s source of torment aligns with Dorian’s.

12. ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Telling the story of Jay Gatsby and his obsessive pursuit of the American dream, Fitzgerald’s work manages to capture a time of general hedonism in America. Gatsby’s fixation on gaining wealth and fame is interwoven with his yearning for Daisy, and so the fundamental obsession within the story blurs the lines between desire and self-realisation. In turn, this link reminds us of the complicated face of longing found in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


Stuck for what to read next? Check out our Reading Recs page. And if you’d like to support our work, please consider making a donation via our Donations page. We’re trying to raise money for paid commissions, so we can support and work with more writers from underrepresented backgrounds, who cannot afford to write for free. Thank you for reading!