This must be one of the prettiest newly-published books I’ve ever seen. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the spine is reminiscent of older, hand-bound books. And once you take off that wonderful dust cover, the naked glory of the book really shines… And it’s contents are just as beautiful.
STAR RATING: 5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 10/01/2019 UK // 16/04/2019 US
SUMMARY: In a late early modern inspired world, young Emmett Farmer is sent to be apprenticed with a mysterious binder instead of taking over his father’s farm. He slowly learns about bookbinding, until he finds out what binders truly do. This leads to a series of events unravelling the darker sides of the craft, and ultimately to Emmett discovering his own past and finding love. (This one is really hard to summarize while trying to avoid spoilers!)
OPINIONS: I originally got pulled in by the beautiful cover, and the beautiful hardback ARCs I kept seeing on social media, and stayed for magic and bookbinding. But that is really not what this book is about. At it’s centre is love, love developing and love worth fighting for, but also love turned sour, abuse and issues of respect. And I should probably mention that the romantic relationship is between two men – which I find great!
The book is split into three parts, each uttely different, but equally captivating. In a way, they can be described as present, past and future – showing ‘present’ Emmett learning how to bind, flashing back to ‘past’ Emmett falling in love despite his best intentions not to like the man in question, and the third part opens the door for ‘future’ Emmett, who can recover his lost love and build a life according to his own desires. The writing is truly extraordinary, and somehow, fitting perfectly with the story and the physical book, both captivating and slow-burning. I tried to savour this book, trying to read individual chapters between tasks, until I got sucked in and read far past my bedtime.
Binding is a kind of magic, and binders are seen as witches by the general population – reminiscent of real-world history witch-hunt, a Crusade against them took part approximately 60 years before the events of this novel. Binders are born, not made, as I understand the story, and have black-out like symptoms to indicate their powers – these allow them to work willing subjects’ memories into bound books, allowing the subjects to forget. This can be a trade agreement, cathartic act, or even abuse. There is much debate about the morality of binding, and therefore the sale of books, and I found it very interesting to think about matters from this very different perspective.
The main characters, Emmett and Lucian, are extremely well developed and grow in their flaws and strengths over the course of the story. Their arcs drive the story, which is one of my favourite parts about novels, and I loved that this story allowed its magic to unfold slowly, without stuffing the story with unnecessary action. However, I do worry that this will put off many readers – but honestly, that’s their loss! The love story is incredibly well-developed and builds slowly and naturally, while also addressing class issues. This theme then becomes central to the third part of the book, where Lucian’s rich and powerful father consciously abuses his privileged position, abuses his servants (one of which his cycle of abuse and binding drives to suicide).
In short, please read this book, and be kind to the humans around you!
This is my first ever physical review copy! Many thanks to Tom Welsh and Owl Hollow Press for entrusting me with a copy of Anna Undreaming – and many apologies for taking so long to actually post the review.
Don’t worry, I’ll get to talking about the pretty in a second! But first a mental health sidebar, as I strongly believe that these things need to be addressed more openly – especially given that they play a role in the novel. Somehow being granted a finished copy to review put me under lots of pressure to write the review – which really, is quite silly, as there’s no difference between this and any of the ARCs I’ve reviewed via NetGalley. I have been constantly thinking about writing this review for the past three months, ever since I read and enjoyed the book while on holiday. We even took these great pictures at the beach, showing off the watery blues of the cover and I kept writing this review on all my to-do lists. But my depression and anxiety built it up to this massive dragon in need of slaying, rather than letting it be the text it is. It’s been an eventful time, and now I’m slowly getting back to managing my mental health again, which means it’s time to slay the dragon.
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 20/03/2018
SUMMARY: “Never play their game; their game is always rigged.” Anna’s mantra when it comes to men, and their games. She is a struggling grad student in an unfriendly city, and discovers that there might be more to her and her city than she had thought. She is pulled into a world of Dreamers and Undreamers, trying to save their world. Anna discovers that she is the rarest of them, an Undreamer, with the power to notice and disrupt dreamscapes, called Hazes. Accompanied by another Undreamer, Teej, and pursued by a Dreamer known as the Midnight Man, Anna struggles to come to terms with her past, while fighting for the future.
OPINIONS: The first thing that made me love this book is the fact that Anna is a very late stage philosophy grad student who struggles with mental health issues, which resonates with me. I wish there were more fantasy books addressing the insanity that is grad school in the humanities! In it’s ‘real world’ timeline, the book also deals with the dissolution of a friendship, and with what friendship is and should be. Tom Welsh has a wonderful insight into how people tick and interact, which shows throughout the story.
The story is tense and action-packed, but also has it’s lighthearted funny moments that break up the tension and made me laugh out loud (I’m usually quite insecure about that, so good on you Tom for writing jokes that I could not resist!). I mean, who can resist passages such as when Anna and Teej drink coffee: “Jesus, Teej! What’s your secret ingredient? Lava? This is hotter than the sun.” – “Oh, you’re one of those,” he responded. – “One of what?” – “People who drink cold coffee. Also know as Monsters!” – “Well, I like coffee that doesn’t strip the flesh from my mouth, yes!” Once again, Anna turns out to be a character that represents me more than any other book I have read in the past few months, at least. The combination of fast-paced action and hilarity make this an unputdownable read, and the beginning of an intriguing series.
As far as I know, the world-building is completely unique, and I have never read something like it. The concept of Dreamers and Undreamers is fascinating, and I can’t wait to dive into the second part of this trilogy once it is released! The only thing that I think could be improved is the prose, where it shows slightly that Tom is a relatively new writer, this being his – very promising – debut novel. My preference would be tighter, more descriptive prose, with a slightly slower pace, leaving more room for character development.
Anyway, you all should add Anna Undreaming to your goodreads account and/or order the book from your preferred local dealer of books!
— DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Many thanks for this opportunity! —
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 18/03/19
SUMMARY: Rhun is your average teenage girl in a rigid world reminiscent of the nineteenth-century. Well, except for her fondness for cadavers and a desire to study medicine. On a whim, she decides to enter a local contest for a scholarship to the (all male) unversity, realizing that the contest doesn’t actually specify any kind of gender…
OPINIONS: oh, what a wonderful fuck you to the patriarchy this book is! Without discussing modern issues directly, Mary Weber manages to evoke social struggles women still face – to a lesser extent than Rhun does in the story – today. In the world this book is set in, gender roles are stricly divided, and all a woman is intended to be is a decorative wife. Education and any kind of power is reserved for the men. Rhun, however, figured that her desire to study medicine, in order to find a cure for the wasting sickness affecting the lower rungs of society, is more important than following the rules. She’s definitely a girl after my own heart, fighting for the greater good against a government of crusty old(ish) men who have decided that an illness that does not affect them directly is of no importance.
This shows not only the feminist struggle for equality, but also the very current issue of the rich versus the poor, affecting many modern societies. The story eventually brings this to a pointed climax, as not only had the disease been ignored and allowed to fester, but had it’s origin in one of the young male elite and his carelessness.
On top of these fantastic messages, the story is well-written, in a way where every piece of the puzzle fits together exactly as they are supposed to. The characters all have their intrinsic motivation to be part of the story, which is rare, and one of my favourite things to discover about a book. The plot is driven, with little unnecessary fluff or padding, and connects together nicely. I definitely want to check out Mary’s other books, as I believe that there is a lot we can learn from her craft.
Add the book on goodreads and preorder it wherever you prefer to buy your books – it’s worth it!