Tag Archives: Catherine Fisher

Darkwater–Catherine Fisher

I’ve read several books by Catherine Fisher, including the Relic Master series and the Incarceron duology. I’ve had mixed reactions to her writing in the past. Generally, I have wanted to like them and loved the set up of place and character and world and so on, but felt like the end of the series tended to not fulfill my expectations.

Darkwater is a self-contained book, which I think helped it. We start in the 19th century with Sarah Trevelyn, last of the fallen Trevelyns, once lords of the manor and now trapped in squalor with their former servants. Sarah is spunky and bold, but also proud–one of the pivotal moments early in the book shows clearly that she makes what appear to be compassionate decisions, but that they are based on pride rather than care for her fellow humans.

Darkwater Hall is now owned by Lord Azrael, who won it from Sarah’s grandfather in a card game. There is something not-quite-right about him, but when he offers Sarah a chance to come home, she makes a deal with him, despite the warnings of a mysterious tramp who seems to know more than he’s telling.

Generally speaking, I liked Darkwater a LOT. Fisher manages to create a very ambiguous situation, drawing on traditional mythologies but doing it in a way that keeps things from becoming clear, rather than the opposite. In a subtle way, this puts us in Sarah’s shoes. Who does she trust? Who does she believe in? She can’t tell, and neither can we.

The setting is atmospheric and well drawn–the manor with secret passages and hidden rooms. The child of the manor returning to take charge of it again.

Now, when I had just finished the book, I was entirely satisfied with the solution. It had a nice symmetry to it–I don’t know how to say it other than that it was satisfying. And then I thought about it a bit more, and I realized that I wanted more reasons for Simon’s decision. As it stands, I had trouble with the way he makes his decision. And since that’s kind of the linch-pin of the whole resolution, that’s an issue. So chalk it up as one that was great when actually reading and then maybe more problematic later.

I think this is my favorite Catherine Fisher book so far, despite the wobbliness of the ending. Sarah, the almost claustrophobic setting, the deft use of symbolism and mythology–Fisher manages to boil her usual strengths down into something that reads as tight and masterful.

Book source: public library
Book information: First US publication by Dial Books, 2012; upper mg/YA

All of my Catherine Fisher reviews


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September book list

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan: A sort-of Sleeping Beauty, in the future. Reviewed {here}

Pegasus by Robin McKinley: A re-read. I loved it again, but it’s getting harder and harder to not know the ending. I’m also very afraid for my favorite of Sylvi’s brothers. I hope events prove me wrong, but eeeeep.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern: Mixed feelings. Reviewed {here}

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: Victorian literature WITH DRAGONS! Reviewed {here}

Forever by Maggie Stiefvater: A nice end to the trilogy. Reviewed {here}

False Colors by Georgette Heyer: One of my favorite Heyer novels. I think I like this one partly because it’s a mad situation, but the characters aren’t just in it for larks.

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer: For some reason I wasn’t super wild about this one the first time I read it. I enjoyed it much more this time through, though I think Devil’s Cub will always top it.

The Hidden Coronet by Catherine Fisher: Third book in the series. Reviewed {here}

Jhereg; Yendi; Teckla by Steven Brust: A good, solid fantasy series. Reviewed {here}

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce: I bought a copy of this at a recent library booksale, despite not having entirely positive memories of it. It had been a long time since I read it, and I loved StarCrossed. I liked this one much more than I had remembered, but Digger will always be my favorite. (Liar’s Moon! November!)

Od Magic by Patricia McKillip: This is an odd one–I love some of the images and enjoy the characters, but it never crosses into LOVE.

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab: This was another book that I liked and felt like I should have loved. In this case, I’m not quite sure what kept me from loving it. Somehow I was expecting the plot to go a different route, though I did like what happened. And there was some insta-attraction, but the way it was handled didn’t leave me too bothered. And yet, somehow I was in the wrong mood or not engaged, or SOMETHING.

Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin: I fell in love with this book. Reviewed {here}

The Knocker at Death’s Door by Ellis Peters: I got this at a thrift store, because it’s Ellis Peters and she’s a bit hard to find. It’s not my favorite–it’s a bit gruesome and the romance at the end comes up pretty quickly. But it was still nice to re-read it.

Taltos by Steven Brust: The chronological beginning of the series. Explained some things. Other things made more sense having read later books. So, I’d say read this series in whatever order you like.

The Mystery of Mont Saint Michel by Michel Rouze: I had bought this awhile ago and never read it. A straightforward French kids mystery. It was pretty dated, though, and not in a good way.

The Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers: I can’t even tell you how long it took me to read this book. I was not wild about it–too much noir detective about the main character. Also, I didn’t care about Emily and I was obviously supposed to. There was some nice imagery, though.

Keeper by Kathi Appelt: I know a lot of people really liked this book, but I’ll just cut to the chase: I didn’t. It felt like a stereotypical Newbery book–and I don’t mean that in a good way. Kid on quest to find parent and/or parent figure. For me, there was little that was original or interesting about it.

Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon: I think I liked this even better than the first book! I loved the backstory and the complexity that it gave Zhong Ye. I liked the fact that Ai Ling chose to do things for bad reasons. She’s far from a perfect heroine, but I enjoyed her character and her story.

And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle: I’m kind of iffy on L’Engle’s early writing–some of it I like, some of it I don’t. This is probably my favorite of her earlier books.

The Coming of the Dragon by Rebecca Barnhouse: One of the reasons I loved Lavinia was the fact that I felt it brought a forgotten character of the source material to life, while still being in harmony with the source. Now, granted that I know Beowulf a lot better than I know the Aeneid, this is exactly where Coming of the Dragon falls short. It’s a nice coming of age story, but to me it never read as Beowulf.

No Such Thing As Dragons by Philip Reeve: I liked the various questions about identity and belief that it brought up. And on consideration, I decided that a certain spoilery bit at the end didn’t, in fact, bother me. But I never really loved it either.

Face Down Upon an Herbal by Kathy Lynn Emerson: An Elizabethan mystery, featuring a woman detective. While I find that aspect of it a bit dubious at times, it’s a fun read, and one of my favorite periods of history.

The Circle by Peter Lovesey: A contemporary mystery with little to set it apart. It’s part of a larger series, I believe, and I might have enjoyed it more if I had more investment in the detectives. But as it is, I don’t particularly care enough to keep reading.

The Margrave by Catherine Fisher: The last of the Relic-Master series. Overall, I liked it, though I did feel cheated of a certain moment which I had banked on happening and which didn’t occur. Left me feeling a bit defrauded.

Face Down in a Marrow-Bone Pie by Kathy Lynn Emerson: This is actually the first Lady Susannah mystery. I read them out of order. Because of that, some of the twists were spoiled for me, though the central mystery wasn’t.

Searching for Dragons by Patricia Wrede: Second book in the Enchanted Forest series, and the first to actually take place in the Enchanted Forest. These are, as always a mix of zany humor and zippy plots. However, the relationship between Mendenbar and Cimorene seems to have a little more reality to it than the rest.

Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer: Not one of my favorites, but I hadn’t read it in awhile either.

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: This series continues to be a huge amount of fun! We get to delve into Uncle Eddie’s past, too, as well as develop the vexing question of Kat and Hale’s relationship.

The Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones: I remembered not liking this one very much, and…yeah. It’s eerie and unsettling and somehow bothers me in a way that no other Diana Wynne Jones story ever has. I’m struggling to put exactly what’s so bothersome into words, but it’s certainly there.

The Shattering by Karen Healey: There are lots of things about this that are great, from the setting to the characters. And yet somehow I was left with the same sort of unsettled, bothered feeling that I got from Time of the Ghost. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I read them in fairly close succession. But I do pay attention to what state a book leaves me in, and in this case it was a strange, scared one.

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card: Some good tips, but also some things that are very outdated, and some others that I just didn’t quite agree with.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold: A reread. Very strange to go back to the beginning and see Cordelia and Aral so unfinished, as it were. The outline is there, but the details are far from filled in. Still, what a great beginning! And it’s so necessary if you want to understand Miles’s character.

Dark Parties by Sara Grant: I’m not sure I’m giving this a fair reading, because I’m so sick of dystopian fiction I could cry. But it read like yet another dystopian story. There’s a slight twist in that the main character is torn between the Boy and her best friend, rather than two boys. And yet, there wasn’t enough to really redeem this book for me.


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Two quick reviews

The Hidden Coronet (Relic-Master #3) by Catherine Fisher: This book was dominated by the sense of building towards the end and the final book. There are some big secrets revealed, but lots left to be resolved. As with all of the Relic Master books, I found this a very fast read, which is nice sometimes. However, I do think that emotional investment is a bit lacking, because it’s so fast I don’t feel like I have time to know the characters.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: I don’t have too much to say about this one, because I loved it! Jo Walton is pretty much always great. Here she writes a Victorian novel of manners (AND, I was SO happy, this really is Victorian, not Austenesque!) whose main characters are dragons. Also, brilliant use of Tennyson.


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August book list

Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card: First Bean book. I love the way Card reweaves the story he told in Ender’s Game, making it both the same and different. And I found it quite emotionally touching as well, particularly the final battle scene and the end.

Lulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison: I was mildly entertained by this, but more and more I’m searching for books that have emotional depth and resonance and this, well, didn’t. But, it’s a YA mystery, and I want more in that category.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron: I just picked this one up at the library because it’s a Newbery book and I’m trying to expand my reading list. On the first page I stopped and thought to myself, “OH. It’s that book.” If you know what I’m talking about, you too may be a Newbery nerd. ANYWAY. It’s a decent book, though I feel like the basic storyline is one that’s used a lot in contemporary books and tends to get rewarded with praise and honors. I’m not as wild about it, but when done well, it does work.

Relic Master: The Dark City by Catherine Fisher: reviewed {here}.

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: Second in a series. I found parts of it interesting and parts much less so, though I did like it considerably more than the first book.

Conflict of Honors by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller: reviewed {here}

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Yes, I re-read it. I actually have more thoughts committed to paper which may eventually make it online. But for now they can be summed up as: Gaaah, Megan Whalen Turner!

Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey: I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of so-called historical books lately, but I’ve also found some unexpected gems–The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell and Haunting Violet. I loved this book. Its heroine, Violet, is not a forward-thinking lady escaping the shackles of society. She’s a fake trying to make her way through society without getting caught. I loved her, I loved the romance. In short, YAY!

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson: A re-read. Eva Ibbotson is becoming one of my comfort authors. A Song for Summer isn’t my absolute favorite of her books, but it’s still lovely.

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: I liked this a lot more than I expected to, though I never totally fell in love with it. Still, I wasn’t bothered by the voice, as I sometimes am, and the writing was seemingly effortless.

The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffiths: I did not like this book. The writing bothered me, the plot was not original, though some of the mythology was. And I was extremely bothered by the equation of religion and magic.

Arabella by Georgette Heyer: A re-read. I really enjoy Arabella, who is a spunky character with a strong philanthropic bent. Except for the times when she’s pretending to be an heiress, of course.

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: I had gotten stuck on this one before but wanted to actually read it. So I did. And I cried a lot. Excellent, but can only be described as bleak. I have a few more things to say which are spoilerish, so I may say them on Goodreads.

Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip: Most of McKillip’s books improve with re-reading. This is no exception. I still find Luna Pellinore a fascinating and tantalizing character. I want more of her story!

The Counterfeit Madam by Pat McIntosh: The latest Gil Cunningham mystery. I enjoyed it a lot, as usual, and like the way characters from past stories return and change or don’t. There is one ongoing plotline that I would like resolved. Hopefully soon.

Deception by Lee Nichols: Another book I wasn’t sure about but ended up enjoying. Emma’s a fun character and I wasn’t annoyed by her or the writing, which is always nice. (And I mean that with real sincerity: my most common complaint about books I’ve read in the past couple of years is that they are annoying–the writing is either grandiose or clunks horribly.)

Shadow of the Hegemonby Orson Scott Card: reviewed {here}

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury: reviewed {here}

Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs: It was nice to have the rest of Ward’s story, but I think I preferred Dragon Bones. Somehow the stakes for this never quite seemed real to me and so I was never that worried.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: reviewed {here}

The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin: An excellent children’s biography of Benedict Arnold! I loved the way Sheinkin allowed people to speak in their own words, using quite a few period quotations, while at the same time explaining things in clear, modern terms. In addition, he was trying to capture one of the more complex figures in Revolutionary history.

Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge: Review coming soon.

My Dear Jenny by Madeleine Robbins: [e-book won through Library Thing] I suspected that this would be a Georgette Heyer knock-off. It wasn’t that exactly–I imagine that it does owe something to her, but it didn’t read like a thinner version of any of her books. On the other hand, the language and writing is nowhere near as strong.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman: Review coming soon.

The Broken Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin: Sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I liked this one better, partly because there was less violence, or at least less violence of a sort that bothers me. Also, I really liked Oree and her voice.

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis: I wanted to read the whole Oxford series close together, to see how they hung together. To me, they’re actually quite disparate. Or at least, they strike very different notes, although they’re tied together by more than just an overlap of characters. Everyday heroism (MIKE) and courage in the face of disaster and defeat, for instance. I do find the optimism of Blackout and All Clear hard to reconcile with the non-optimism of Doomsday Book. Still, I love all three/four.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: I thinking I’m heading for a crazy Tam Lin retelling read-through. Fire and Hemlock is one of my favorites (how can I choose, though?). Polly is a lovely character, as is Granny. And I caught a bit more about names this time through–read Laurel’s full list of names carefully. It’s quite enlightening. Is the end confusing? You bet! But it rewards careful reading and re-reading and is, I think, quite in keeping with the rest of the book.

Night Fall by Joan Aiken: Picked this up at a library booksale, as an Aiken I hadn’t read. (I find it hard to resist the siren song of $1 hardbacks.) It’s a mystery that’s both odd and enchanting and, in a deeply weird way, it bears a strong resemblance to Fire and Hemlock.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede: I really wanted to like this book, and I did enjoy the different systems of magic and so on. But I felt like everything it was trying to do was done better by The Lost Conspiracy–the conflict between groups and especially Eff’s journey. To me, the real solution of the problem was so blindingly obvious that I spent most of the time wanting to say, “Come ON, Eff! Can’t you see?” Still, I think that would be less of a problem for a different reader and a different age range.

The Lost Heiress by Catherine Fisher: Book 2 of the Relic Master series. I was expecting one solution to the titular problem and found quite a different one. I love the little bits of description that Fisher weaves in–never over the top, but always setting the ground so perfectly. These are very fast reads and lots of fun.

Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card: So, as I started reading this, I thought, Huh. It seems like something’s happened between the end of the last book and now. Then I kept reading and wasn’t bothered by it any more. Just looked at my TBR list and…there’s a book that comes in between! That aside, I did enjoy this more than Shadow of the Hegemon.


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Relic Master: The Dark City-Catherine Fisher

Opening: “The seven moons were all in the sky at once.”

First of all–the main twist of this book? I totally called it! At one point I was suspicious and shortly after that I became convinced and then my conviction paid off. I think it’s essentially a function of having read so much of a certain genre–I’m not sure I would have caught it as a younger reader. And it certainly didn’t spoil the book for me, as I had to wait to nearly the end to have my suspicion confirmed.

I’ve read Incarceron, Sapphique, and now The Dark City. All three have this sense of a world gone wrong. With Incarceron and Sapphique, it’s the Era having crystalized into something static and impossible. With The Dark City, it’s the fall of the Relic Masters’ Order and the city of Tasceron (I loved how the fall of the city was dealt with–somehow longing for the lost perfect place always catches me). While this kind of setting isn’t unique, Fisher does it deftly and I found Galen, Raffi and Carys’s world even more believable than Incarceron and the Era, which sometimes slipped perilously close to allegory.

Fisher’s pace clipped right along here, making the book a fast read. In addition, there are a number of–for lack of a better term–filler pages, with each of the sections given their own title page, and with each chapter prefaced by a quote from a source in the world of the books. I liked the quotes, but did think they could have been set at the top of each chapter, rather than given their own page.

Although the plotting is brisk, I didn’t necessarily feel like there was a conflict between plot and character development. Instead, characters tended to have deep thoughts while doing something. Somehow, Fisher managed to avoid the trap of the long internal monologue while all around the character everyone else is fighting. While I often prefer thoughtful over action-filled, it’s nice to have a fun adventure too. I’ll be reading the rest of the series, and hoping it holds up to the promise of the first book.

Book source: public library
Book information: Dial (Penguin), 2011 [US date–1998 in the UK]; YA

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Sapphique: a review

by Catherine Fisher

Opening line: “The alleyway was so narrow that Attia could lean against one wall and kick the other.”

The sequel to Incarceron, Sapphique left me with just about as many questions as the first book. And yet, I didn’t feel frustrated or as if Fisher was just willfully denying her readers knowledge. It was more a sense of questions that could never be answered by anyone, author, readers or characters.

As you may have noticed if you’ve been around for awhile, worldbuilding is one of my Things. Here I was less impressed by the way the details worked and more impressed by the imagination, which is incredibly vivid. I was never convinced that Incarceron and the Realm were real, and yet I was engrossed in the story and the world nonetheless.

In Incarceron, I was struck by the way the characters seemed to be in flux, constantly changing and changing our perceptions of them at the same time. That was less apparent in Sapphique, although there were certainly a few characters who remained enigmatic. Other characters settled down into a set pattern, usually one that was quite standard. I was actually surprised at how little the expected answer was undermined when it came to characters.

I did enjoy the book and the main characters, although my favorite remains Jared who is probably one of the most enigmatic. (I like ambiguities.) And yet, I was never astounded, never completely lost in the words. I never caught my breath because something was so beautiful, or tragic, or right. Of course, not every book does this–I read a fair amount of fluff and enjoy it for what it is. Sapphique, however, seemed like it hovered just on the edge of becoming amazing.

Book source: public library
Book information:

My review of Incarceron

A few more reviews of Sapphique:
Monsters and Critics

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by Catherine Fisher

Opening line: “Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.”

There is a prison called Incarceron which no one ever enters or leaves. But within that prison Finn can remember seeing stars. On the outside, Claudia, the daughter of Incarceron’s Warden, struggles in a world which has encased itself in the past.

This is a delicious book. Oh, it’s got some dark and gritty substance to it (insert me trying to think of a good food metaphor here and failing), but as a whole it’s delicious.

In a way, it felt like a fairy tale, although it isn’t. I think that’s partly because of all of the titles in the book: The Warden, The Queen. Even Sapphique was a title as well as a name. At the same time, it’s a bit more nuanced than most fairy tales. The Warden in particular is one of the more enigmatic characters I’ve read about recently and I can’t wait to learn more about him.

I liked Claudia a lot. She falls into one of my favorite groups of heroines–the kind that is spunky and courageous without being ridiculous. I do get a little tired of the arranged marriage trope, but here I was willing to go along with it. I’m not quite sure what to make of Finn. In fact, I’m not quite sure what to make of most of the characters. Jared seems pretty uniformly good, until you get to the very end. Keiro? I just don’t know.

So, I can’t wait for the sequel, which will hopefully pin down the characters a little more. Besides which, I found the world that Fisher created fascinating, so I’m excited to return to it.

Book source: public library
Book information: Dial, 2010 (US edition); grade 7 up

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