Tag Archive | Stefan Bachmann

Book Review: Cinders & Sparrows

Really, this book is more for October or early November, but I was eager to read and review it as the author, Stefan Bachmann, is on my list of authors to watch, as I love his way with words.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first: Being a Christian, reading stories where witches are the heroes, even Harry Potter, a series I like, makes me uncomfortable. Communing with the dead as the witches do in this story, is definitely more how real witches operate–think the witch of Endor from the Bible. Thus, I am reluctant to recommend this story for any child I know. Nevertheless, I do recommend it for older people on certain merits, and you’ll see those below.

That all being said, there’s lots to like about the story. Zita Brydgeborn, a 12-year-old orphan who works as a house maid, receives a letter that she’s inherited a castle. She’s excited and surprised that her family has seemingly found her and leaves at once to go to Blackbird Castle. The castle is fantastic, not unlike the famous Hogwarts, and Bachmann has us on familiar footing as Zita begins to take witch lessons from Mrs. Cantanker, her new guardian. The main theme is also clearly good vs. evil, though the definitions of both things are pressed within the pages of the story, solidifying it more into a fantasy where people when they die go to an underworld to which live humans can still travel. The story sports a lot of fairy tale references, numerous similarities to the HP series, and in the end resoundingly celebrates life, something I can get onboard with. It’s an exciting story with the main character having to constantly reassess what’s being told her and who to trust.

The main thing I like about C&S is the writing. Again, Bachmann has a wonderful gift with words and I can’t wait to see what he writes next. Some of his sentences and phrases I just want to read over and over again. With this book, he shows himself as a clear possible successor to JK Rowling, should he decide to pursue a series in this vein. The plotting was also well done, and I enjoyed the ending, especially the dragon stairs.

Other works I have read by Bachmann are A Drop of Night, a very creepy, quasi-dystopian adventure tale with all things French that would make a cool movie or TV show, and The Peculiar, which delves into pagan lore, and introduced me to his awesome, crackling writing style.

For lovers of the Harry Potter series, I would highly recommend this book as it’s a glimpse as how a different writer may have handled that story. It may be grating for me to mention HP so much along with this story, but the similarities are everywhere, from Zita being an orphan who gets a letter delivered to her by magical means, to the castle with its creatures and changing rooms, to even the plot, where are horrible curse never to be used is used. It was like when I read Eragon and at every turn, there was The Lord of the Rings. A lot of stories are similar and each can be good and treasured in their own right. C&S has enough of its own uniqueness to break with HP by the end.

A Drop of Night: Book Review

I have a new favorite writer. Ok, ok, disclosure: I am a bit biased as I know relatives of his, but I really love the way that Stefan Bachmann writes. His writing is so alive, and he sucks you right in.

The first book I read of his was The Peculiar, and at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like, though I enjoyed his style. I am a little tired of the standard fairy lore, especially having read much of it in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. Somehow, though Bachmann managed to make fairies seem fresh. Maybe it was the added benefit of being set in a Victorian steampunk era. At any rate, before long, he had me hooked and I’m excited to read the sequel.

A Drop of Night is for slightly older readers–I say teens and up–for it has some gore and a lot of scary situations. This one is written in the first person and despite Anouk’s narration almost almost being purple, I l.o.v.e.d. it. Her way of describing people and situations is firecracker fresh, and one finds her immediately both likable and annoying. Bachmann balances her account with that of a French girl living at the time of the Revolution, and if there are slight similarities in their turn of phrase, by the end of the story, there’s a reason for it.

(Spoilers). Although I don’t want to give away too much of the plot of the story, A Drop of Night reminded me greatly of the movie The Cube that came out a few years ago. Both stories involve a group of people trying to figure a way out of a human-made prison involving series of connected rooms, booby traps, and constantly changing circumstances. If Hollywood is looking for an idea for a teen horror flick, this would be it, but they would probably ruin it.

By the end of the book, I, too, felt trapped in 18th Century France, and smothered by the smells, the flowers, and the neverending silks and fabrics on everything! I half-expected the clockwork puppets and dolls from Doctor Who‘s “The Girl in the Fireplace” to show up along with the multiple villains and traps. It also made me want to read Daphne Du Maurier’s sumptuous Frenchman’s Creek again. The location and environment ended up being the overpowering main character, and even after finishing the story, I still can’t shake off the oppressive nature of the place. I can imagine if any of the teenagers survived (and I’m not telling that) that they would be haunted for years to come.

Action aside, A Drop of Night is really that. We are shown a brief time in these teenagers’ lives and learn some heartbreaking things that they have to deal with. Drops of darkness in otherwise pleasant looking lives. For the villains, we can see that one drop of darkness became two, and so on and so forth, until there wasn’t anything but darkness for them. Bachmann’s writes gripping, fantastical tales that also have a heart and soul. Alive is his writing voice. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. He’s definitely a writer to watch.