Jamie over at I Had A Blog Once has posted a fantastic review of Ruins. You can read it (complete with great pic annotations!) over here, or check it out below…
When the parcel containing the advanced reading copy of Ruins arrived on my doorstep, I have no other words for the sound that a 25 year old male made other than a squeaking squeal. I was not disappointed. Wonderfully crafted characters clash with their nemesis’s in a battle for supremacy of the world as we know it with teenagers holding the keys to our fate. Magical cats, femme fatale red heads and teenagers strong enough to blow a school up are merely the icing on the cake for the Sentinels; reminiscent of Susan Cooper, LJ Smith and Garth Nix, Joshua Winning continues the Sentinel trilogy in Ruins and convinced this reader that he is an up and coming star in the literary world.
While many authors have used the classic hero and anti-hero archetypes, something about Winning’s characters were strangely refreshing. I’m not sure what and I’ve tried now for several days to put my finger on it but I simply can’t. I can tell you this though: his characters are loveable, they’re well developed and they’re surprising. Malika, a mixture between Satan and a femme fatale plucked straight from the pages of the Maltese Falcon is in constant battle with Sam (aka Sam Spade), the typical detective character. The true gem in the crown of Winning’s legacy though, in my opinion, is once again Isabel, the pensioner witch of days old plucked from eternity and trapped into the body of a sleek, black cat. Her character advances somewhat in this novel and though we do not get as many hints to her backstory as in Sentinel, she becomes even more interesting though I shall not say why for not wanting to spoil it for readers.
While her character isn’t likely to win a glamorous Granny competition, the look she would have given you for suggesting it paints the perfect picture of her character. Attempting to build a picture in my head of her landed me somewhere between a less haggard version of Yubaba from Spirited Away and a doting grandmother with power enough to rip the world apart. She’s such a firecracker. It is in the relationship between Isabel and Nicholas that I noticed Winning’s advancements in writing style: the dialogue and character depths are much more developed this time round and the same can be said for the novel as a whole in comparison to its predecessor Sentinel.
I found the character of Rae difficult; this wasn’t because she was poorly written or that she was difficult to like because that wasn’t the case but because she was simply not easy to empathise with. That being said, I suspect that part of her function was to not be liked so that in the finale novel of the trilogy, we get to bond with her through Nicholas. There was a shining ray (see what I did there?) of hope though towards the end that features a hole but I’m saying no more!
I often find that the location of a novel is integral to the success of a book; though I’m probably biased, I think Winning made a good move in using Norfolk and Suffolk. Ipswich of course is one of the oldest towns in England and Bury St Edmunds is not only the birthplace of the late Sir Bob Hoskins but also a historical landmark in the east; both places feature in the novel. The picturesque nature of Bury St Edmunds though grounds the novel in something that the reader can investigate and build a picture in their head. This is something that adds merit to a novel for me; much like Deborah Harkness managed to do with Oxford and the All Souls Trilogy, Winning has captured my attention using somewhere that I had previously been though completely overlooked for any merit other than shopping value. After having looked up many of the locations that Winning has used, and clearly researched, I am captivated. I have an incredibly vivid image of the locale of the story and have no difficulty imagining what each place looks like. I suspect that the using of such an underrated town is actually to his advantage because it is something that the reader has not necessarily encountered before and it would’ve been all too easy to pick London and be done with it. I’m glad he didn’t because I am tired of the same old locations being used for novels. The only instances I can actually think of in which Norfolk and Suffolk are used are David Moody’s Them or Us and Bernard Ashley’s Freedom Flight which are both set in my hometown of Lowestoft.
The effect this book had on me can only be described as that nostalgic feeling when you think of a movie from your childhood and you remember the sensation of being back there: this book reminded me of 90s teenage fiction. The difference between that fiction and teen fiction today is that it isn’t obsessed with dark clandestine romances and instead deals with danger on a massive scale rather than a local one to those characters. Kelley Armstrong’s The Darkest Powers and L.J Smith’s The Secret Circle novels are perhaps the bar that I expect novels to beat now if they’re for teenagers and fantastical in an urban setting and I can categorically say that his book will sit next to theirs on my shelf. Credit is due to Winning for being able to compete with such titanic names in the fantasy game despite this being his first supernatural thriller series to hit mass market bookshelves. I think John Catt Educational Ltd. could be onto a winner with his book series. I like many close friends and family members are readers who know what we like and they agree that he has something truly brilliant.
Review via I Had A Blog Once.