Monthly Archives: November 2013

Review of The Killing Moon – Book 1 of The Dreamblood by N.K. Jemisin

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the killing moonI read and loved Jemisin’s previous trilogy The Inheritance. See my  review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms  here and The Broken Kingdoms here. When I saw The Killing Moon at the World Fantasy Con in Brighton, I immediately snapped it up. Given that it was a different trilogy, set in an entirely different world, would I enjoy this as much as her previous work?

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and among the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers – the keepers of this peace. Priest of the dream goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe… and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, the Gatherer Ehiru must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering innocent dreamers in the goddess’s name, and Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill – or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

I did find The Killing Moon harder to get into than her former three books – indeed, I debated whether to break off halfway through the second chapter and wait until I got home from the Conference. But I persevered and by the end of Chapter 3, I was glad I did. With the unfamiliar names and complex political set-up, you really need to pay attention, however that slice of concentration at the start pays dividends as the story picks up – and is the gift that keeps giving. This book is every bit as engrossing as anything else she’s written.

The world is inventive and detailed, with echoes of the ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods, where the tension between the priesthood and rulers created power struggles. Jemisin’s world leaps off the page with the vibrant, poetic prose that has become her trademark. The ornate richness of the temple, the busy crowded streets and above all – the huge, swollen dreaming moon that is probably a gas giant rather than a moon. Not only does this moon dominate the night sky, the belief system that explains its presence also rules the lives of the population. I very much liked the premise that the Gatherers assisted those who were mortally ill to die peacefully – and also handed out summary justice to those who were found to have become corrupt. Which leads to the age-old question – who watches the watchmen?

Gatherer Ehiru has a young apprentice who has just come up from the ranks of the novices, with great potential. Young Nijiri deeply loves Ehiru and the notion of love in different forms is examined in The Killing Moon. The questions Jemisin raises within the plot are far more nuanced and interesting than the usual hetrosexual, romanticised version… Does love of the Goddess keep a soul pure enough to allow regular, ritualised murder? How exploitative is it of Ehiru to realise that Nijiri loves him wholeheartedly, and continue to rely on that love without acknowledging or wanting to return it? At what point does love and duty towards a state allow someone to endanger everyone around them?

In addition to Ehiru and Nijiri, the other main character who drives that narrative is Sunandi, a spy from the neighbouring state Kisua, who is innately hostile to the beliefs and practices of the Gatherers. Through her eyes, we get another view of the priesthood and the society. Among the numerous small details that sparkle in this book, is her belief that darker skinned individuals are better bred than those who are paler, whose ancestry have been polluted by outsiders. Her feisty, questioning attitude is in contrast to the more complacent attitude of the priests – although the action starts when Ehiru unexpectedly encounters a Gathering that is far from peaceful.

This is a tour de force – and if anyone wants a masterclass in how to construct an intricate, three-dimensional world, peopled by interesting, complex characters, then this is a book they should have on their shelves.
10/10

Review of EBOOK The Warslayer by Rosemary Edghill

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This is the wonder of Kindle – discovering gems that for some reason slipped under my radar the first time around. And the huge bonus was that this offering is just that – a free Kindle upload, which had me grinning throughout a chilly, rainy train journey to London.

warslayerLIVE THE LEGEND! Gloria “Glory” McArdle plays Vixen the Slayer in a straight-to-syndication TV show where even the fans say the villain is the better actress. The wizards of Erchanen have been searching all the worlds to find a hero, and Vixen the Slayer is the last name on their list.  The Warmother, imprisoned a thousand years before by Ginnas the Warkiller, has broken free of her ancient chains. If a hero can’t be found somewhere in all the universes to fight for them, the people of Erchanen are toast. But is it Glory they’re looking for… or Vixen

It all seemed to be a perfectly straightforward misunderstanding when Belegir was explaining it in Glory’s dressing room. The reality – if you could call it that – isn’t just fighting for her life. Faced with a challenge like that, what can a girl do but pick up her magic sword and her stuffed elephant and give her trademark battle cry, “Hi-yi-yi-yi! Come, Camrado! Evil wakes!”

There has been a lot of earnest discussion on Fantasy forums recently about female heroines cavorting around in skimpy leather costumes with a lot of attitude and a huge weapon that in reality they probably wouldn’t be able to lift off the ground. Edghill’s take on the whole business back in 2002 pretty much nails all the arguments – in an a sharp, amusing book where her protagonist, an ex-Olympic gymnast, finds herself an overnight star playing in a hugely successful TV show, The Incredibly True Adventures of Vixen the Slayer – think of Princess Xena meeting the first series of Heroes… Nearing the end of a long, gruelling shooting schedule, liberally peppered with wall to wall publicity gigs, Vixen is confronted with three oddly dressed characters in her dressing room, pleading for her help as a hero…

It is a classic and oft-visited Fantasy theme that someone from our world gets mysteriously transported across to another dimension (as reprised in the BBC’s new Saturday night offering Atlantis), normally in a pre-industrial world where horsepower is the norm. So it is here… Edghill plays beautifully with our expectations as Gloria/Vixen finds herself rapidly out of her depth. There are some very funny moments as Gloria finds herself trying to fulfil the brief of visiting heroine, using studio props. Her fight with a monster using the prop sword with a blunt edge had me sniggering aloud – while wincing when another character gets badly mauled in the process, because Edghill also provides us with a cracking adventure story as a bonus.

In addition to the story, we are treated to an article about Vixen the Slayer which will be very familiar to anyone who has read any kind of fanzine, as well an episode synopsis at the back of the book. Overall, this book is a joy and a delightful surprise. Thank you Baen for providing it on Kindle free of charge. Thank you Rosemary Edghill for writing it… And if you enjoy reading Fantasy adventure stories, or watching them on TV, then track down this book. You’ll be really glad you did…
9/10

The Adventures of Mike and SJ – Episode 13

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This thread started on a forum Mike and I shared, when we started playing off each other about this alternative/fantasy persona we each gave ourselves. Since then, we’ve started writing a novel together and Mike has had a number of books published as Michael D. Griffiths (The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part I, The Chronicles of Jack Primus, Part II, Eternal Aftermath) while I’ve been busy rewriting several books and establishing my Creative Writing classes at Northbrook College. But though he writes horror and I write sci fi, when we get together, we write… differently! So I thought I’d put a slice of our combined madness on my blog…

Oh dear, we are heading back to the castle I so recently escaped from. Oh my. At least Dahtoe is free. I wonder if he can get help?

Oh. The driver says we are being invited to dinner, along with the twenty MIB that are surrounding us. Jack and I finally share a laugh while we watch SJ preparing herself for the dinner.

‘One should always look their best for a proper formal meal. This man could be a Count or perhaps a Duke. I wonder if he’s married?’

‘He’s evil,’ Jack reminds her.

‘He’s probably loaded then, isn’t he?’ SJ continues to instruct us on proper manners with a zeal equal to her earlier cursing. I groan as we were finally led into the banquet hall.

***

I just HATE it when Mike puts words in my mouth, like that. And now, they’re CURSE words! As if I would let Aunt Gertrude down like that!

And it’s no good Mike and Jack rolling their eyes and making sarky comments when I gave them a crash course in table manners – theydining-etiquette-tips-M3_Q1_267 surely need it. Mike is just about on nodding terms with basic cutlery when he’s on his own – but get Jack sitting across the table and he just REVERTS. Ever watched a 2 year old eating a banana? Well, that’s more or less the level of finesse that the Dining Duo demonstrate when demolishing their food.

Oh no… Just look at this Banqueting Hall – the long table adorned with acres of crisp white damask tablecloth. Solid silver candlesticks loaded with white candles; their flickering light ricocheting off the glittering crystalware and shining ranks of cutlery. Oh my… look at this – soup spoons, fish knives and forks, main course, cheese knives. Ooo – and the napkins are folded into swans!

Wish I was wearing a nice dress… Aunt Gertrude would LOVE this. And the man seated to my right looks very… smooth. It’s always nice to see a man wearing a really well-fitted suit. Mmm like his aftershave. Trouble is – I’ve Jack sitting on my left. And is he excited or impressed with all this?

No – he’s got that scrunched look on his face – you know – like the grumpy garden gnome with the fishing rod who never catches anything… ‘Know what this fuss all means,’ he mumbles, jerking his head at the table. ‘Means they gonna muck ’bout with the chow. They’ll be spendin’ aller time bringin’ fancy-antsy stuff on plates. Two chews an’ it’ll be gone. Can’t ‘bide my chow bein messed with…’

Oh dear… I have a BAD feeling about this meal. ‘Please Jack, don’t do anything, now… Let’s make a good impression.’

‘Wanna make up yer min’ which side yer on, wimmin,’ he growls.

Here comes the starter… Ooo – caviar – yum! On waver-thin toast you can almost see through! Mm…

‘See? I tol yer. Fish eggs! That’s not gonna keep a man goin’, is it now?’

Oh no… Oh – Mike! Pstttt! Stop Little Wax Head Boy! He’s sliding out of your hair and making for the candles. And now he’s upset the wine cooler… Oh – I could just slide under the table from embarrassment! Let’s hope this doesn’t get any worse…

Review of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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The strapline on the cover of this intriguing book is A Tale of Love, Loss and Robots. And that is exactly what it is about.

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more. But when the government grants right to the ever-increasing robot population, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and her heart.

madscientistsdaughterIf you’re looking for a slam-dunk, action fuelled adventure full of clear-cut baddies and heavy-tech weaponry, then don’t pick up The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Because this offering is on the literary end of the genre, with nuanced, three-dimensional characterisation and coolly sophisticated prose that places this book in a heavily contemporary setting, due to the recent crash in civilisation – and also accounts for the sudden, huge reliance on robots, as their tireless assistance is needed to provide vital labour in rebuilding society. Not that this is the focus of the book.

This story concentrates on Cat and her relationship with the world, after having been tutored by a robot for all her formative years. And, by default, Finn’s relationship with Cat also is under close examination. Because the bond between them is heart and engine of the book, it has to be pitch-perfect. And it is. Don’t expect any black and white answers – this book is beautifully complex and Cat’s life unfolds in unexpected and sometimes disturbing directions.

Cat is a challenging protagonist. At times, I really disliked her selfishness and assumption that her needs are paramount – but then, she was brought up by an endlessly patient mechanoid, whose main task was to entertain, teach and befriend the little girl. Why wouldn’t she believe her wishes were of supreme importance? However, this book cleverly displays her patent shortcomings – and then has her face a series of life events that challenge her assumptions. And as she gradually learns that much of the blithe assurances she and her father mouthed back in those early days were far too cosy and simplistic, we get a ringside seat to her suffering and gradual maturity. By the end of the book, I was thoroughly rooting for her – and for Finn, whose initial purpose is far from clear cut.

Clarke’s clever examination of this complicated and often emotional subject assumes her readers are equally intelligent and willing to allow her to gradually unfold some of the major problems surrounding close relationships between humans and robots in a thoroughly grown-up manner. I loved it and will be recalling this classic book for a long time to come.
10/10

Review of Indie EBOOK Below Mercury by Mark Anson

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A really good space opera adventure takes a lot of skill to write. The characters have to be convincing and compelling; the adventure Space tug 090613 300dpihas to be engaging and above all the backdrop has to have a major impact on what is going on. Space adventures where it is all exactly like Earth, except for a few mentions of drifting and concerns about vacuum won’t cut it, but neither will I tolerate pages of techno-babble in omniscient viewpoint. So I approached this freebie I’d loaded on my Kindle on the strength of a cool cover and promising opening without too much anticipation.

BelowMercuryMercury – closest planet to the Sun. In the permanent darkness of Chao Meng-fu crater lie vast fields of ice that that have never seen the Sun, and the ruins of Erebus Mine, abandoned and forgotten after a devastating explosion that claimed the lives of 257 people. After an eight-year legal battle, the relatives of the victims have finally succeeded in forcing the Space Accidents Board to reopen its investigation. Matt Crawford, a mine engineer who escaped the disaster, joins a team sent back to the mine to discover the true cause of the accident. The team is led by Clare Foster, a pilot in the U.S. Astronautics Corps, who has taken on the mission in the hope of rebuilding her career after a near-miss incident. But as they set off for Mercury, they are unaware of a powerful enemy ranged against them…

Mark Anson cle71QOg-KZn7Larly knows his stuff and there is a wealth of detail for those who enjoy such things. But he also can write characters – including a convincing female protagonist, and keeps his cast of main characters small enough that we get to know them well, so that when the action kicks off we care about what will happen to them. And I really enjoyed the initial chapters where he sets up the reasons for the voyage back to Mercury – I felt the legal wrangling over the disaster was completely realistic.

While I’ve read one or two reviews who felt the initial pacing was slow, I was quite happy to relax into Anson’s fluid style as he steadily ramps up the tension. The depiction of the mine at the bottom of the crater and the economic and political background is strong and his descriptions are vivid and compelling. I was reading late into the night to discover what happened to the investigating team once everything began to go wrong.  He is also a talented artist, who produces a series of meticulous drawings and maps to support his detailed, well depicted world – a couple of examples of these drawings are here and show up really well on my basic-model Kindle.

While the story denouement wasn’t totally unexpected, Anson produces enough twists and shocks along the way that kept me hooked to the end. And I am reassured to hear this is the first in a planned series, as I will be making a point of looking out for more from this indie author. Anson is One To Watch in a demanding genre where it is difficult to achieve a truly readable, well written book – particularly without the support of a publishing house and professional editor.
8/10

Review of The Cold Kiss of Death – Book 2 of Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod

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I’d read the first in this entertaining urban fantasy series, The Sweet Scent of Blood,  over a year ago and had been impressed with the emotional depth of the protagonist and McLeod’s adroit plotting – this is certainly a cut above the average supernatural romp. For various reasons, I hadn’t written a review – but the reasons had nothing to do with not enjoying or liking the book. Would I enjoy the sequel as much?

coldkissGiven her sidhe bloodline and her job at Spellcrackers, Genny Taylor is accustomed to seeing ghosts. But rarely has she been haunted by one so persistent. Who – or what – ever it is, is trying to help her, she knows. Only she doesn’t know how. Then a friend of Genny’s is murdered, and she stops worrying about the meddlesome spirit and starts worrying about the fact that all the evidence points to… her.

That’s the blurb. What it doesn’t convey, is the well-developed characterisation of Genny, who despite blundering around with all the finesse of an elephant in a china shop at times, I found sympathetic and enjoyable. It was something of a relief to have a heroine who fails to pick up so many of the nuances despite being intelligent and reasonably alert. McLeod is walking something of a tightrope. Genny Taylor is a rarity, as sidhe this side of a closed portal are rare – a scenario as familiar as the dark creepy cover. However, she avoids Genny becoming a Mary Sue – someone innately ‘special’ who breezes through the book hardly touched by all the chaos around her – by making the consequences and final fallout brutal and longlasting. One of the main supporting characters is killed off in this book, for instance.

And kudos to the publishers for the cool covers – I’m always ranting about inappropriate covers and spoiling blurb.  So it’s only fair to hand a gold star to Gollancz and Ace for having the same girl on the covers of all the books, with slickly sharp cover commentary that doesn’t tell half the story before we’ve opened the book.

The world is complicated – there are vampires, goblins, fae and witches, all with their own strengths and weaknesses and all operating largely beneath humanity’s radar. But what I particularly liked about this and the previous book, is McLeod’s plotting. Genny only has a vague inkling of what is going on, and a lot of that isn’t what it initially seems. So we go on a journey with the protagonist while the plot steadily unpeels, like an onion skin, presenting the actual storyline to be something quite different, with far higher stakes, than we or poor Genny initially realised.

We also learn a slice of Genny’s backstory – a bleak and dark slice. The initially chirpy tone of this book belies some of the more chilling undercurrents and this is one book I certainly would think twice before allowing a younger teen to read it. McLeod’s writing is for the grown-ups with some adult themes. And this adult was engrossed and entertained throughout and particularly enjoyed the dramatic and entirely convincing ending. I shall be looking around for the rest of the series and if you like your urban fantasy intelligently depicted with clever plotting, I recommend you give it a go.
9/10

Review of Tales of Eve edited by Mhairi Simpson

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My friend Mhairi Simpson informs me that this small anthology was born during a late night session at the bar during a Con last year. It’s one of those cool ideas that once suggested, everyone wonders why they didn’t think of it. And it came to fruition because once everyone completely sobered up, it was still a cool idea – an anthology around the notion of women creating an ideal companion. Hence the title, Tales of Eve.

Weird Science, Stepford Wives, that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…  Genre fiction abounds with tales of men creating (or tales of eveattempting to create) the perfect woman.  Now it’s the woman’s turn. But being female, she’s flexible. She doesn’t just want to create the perfect man. She wants the perfect companion, be it man, beast or washing machine.

The other smart touch was to ensure there were a couple of big names in this anthology, along with those not so well-known and male contributors as well as women. In short, a genuine mix. But what was clearly necessary to get into this select anthology of ten stories, was that the writing had to be good, the concept sharply original and the story to bounce off the page. There isn’t a poor or indifferent story in here – and I’m picky about short fiction.

“Father’s Day” by Francesca Terminiello is one of the most memorable for me – mostly because the ending gave me goosebumps – in a creepy, oh nooo… way. She sets up the characters very effectively, so that I really cared about little Molly, which had to be the point to make that ending so disturbing. Very, very well done.

“The CompaniSIM, The Treasure, The Thief and Her Sister” by C.J. Paget takes the main theme in a completely different direction. I hated the protagonist and what she was doing – so the reveal at the ending gave me great satisfaction, as well as underlining there is nothing so visceral as real sibling hatred.

Juliet McKenna’s very first science fiction short story “Game, Set and Match?” is great fun. The pacing and tension were beautifully handled all the way through. But under the apparent humour lies a far sharper observation and this is one of the stories that has lodged in my head – because  men often do get far too caught up in the competitive business of playing a ‘friendly’ game…

Rob Haines managed to pull off a really nifty trick, to make me really care for an artificial intelligence in the story “In Memoriam”. And the one that I recall as the most disturbing is Ren Waroom’s “Unravel”. There is more than a metaphorical edge to this exploration of grief.  Suzanne McLeod’s “Mother Knows Best” mines the slightly fraught mother/daughter relationship with humorous and unexpected results.  While Adrian Tchaikovsky’s story “Fragile Creations” is another one with an unexpected twist…

But the thing is – they are all gems. Every. Single. One. A massive tribute to Mhairi as editor and kudos to Fox Spirit for publishing the anthology – we all know that short story collections don’t make anyone rich. If you enjoy writing and reading short fiction, then track down this collection – it is a masterclass in how to take an apparently simple concept and meld it into a number of original, beautifully crafted stories.
10/10

Review of EBOOK Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves – Book 4 of The Shetland Quartet

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My mother – a crime fan – treated me to this ebook as an introduction to Ann Cleeves. I do dimly recall that she mentioned it was the last in the series and I should get the best out of Cleeves’ work if I started at the beginning of Jimmy Perez’s adventures. But by the time I read it, I’d forgotten her advice. So, given that I’ve never read any Ann Cleeves’ mysteries before, did it matter?

Shetland Detective Jimmy Perez knows it will be a difficult homecoming when he returns to the Fair Isles to introduce his fiancée, Fran, to his parents. It’s a community where everyone knows each other, and strangers, while welcomed, are still viewed with a degree of mistrust. Challenging to live on at the best of times, with the autumn storms raging, the island feels cut off from the rest of the world. Trapped, tension is high and tempers become frayed. Enough to drive someone to murder… When a woman’s body is discovered at the renowned Fair Isles bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair, the islanders react with fear and anger. With no support from the mainland and only Fran to help him – Jimmy has to investigate the old-fashioned way. He soon realizes that this is no crime of passion – but a murder of cold and calculated intention. With no way off the island until the storms abate – Jimmy knows he has to work quickly. There’s a killer on the island just waiting for the opportunity to strike again…

blue lightningCongratulations to Pan – I think the back cover blurb is the best I’ve read for a while. It gives a sense of the flavour and richness of the story without presenting us with any major spoilers. And it is spot on with the allusion to the old fashioned feel of this tale. Set within an isolated community and a limited number of suspects, all of whom could have had strong reasons for murdering the rather unpleasant victim, the story reminds me of the Agatha Christie thrillers I grew up reading. However, Cleeves ensures that nod to the past is just that – as her protagonist is far more vulnerable and riddled with doubts than the imperturbably self-assured Miss Marple. And as subsequent events unfolded, I was jolted from treating this as an intellectual puzzle, and became fully engrossed in the story while Cleeves ramps up the action and the emotional tempo with wonderful descriptions and shrewd observations sharper than the knives her murderer wields.

Murder mysteries are often defined by their surroundings – think of Stephen Booth’s Derbyshire landscape; Colin Dexter’s Oxford cityscape and more recently, Dana Stabenow’s Alaskan scenery. Ann Cleeves sets these stories in the Shetlands in a landscape she clearly knows well and loves. Her description of the sudden storms, dramatic harsh scenery and the isolation of the natives is pin sharp. And this is a landscape with teeth. The characters are defined by their reaction to this bleak, magnificent backdrop, which also controls their behaviour. When a storm hits this part of the world, everyone is confined indoors for days at a time and the island is cut off.

Even though I had not read the other books, I was intrigued with Perez’s personal life and willing his lover, Fran, to bond with his family and the landscape, enabling Perez to return to his family home should he wish to do so. That Cleeves is a writer at the height of her powers rapidly became apparent and I just relaxed into the action and got swept along, confident in the knowledge that I was in the hands of an experienced and talented storyteller. She took me along a twisting story full of incident and details that gave insights into possible suspects and the murder victim. As with the best whodunit, Blue Lightning is an exploration into human behaviour and what exactly makes some of us tick – and a very few, break the ultimate taboo of taking another life.

So, after this eventful, excellently written journey – does Cleeves provide us with a suitably exciting denouement? Oh, absolutely. I read this late into the night and found myself genuinely moved by the climax. I read far too many books to weep easily, but this one had me crying at the end. However, before rushing out to grab a copy of this book – perhaps you would be advised to listen to my mother – and start at the beginning of this wonderful series with the first book Raven Black. I know that I shall be off to track this down, so I can read the rest of this excellent series in the correct order.
10/10

Review of novella Bite by Gardner Goldsmith

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I picked up this copy from the author himself – which is always a special moment for any book addict. As ever, I was drawn to it by the awesome cover, being the shallow sort who likes tremendous art and splashes of colour to adorn my books. And for once, the blurb on the front got it exactly right. An action-packed collision of horror and noir, it announced.

Sylvester Cole is the classic noir protagonist. An outsider, balancing on a moral tightrope where he struggles to do the right thing, bite-smallagainst the constant pressure caused by fighting feral beings who treat humanity like cattle. Creatures for whom our justice system was never devised. He is exhausted and jangled after a particularly traumatic case where one of those morally ambiguous areas look less grey and more black – when the girl of his dreams sashays across the bar and in breathless tones, appeals to him for help…

As comfortingly familiar as late night cocoa. But don’t get too relaxed. Like the title, this story has teeth. So does Goldsmith pull off his particular version of this very well-known territory? Yes he does.

The prose is wonderful. I love his particular blend of metaphor and sharp characterisation as he builds the world, which is so precise and detailed you can inhale the fumes from Sylvester’s glass. Goldsmith’s experience as a screenwriter shows in his slick depiction of a main character who we quickly bond with, despite his rough exterior. I’m looking forward to reading his first novel.

So does he successfully wrap up this slim volume? Well… I have to say that the ending slightly winded me – I certainly didn’t see it coming. And, yes, it works. But I wanted more of Sylvester and the mysterious beautiful girl, so the slightly abrupt conclusion to their story jarred, rather. If you like your fiction stylish, dark and on the shorter side, then Bite will surely tick all the boxes.
8/10

Review of Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

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I acquired my uncorrected proof copy of this book at the World Fantasy Con 2013 and when considering what to read that night with the wind moaning through the hotel window in an impressive imitation of Wuthering Heights, my hand slid towards the jolly red cover. Which just goes to show what a clever hand it is – the book is aimed at the eight to twelve-year-old market, but this considerably older reader found it great fun.

mars evacueesWhen I found out I was being evacuated to Mars, I took it pretty well. And, despite everything that happened to me and my friends afterwards, I’d do it all again. Because until you’ve been shot at, pursued by terrifying aliens, taught maths by a laser-shooting robot goldfish and tried to save the galaxy, I don’t think you can say that you’ve really lived.

And congratulations to the blurb writer. It perfectly captures the flavour of the adventure and the entertaining voice of the first person protagonist, without producing any major spoilers – which these days is an increasing rarity on book covers.

Alice Dare is being evacuated to Mars because of her mother’s fame, so she doesn’t immediately fit in with the cool kids. Neither does her friend, Josephine, who is being evacuated because she is extremely clever. For all the chirpy voice, this book doesn’t shirk some gnarly issues – how Alice and her friends deal with some unpleasant bullying and the effects of war on families – being two of the more hardcore problems they are confronted with.

The humorous voice allows Alice to pick her way through this minefield convincingly and yet without creating too much emotional havoc. Although there were no other book credits on the cover, I was fairly sure that McDougall wasn’t a new author. The writing was just too assured to be someone feeling their way into the craft – and sure enough when I returned home to my know-it-all friend, the internet confirmed my suspicions. Sophia McDougall has written the highly regarded alternate history trilogy for adults, Romanitas. Which accounts for the deft characterisation, perfect pacing and entertaining story arc that ensured I zoned out the howling windows until the satisfying ending. This is a book that will certainly be on my granddaughter’s reading list just as soon as she’s ready for it. I can’t wait to share it with her – in the meantime, why not track it down when it comes available at the end of March next year? It’s simply too good to leave solely for the children.
9/10