Oh yes… Our ability to visualise something that isn’t in front of us is what defines us as humans…
I hadn’t heard of this intriguing series, until Himself stumbled across it and recommended it to me. Though since then, I have learnt that she was awarded the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2010 for Rosemary and Rue. Subsquently, she has also gone on to write the successful Newsflesh series under the name Mira Grant.
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas… The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.
Oh yes. McGuire has absolutely nailed this one – and it is a lot harder to achieve than she makes it look. A half-breed not entirely welcome in either the human or Fae world, who is driven onto the streets in her teens makes for a feisty, interesting heroine. And right at the beginning of the book there is an incident that had my jaw dropping – it is a major game-changer that changes the whole tenor of the story and Toby’s subsequent life. It is a brave move, because my instincts were that it should have come later in the story – at the end of the first book, for instance. But it certainly succeeded in bonding me to the character.
Urban fantasy, when well written with plenty of pace and a strong storyline, is one of my favourite sub-genres and this series has been added to that list. While abiding by many of the main conventions, McGuire has also managed to infuse these books with an overarching sense of other. We are never able to forget that Toby is not entirely human as the punchy first person narrative describes the smell and taste of magical signatures and she moves through the streets of San Francisco with wary stealth, alert for dangers that simply don’t exist for the humans crowding the sidewalks.
The magical rules are well defined and I enjoyed the fact that Toby’s abilities are weak and take their toll on her physically – it makes it far more interesting when your protagonist has to carefully weigh up the consequences of casting a spell. The murder mystery was also slickly handled – I certainly didn’t spot whodunit until the antagonist was revealed.
McGuire has also demonstrated that she isn’t afraid to kill off a major supporting character when the story demands it, which had me thoroughly paying attention during the fight scenes. The denouement worked well and the story had a satisfying ending, despite being the first in a long-running series – I’ll certainly be tracking down the next book.
This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…
Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost of the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…
Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.
Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…
As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.
But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy and science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…
When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.
Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.
Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec reign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…
We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.
Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.
What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.
This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.
This book was written and published after Charmed Life – see my review here – but occurs at least twenty-five years before the events that take place in Charmed Life. I’ve have the pleasure of reading this book to my granddaughter for the past month or so when she’s come to stay and this week-end we finally finished it. Would it be as much fun as I recalled?
Discovering that he has nine lives and is destined to be the next ‘Chrestomanci’ is not part of Christopher’s plans for the future: he’d much rather play cricket and wander around his secret dream worlds. But he soon finds that destiny is difficult to avoid, and that having more than the usual number of lives is pretty inconvenient – especially when you lose them as easily as he does!
The joy of re-reading this book aloud is that I was able to thoroughly appreciate Wynne Jones’ technique, as she steadily builds the story. Christopher is an interesting character – he is misunderstood by the adults around him, coming across as arrogant and haughty, when in fact he is bitterly unhappy. It is a joy to read an adult who gets that miserable, traumatised children don’t necessarily sob becomingly into a hanky and pour all their unhappiness out to the nearest available grown up as often depicted in Hollywood. More commonly, they become one of the awkward squad…
That said, Christopher may be fundamentally unhappy, but this book is still brimful of biting humour, some of it laugh-aloud, some of it just deliciously sharp and grinworthy. If your taste runs to well-constructed fantasy, then consider giving it a go – because it happens to be parked in the Children’s section in the library doesn’t mean it isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read. Wynne Jones is one of those marvellous authors who doesn’t write down to her audience. Christopher is also surrounded by a cast of enjoyable characters, ranging from Tacroy, his spirit guide in the other Words, to the Goddess of Asheth, who yearns to become a schoolgirl. The antagonist is also very well depicted and all too plausible.
As for the denouement – it is beautifully handled and had me reading to Frankie faaar later than I should, because neither of us were unable to pull away from the story. It is always a risk introducing her to books I’ve previously read and loved – what if they fall short? Not only do am I stuck with reading a disappointing book, but it also compromises my earlier pleasure. It’s one reason why I am not an enthusiastic re-reader. But Wynne Jones is worth the risk, because her writing is so enjoyable and wonderfully crafted.
It doesn’t hurt my rep with my granddaughter for picking great books, either!
After the day from hell – my new computer monitor induced the MOTHER of all migraines – this article actually managed to make me laugh… So I had to share it with you!
The funniest book titles from the world of publishing
Occasionally, when we lift our noses up from our dusty tomes here at Interesting Literature Towers, people ask us, ‘What’s the best book you’ve come across in your research?’ Okay, they don’t ask it all that often. Picking a best book would prove difficult (though we’ve compiled some of our favourite book recommendations here), but probably the one that’s made us laugh the most is Bizarre Books, a compendium of downright ridiculous but genuine books and their laughable titles. The sort of books that will make you wonder how they ever got published, and who thought the title might be a good idea (though to be fair, some of them have been the victim of language changes which the original publishers could not have foreseen – Grimm’s Tales Made Gay, for instance). Edited by Russell Ash and Brian Lake, Bizarre…
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I enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own.
Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.
For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. So you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.
The story revolves around Severin Unck, whose peculiar upbringing on film sets while accompanying her father and a series of step-mothers, has left her with a desire to make her own films – this time the non-fiction type. This is a world where the Moon and all the planets in the solar system are inhabitable, just about… with the help of a substance secreted by the mysterious callowhales who live on Mars. So we’re also talking about a mysterious alien creature on top of everything else – though there are a plethora of those, which are often renamed for their Earth counterparts. In addition to being a whole lot busier than our solar system, there are some other oddities to this version of the 20th century. Films continue to be manufactured as silent, despite there being the technology to produce talkies, which are considered crass and generally rejected by the general populace. No… I didn’t get it, either. But Valente has a knack of announcing this is how it is and after an initial jolt of surprise, I found myself accepting it. But what this does, is overlay the whole book with the period feel of the early 1920’s – even when the date is later. Though the timeline jumps around like a flea on a hot brick…
There is a mystery surrounding Severin’s disappearance and this is the narrative engine for the book, as it circles around the characters who impacted on her life at various times and finally, the puzzle is fully explained. On the way, all sorts of ideas are examined, such as what makes art; how we define family; the nature of goodness, as opposed to badness; what makes us human… In less skilful hands this potpourri of a story could have rapidly descended into an unmanageable mess and it is a testament to Valente’s technical ability that it didn’t. Furthermore, she manages to produce an extraordinary novel bristling with life and vibrancy, peopled by an astonishing cast of eccentrics.
If you yearn to read something completely different – and even if you don’t – go and track this book down. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’ll guarantee you won’t have read anything else quite like it.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:
EBOOK Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
34% Considering my stained and increasingly grimy gown, no one was going to believe I had a good reason to be entering an upscale office building in the middle of the night. There’s pushing the bounds of credibility, and then there’s just getting silly.
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…
The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.
So far, I’ve really been enjoying this fae-based whodunit. Toby is an enjoyable protagonist and the world is satisfyingly threatfilled and quirky.
This Champions’ Blogging Award is generated by successful crime Indie author, Seumas Gallacher for those amongst the blogging community who go the extra mile to encourage others.
Recipients, if you choose to accept and wish to propagate the CHAMPIONS AWARDS, please do the following:
1. Post this Award Sticker on your blog, with the hashtag #CHAMPIONSAWARDS
2. Acknowledge the sponsor of your Awards.
3. Choose at least five of your own nominees and advise them accordingly, attaching these 5 guidelines.
4. Keep it simple… no need for explanations for the Awards… we know how great these folks are.
5. You are free to give out these Awards as frequently as you wish.
Many thanks for nominating me for this award, Seumas. If you haven’t swung by and checked out his blog, I recommend you do – he is generous with advice as an established self published author, as well as regularly hosting stimulating interviews with a range of authors.
Anastasia at Read & Survive
Ana at Ana’s Lair
Micheline at Micheline’s Blog
Proxy at Books by Proxy
Sophie at Sophie E Tallis
I picked up the first book, Red Rising – see my review here – last month and was blown away by the full-on action, the twists and turns and the climactic ending. Yes… I’m aware that there is a Hunger Games vibe that runs through it, but given that I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games trilogy anyway, and that Brown’s detailed worldbuilding had the savage winnowing embedded within the culture that Darrow is rebelling against, I didn’t have a problem with it. The second book, Golden Son – see my review here – was equally action-packed, with a similarly cataclysmic ending that had me longing to get hold of the third book.
Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.
As it happens, I didn’t have to wait too long, as it was released a few days ago – yippee! Would this final book continue to engross me? To be honest, it did have a slightly sticky start. Brown’s forthright pacey style stuttered, and I found the opening pages a bit of a trudge as it seems to backtrack, rather than plunge headlong into the galloping plot. However, I persevered as I had really enjoyed the first two slices of this adventure, and was very curious to see how it would all pan out. About a quarter of the way in, the book picked up pace as Darrow was busy trying to stay alive, lurching from crisis to crisis as the rebellion kicked off around him.
I like his character. Brown manages to provide the classic, driven alpha male who nonetheless is assailed by doubts and painfully aware of the consequences of some of his actions. I also enjoyed the fact that although there are regular outbreaks of bloody violence throughout the trilogy – this is not one for the squeamish – those deaths continue to impact on the action, both personally and politically. I like the fact that it mattered when some of the characters died – and went on mattering throughout the trilogy.
Once Morning Star found its feet, the plot barrelled forward with Brown’s usual explosive energy. There is also a fair amount of humour running through the story and some moving moments as Darrow strives to hold onto the group of people he has befriended during his roller-coaster progress, though those friendships are constantly threatened by the sense of betrayal they feel at his duplicity. I also enjoyed the dilemma Darrow faces as he becomes the poster boy for the rebellion due to a particular piece of film repeatedly shown to inspire the Reds to rise up for justice. How can he move on from his bereavement and invest in another relationship, when he is defined by his heartbreak and grief?
Not that Brown breaks his stride when presenting his character this particular problem – he is too busy creating yet another crushing problem for Darrow to endure. So, did he accomplish a suitably climactic and convincing ending? Yes, he did. It was a fitting conclusion to a really entertaining and enjoyable read – and if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, don’t start with Morning Star, get hold of Red Rising. Pierce Brown is One To Watch.