Make sure the pesky dragonets understand they’re to do what they’re told, rather than follow your example…
Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.
I have dusted off this review – which I first posted back in October 2010, nearly ten years ago – in honour of Naomi Novik’s recent release, A Deadly Education. Her Temeraire series is a real joy – and is one of the few series that I have been seriously tempted to reread…
If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.
The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.
It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow… As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.
While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.
In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast, reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series. 9/10
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with SPIDER WEBS. I’ve selected Wintersmith – Book 3 of the Tiffany Aching series and Book 35 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
This edition was produced by Corgi Childrens in July 2010. This is the cover that caused me to choose it for this theme, given that the scene is swathed in spider webs. I do have a soft spot for this cover as it is the one I have on my own copy of the book – and given that this story holds a special place in my heart, I have a real fondness for it. But it isn’t my favourite.
Published in October 2006 by HarperTempest, this is another strong contender. I really like it – the snowflakes make an attractive addition and the fact we don’t see Tiffany’s face gives it a sense of mystery and allows me to continue with my own imagined appearance for one of my favourite young protagonists. I’m also delighted that one of the Nac Mac Feegle makes an appearance. When my grandson was reading this series, ‘Crivens!’ became a favourite family exclamation…
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in September 2007, is my favourite. It encapsulates the style of the original Discworld covers – and again we have three of the main Nac Mac Feegle warriors – Rob Anybody, Daft Wullie and Big Yan. I love the font and overall design. And while I’m aware that Pratchett’s name doesn’t appear to be very visible – it is highly likely to be embossed, seeing as it is on all our covers.
This edition, produced by HarperCollins in September 2015 is the only one not featuring any of the colourful characters from the story. But nonetheless, it is an attractive cover. I love the three-D effect of the title font with the green leaves twining through it and the author font is nicely balanced. The deep blue shading into the black works well with the sense of chill and coldness evoked by the title. My only misgiving is that this title doesn’t convey the humour of this story – unlike all the other designs.
This edition, published by Corgi Childrens in May 2017, is also a contender. I love this one. Lots of drama and movement, with a cool graphic novel treatment of Tiffany Aching on her broomstick, giving those Nac Mac Feegle a lift. The snowflakes, flowing cloak and antics of those naughty blue men provide sufficient appeal for the younger market – though this one is too good to just leave to the children. It was so nearly my favourite, but I did feel the title was just a bit too small. Which is your favourite?
I first noted this one after having read the Cap’s excellent review at The Captain’s Quarters – but what stuck with me is that I happen to be a fan of Aaron’s writing – see my reviews of Garrison Girl, Fortune’s Pawn as Rachel Bach, and Nice Dragon’s Finish Last. The final review is of the first book in the Heartstriker series, a stormingly good urban fantasy romp about a huge draconic power struggle. And the reason I particularly mention it, is because Minimum Wage Magic is a spinoff series set in the same awesome world – however don’t worry if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the Heartstriker series, because this series is written as a standalone.
BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
REVIEW: I have always enjoyed Aaron’s writing style. Smart, pacey and with nice touches of humour and plenty of inventive plot twists, she is one of my favourite authors for a solid reason. Opal is a wonderful protagonist, gutsy and impulsive with a driving need to get away from her very controlling father. She is very much down on her luck at the start of the story, but has a hunch that this particular lot contains something special… Which is when the plot really kicks off. In the tradition of the best urban fantasy adventures, once this story gets going, it doesn’t stop. We have terrifying magic, death gods, grumpy dragons, cybernetic hit men and cockatrice chicks… It’s fabulous and fun and I didn’t want it to stop.
The other aspect of this book I really enjoyed is the world. No wonder Aaron wanted to use this awesome and inventive backdrop for more than one adventure. Detroit was destroyed and the magical city that arose in its place has its own magical entity, who tends to move buildings around when the whim takes her. This makes for some interesting situations. Running away from the villains can become a lot more challenging when the landscape around you is constantly shifting. There are some lovely surprises within the story I didn’t see coming and I’m definitely getting hold of the next story in this excellent series. Highly recommended for fans of well written urban fantasy adventures. 9/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Map’s Edge – Book 1 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair -release date 15th October
#fantasy adventure #magic
BLURB: Dashryn Cowl has run out of places to hide. The erstwhile sorcerer of the Imperial College fled the Bolgravian Empire when his high-flying family fell from grace, but the tyrannical empire is still hunting for him. So when he gets his hands on a map showing a place outside the known lands rich in istariol, the mineral that fuels sorcery, he sees a way back to power. There’s only one problem: it means masquerading as an Imperial Cartomancer (an instant death sentence) and finding some dupes to help him mine the istariol in secret, no questions asked. But somehow, amid the dangers of the road (floods and avalanches, beasts, barbarians and monsters), a strange thing begins to happen: Dashryn starts to care about his ragtag followers and their strange odyssey into the ruins of an ancient forgotten civilisation. But his past won’t let him be: the implacable Imperial Bloodhound Toran Zorne has caught his scent, and Zorne has never yet failed to bring his quarry to ground. At the edge of the map, there’s no going forward and no going back . . .
Yes – I’ve fallen behind with my Netgalley arcs, because this one is due out tomorrow and I haven’t even read it, yet. But I am very much looking forward to it. The cover is awesome and I really like the sound of it. I’m also a fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews for the fantastic Olympus trilogy that he’s written with Cath Mayo – Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War, and Sacred Bride. If the writing is half as punchy, intelligent and nuanced in Map’s Edge, I shall be thoroughly enjoying this one. Had anyone else read it?
I’ve recently returned from a two-week writing retreat in Bexhill where I was writing alongside my lovely sister in law, who is in the final stages of her thesis on the perceptions of despair within the monastic community of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, I was cavorting across the skies with grumpy old Castellan, while writing Picky Eaters Part 2. And what a place to imagine a flying dragon! The sea and sky were just amazing and so inspirational…
BLURB:A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.
However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.
The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series. 9/10
BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I haven’t been around this last couple of weeks, as I’ve been away on a writing retreat with my sister-in-law in Bexhill in a lovely flat overlooking the sea. That’s where the photos are from. My sister-in-law is on the last lap of her thesis on looking at how the issue of despair was discussed within monastic circles during the Middle Ages. As for me, I took along Picky Eaters Part 2 and managed to write 27,000 words, charting the further adventures of Castellan the Black, in between watching storms and sunshine sweep across the bay. We have been working hard – only watching The Great British Bakeoff and writing into the night, hence the significant lack of books I managed to get through. Though what I lacked in in quantity, I made up for in quality…
Apologies for my lack of interaction, particularly visiting other blogs, but my laptop has major memory issues at present, so I had to disconnect from the internet, which I was only accessing with my phone. Hopefully I’ll be able to start catching up during the coming week!
Last fortnight I have read:
The Invisible Lives of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. I absolutely loved this one. Accomplished and unputdownable – this is a tour de force from a writer at the height of her powers. Review to follow.
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. Another stormingly good read – though in case you’re wondering… Hogwarts it ain’t. No teachers – the students are instructed via the magical school and manage to keep safe from the constant threat of deadly monsters drawn by their magical abilities by forming allies and learning a raft of defensive spells. Gripping and highly readable. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.
Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers… This is a solid delight. I was attracted by the promise of a murder mystery after the style of Agatha Christie, within a contemporary setting with modern characters. And that is what I got. The audiobook works especially well and this one is highly recommended for those who enjoy gripping characters and nicely twisty plots with plenty of suspects. Review to follow.
Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – Book 2 of Fallen Princeborn series by Jean Lee Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.
Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.
The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart. This book continues the story directly from the ending of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – and immediately scoops the reader up into the high-stakes action, that just goes on growing, as Charlotte battles for Liam and his followers. Highly recommended for fantasy fans looking for sharp contemporary writing and a vivid fantasy setting. Review to follow.