Author Archives: sjhigbee

About sjhigbee

Science fiction/fantasy writer & creative writing tutor and book addict. I can't walk past a book shop or library and am considering therapy.

Sunday Post – 5th April, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another quiet week, although I did manage to teach Tim via Skype on Monday and have our fortnightly Writing Group meeting on Zoom. Himself is still driving trains, although he finds it an eerie experience as formerly busy stations are deserted.

On Wednesday, I took a pair of scissors to my hair – and I’m really pleased with the result, but to be honest I was so sick of the tousle-haired old bat staring back at me in the mirror I’d got past caring. I hadn’t been out of the house since driving down to see our parents for Mothering Sunday a fortnight ago, so we went for a walk along the seafront yesterday morning. As you can see, it was deserted despite the lovely weather so it was easy to be mindful of the social distancing.

We have now discovered The Amazing Mrs Maisel – and loved the first two episodes, so will be watching more. I’m finding it difficult to face The Expanse or The Crossing at present, with what is going on day after day… As for my How-To book, I think I’m about half-way through and really enjoying writing it.

Last week I read:

A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives. Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
I love this series – it just goes on delivering. The worldbuilding is exceptional and the magic system complicated and engrossing, while the characters are nuanced and charismatic. I’m dreading reading the final book, as I don’t want the fun to end…



The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?
This one is a solid joy. Carey absolutely nails the first-person POV and I fell in love with Koli – though he is in danger of being upstaged by the delightful, funny Monono, one of the most enegaging sidekicks I’ve encountered in a while. Review to follow.



The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series – Scalzi manages to provide a classic epic space opera scenario with an urban fantasy vibe. His characters are sharp, often funny and in amongst the grim risk of an apocalyptic end of civilisation looming over everyone, there is also a swashbuckling energy. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

March 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Whisper Man by Alex North

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Protector – Book 4 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

Review of AUDIOBOOK Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures written and narrated by Stephen Fry

Review of KINDLE Ebook Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan

Sunday Post – 29th March 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Music video – Surreal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2sfsE8KVPs&feature=youtu.be This is the song my student, Tim, has composed about the coronavirus…

Productivity vs Chaos: How to Hit a Balance https://writerunboxed.com/2020/04/03/productivity-vs-chaos-how-to-hit-a-balance/ I really like this article for its compassionate, non-judgemental stance… It seems to me we are all dealing with this crisis as best we can in our own way.

Updates: a new resource on sports and games in science fiction https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/04/03/updates-a-new-resource-on-sports-and-games-in-science-fiction/ For those among you who might be immersing yourselves into other universes and worlds for the duration…

Wordless Wednesday: Hairdo(n’t) https://applegategenealogy.wordpress.com/2020/04/01/wordless-wednesday-hairdont/ I was sorely tempted to write the conversation this couple might have had once he had a chance to see the pic…

It’s Camp NaNoWriMo Time! https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/its-camp-nanowrimo-time/ For those of you who are considering working on your writing projects – but would like some companionship along the way…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

March 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffFebruary2020Roundup

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I’ve just read my roundup for February with a sense of unreality, because I didn’t once mention COVID 19. And whatever else I was chatting about, it didn’t include social isolation, daily death tolls and endless hand-washing. And now I’m going to take a deep breath and make that the last time I talk about that stuff. Because this is about carrying on as best we can, despite all that misery and fear. And maybe it’s rank cowardice, but I’m turning to the biggest consolation in my life, when the going gets tough. The one thing that never lets me down – books.

Reading
I read nineteen books in March, which I think is a record number. It was a really good month, with some cracking reads. This is the list:

Death of a Bean Counter – Book 12 of the Maggy Thorsen mystery series by Sandra Balzo – Review to follow

Song of Achilles AUDIOBOOK by Madeline Miller – this is my oustanding audiobook read of the month. Review to follow.

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright. Review to follow.

The Last Protector – Book 4 of the Lovett and Marwood series by Andrew Taylor

A Dying Fall – Book 5 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths.

Longbourn AUDIOBOOK by Jo Baker. Review to follow.

On Writing by Stephen King

Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron

By the Pricking of her Thumb – Book 2 of the Real-Town Murders by Adam Roberts

The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer AUDIOBOOK – Book 1 of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow

Interdicted Space – Book 2 of the Interstellar Space Agency by Gillian Andrews

War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey – this is my outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.

A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

Writing
I finally completed the first draft of Mantivore Warrior in the second week of March. The book ended up being just over 103,000 words long – so much for thinking I was nearing the end at the 75,000 words mark! It took another 12,500 words to finish it and then I was quite ill for nearly a fortnight. I do need to learn to pace myself…

I’ve put it on one side and have been working on my first Creative Writing How-To book on Characterisation. It’s going reasonably well, I’ve just finished Chapter Five on Viewpoint, but it’s very different to writing fiction. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of April – but with all that’s going on, inevitably that has to be more of a hope than a solid target. Overall, I wrote just over 48,000 words in March, with just over 15,000 words on my blog and just under 30,000 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just over 136,000 words so far.

Blogging
Like many others, I’m finding my online friends a real source of consolation. I can’t tell you how grateful I feel having so many lovely people around me from the book blogging community to talk books with. It’s at times like these that you discover what really matters and who has your back… Wishing everyone a peaceful, healthy April and stay safe.xx






Friday Faceoff – Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofftrickcovers

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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 VISUAL TRICKERY. I’ve selected The Whisper Man by Alex North.


This edition was produced by Celadon Books in August 2019. It’s it clever? The handprint that somehow turns into a butterfly works really well. And they haven’t even added a bit of colour to give us a visual clue, which would have been acceptable. I love the fact that ALL the information featured on the cover is the title, the author and the fact that this is a novel. For once the publishers have relied on the strength of the book design to sell this one – and judging by the numbers of reviews it garnered on Goodreads, this default cover did the business.

 

Published in June 2019 by Penguin, I think this is both beautiful and gruesome – and those aren’t two adjectives that go together all that often… The beautiful butterfly wing in the pale gold against the dark background is stunning – until you look a bit more closely and notice the details are skulls and parts of the human skeleton. The pin through the wing just adds to the sense of wrongness. But it is subtle and clever. This one is my favourite.

 

This Polish edition, published by MUZA S.A., in October 2019 is another cover that plays visual tricks. The white moth against the black cover couldn’t be more simple – until you look again and see it as a triangular, ghostly face. I also like the title font – the greying, slightly grubby look works really well with the monochrome effect of the rest of the cover and I applaud the designer in keeping it pared back. So many covers these days are so very busy. My only niggle – and yes, you’ll probably already know what I’m going to say, but I’ll say it anyway – are the lines of chatter under the melting moth/face. What a shame they had to be there, as they detract from the spare menace of the design.

 

This Bulgarian edition, produced by Сиела in 2019, has taken the butterfly – or is it moth? – theme in a different direction. There is a lot going on in this beautiful, ominous cover. The full moon outside provides all the light as a lightning forks across the sky and those moths flutter around the window. Nothing much to see – except the curtain has been drawn back and there is a single palmprint on the glass. If the owner of the hand pressed against the window was standing in front of it, s/he/it had to be outside… It’s cleverly done and gives a disturbing sense of wrongness without recourse to any kind of horror trope.

 

This Macedonian edition, published by Сакам Книги is less subtle, but I absolutely love the jagged cut across the title font which works so well. I’m not quite as thrilled with the spatter of blood, but that butterfly… Is it resting on the chin of a face, just below a screaming mouth? Or is that just my imagination working overtime? The indistinctness adds to the horror vibe. If I have a quibble, I think the abandoned house beneath the title font is an unnecessary addition – they should have trusted the strength of that single, shocking image, rather than hedging their bets with another horror trope. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Protector – Book 4 of the Lovett and Marwood series by Andrew Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLastProtectorbookreview

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I realised that I’d read the first book of this gripping historical series, The Ashes of London – see my review – so was delighted when I got hold of the arc of this one…

BLURB: Brother against brother. Father against son. Friends turned into enemies. No one in England wants a return to the bloody days of the Civil War. But Oliver Cromwell’s son, Richard, has abandoned his exile and slipped back into England. The consequences could be catastrophic. James Marwood, a traitor’s son turned government agent, is tasked with uncovering Cromwell’s motives. But his assignment is complicated by his friend – the regicide’s daughter, Cat Lovett – who knew the Cromwells as a child, and who now seems to be hiding a secret of her own about the family…

You don’t need to have read any of the previous books, but I would recommend getting hold of at least one of them – I can personally recommend The Ashes of London. Andrew Marwood works on behalf of the King through the system of patronage that was popular back then. So while he enjoys the protection of Joseph Williamson, Undersecretary of State and Lord Arlington, Secretary of State, he has incurred the enmity of the Duke of Buckingham, who is a powerful courtier and favourite of Charles II. When a duel is fought and Marwood is sent along to provide an eye-witness account of the outcome, he becomes the target for Buckingham’s henchmen.

While Cat Lovett, now married to the elderly and increasingly frail Simon Hakesby, is worried when a girl she knew only vaguely as a child, accosts her on the street, claiming a warm friendship and wanting to renew it. But Cat is having enough problems without Elizabeth Cromwell, granddaughter to the Protector and traitor, crashing into her life. I love the dynamic. This is the aftermath of the Civil War, during which families were torn apart as loyalties were divided and though time has passed, there are those with long memories who look back on the Protectorate with wistfulness, on seeing the King’s extravagant and ungodly lifestyle.

Taylor has depicted the time really well. Both main protagonists are sympathetic and behave appropriately within the constraints of their time. And as we also get a ringside seat into the wretched life of poor Ferrus, born with some congenital defect, the tension slowly winds up as the stakes continue to increase. The climax is brutal and explosive – I couldn’t put this one down until I’d finished it. And I’ve now got hold of the second book in the series, needing more of Cat and Andrew in my life. The quality of the writing and immersive, vivid feel of 17th century London reminds me of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. Highly recommended for fans of good quality historical murder mysteries. The ebook arc copy of The Last Protector was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10


Review of Audiobook Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures Book 2 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology series – written and narrated by Stephen Fry #Brainfluffbookreview #AudiobookreviewHeroes

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Once I’d listened to the wonderful audio version of Mythos, see my review – I was keen to get hold of this sequel, which takes the story on from featuring mostly on the Greek pantheon of gods, to the mortals and demi-mortals that people this mythology.

BLURB: There are Heroes – and then there are Greek Heroes.
Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes. In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta – who was raised by bears – outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera. Filled with white-knuckle chases and battles, impossible puzzles and riddles, acts of base cowardice and real bravery, not to mention murders and selfless sacrifices, Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of – at our worst and our very best.

I’ve included the whole blurb – something I rarely do – because it pretty much sums up what the book is about. Fry clearly knows his stuff and has gone back to the available source material to pick his way through the various versions and delivers these timeless stories in an accessible, conversational style that I very much enjoyed. We have most of the familiar names such as Heracles and Theseus, as well as many of the monsters they tangled with. What came across very strongly – and why I was so grateful for Fry’s light touch – was how most of them ended in tragedy. If you wanted to have any kind of happiness in your life as an ancient Greek, whatever you do – don’t be beautiful or remarkable in any way, so as to catch the attention of the gods. Even those who managed to survive a series of harrowing adventures and fights against impossible odds invariably ended in ignominy and a bitter old age.

To be honest, I don’t think I would have been able to continue listening if Fry had been remotely heavy-handed in his treatment of this fascinating, but ultimately depressing series of stories where the price of any kind of talent or beauty was to suffer a series of terrible fates. And that would have been a shame – because, whether we like it or not, these stories are part of the bedrock of our western civilisation and many of the ideals and beliefs have been unconsciously absorbed into our collective psyche. For anyone interested in the subject, I would recommend the audiobook, where Fry’s handling of all those unfriendly Greek names makes it a lot easier to absorb.
10/10


Review of KINDLE Ebook Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #Warriorbookreview

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I am a real fan of Brennan’s work, especially her wonderful Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basiliskand Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. Also her intriguing historical fantasy The Onyx Court series – see my review of Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie, as well as the novella Cold-Forged Flame. So I was delighted to discover that Himself had bought this offering, along with the second book. He really is a keeper…

BLURB: Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.

I was just in the mood for this intriguing fantasy story all about identity in a world where both witches and bounty hunters are brought up in sequestered surroundings involving intensive training. Clearly both professions allow women above average freedom in this medieval-sounding era where horseback is the main form of transport, while swords and arrows the main type of weapons.

Brennan manages to give each young woman a distinct identity in this dual narrative, which is harder to do than you might think, given the strong similarities between them. I loved the premise and was interested to see where the author would take this one. Full of incident, with plenty of intrigue and surprises, the pages flew past as I wanted to know what would happen next. And – no… I certainly didn’t see that ending coming! There is also a strong supporting cast, particularly Eclipse, who is a companion and graduated alongside Mirage. The fight scenes are enjoyable and clearly written. I liked the fact that neither Mirage or Miryo took deaths for granted, although they are a regular part of Mirage’s job. Recommended for fans of entertaining and well written swords and sorcery.
8/10

Sunday Post – 29th March, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Like most people, I’m staying at home, though Himself is still out driving trains. We’ve worked out a system whereby he puts his uniform into the washing machine before coming into the house and so far… so good.

Last Monday, on her second day in the new house, my daughter woke up with a temperature, joint and stomach pains and a cough. So she ended up being quarantined in the house without the children. She is now feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long week for her. Thank goodness she is recovering and the children don’t seem to have had any symptoms. Other than that, we keep in touch with family via Skype and Zoom. It was a huge relief to hear my brother-in-law caught one of the last flights from Melbourne and is now back home safely. And we go on praying none of the vulnerable members of the family go down with the illness…

Still enjoying Outlander – but mightily disappointed with that DREADFUL last episode of Picard, when it had been going so well. Thank goodness for marvellous books – I’m listening to Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – so very, very good! And I’m working on my book on Characterisation, which is growing slowly but surely. It’s interesting how different my writing patterns are for non-fiction, as opposed to fiction.

Last week I read:
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes. But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods. It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret.
This fascinating story, told from an unusual viewpoint – using the second person (you) pov – caught me from the start. I loved the tension and Leckie’s handling of the perspective from a god who has lived a very long time.


The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries series by Simon Brett
Introducing an engaging new amateur sleuth, declutterer Ellen Curtis, in the first of a brilliant new mystery series.
That’s all the blurb there is – and this intriguing cosy mystery does just that – sets up Ellen as an engaging, competent protagonist with a doozy of a backstory. While I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, I was even more engrossed in Ellen as a fascinating protagonist and very much look forward to reading more about her. Review to follow.

 



Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change. Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared.
I burned through this one, finding it impossible to put down. It’s an amazing read in many ways. For starters, the prose is absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed so much about this one… But for me, the pacing and narrative stuttered in the final stages, leaving me unhappy with the ending, both with its execution and the outcome.


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
A book of hope for uncertain times.
Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too.
My lovely sister-in-law sent this to me and I absolutely love it – the beautiful drawings and the messages of truth and hope that shone off the pages. It had me weeping and laughing at the same time. It isn’t long, but I shall be returning to it regularly. Especially in the coming days and weeks…


My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Circe by Madeline Miller

Review of A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of War of the Maps by Paul McAuley

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Hat Full of Sky – Book 32 of the Discworld series, Book 2 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

Sunday Post – 22nd March 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Books That Made Me Smile, Laugh, Inspired Me & Gave Me Hope https://hookedonbookz.com/2020/03/26/books-that-made-me-smile-laugh-inspired-me-gave-me-hope/ A very useful list – that includes The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse…

Coping Tools https://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com/2020/03/25/coping-tools/
Another useful and uplifting article that I really appreciated and thought others, too, might enjoy reading…

Book Tag – The Secret World of a Book Blogger https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/book-tag-secret-life-of-a-book-blogger/ I’m a nosy person – my excuse is that I’m a writer, but I couldn’t pass up this insight into a fellow book blogger’s process behind the articles…

House Arrest https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2020/03/24/house-arrest/ Another great insight into how successful sci fi/fantasy author is coping with self isolating…

Giving Up Oxford https://infjphd.org/2020/03/24/giving-up-oxford/ A beautiful homage to one of our loveliest cities and a thoughtful article about lost opportunities and curtailed plans due to the virus…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Friday Faceoff – Off the leash… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceofffreebiecovers

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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 FREEBIE covers. I’ve selected Circe by Madeline Miller, which I absolutely loved. And I also love every one of these covers…

This edition was produced by Boomsbury Publishing UK in April 2018. Isn’t it gorgeous? I love the warm colours that reference the Greek art on ancient pottery and the beautiful title font running from top to bottom of the urn, giving it a strikingly different look. And those flowers with the shading and beautiful detail… I think this is one of my all-time favourite covers and it was this design that prompted me to buy this one. I’m so glad I did…

 

Published in April 2018 by Little, Brown and Company, this is also a wonderfully striking effort. That Grecian face staring out at us, both imperious and slightly sad, draws our gaze. Once again, the warm orange and black colour scheme is both attractive and references Greek artefacts, as does the border detailing. I also like the title font, which works well. However, I do think it’s a shame to clutter this lovely design with unnecessary chatter, compromising the look and feel of the cover.

 

This edition, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in April 2019, is another wonderful design, given it’s a pared-down, less luscious version of the first cover. Once again, the colour scheme just sings out – and I love the Grecian urn with that lovely raised title font. It would look even more stunning if we didn’t, have that wonderful jar-shaped space stuffed with a load of pointless chatter, which despoils this cover more than any of the others, I think. I also love the background, directly referencing some of the ancient Greek figures depicted on artefacts.

 

This edition, produced by Pocket in May 2019, is another fabulous effort. A wonderful, subtle design that has stolen my heart. And NO annoying chatter to compromise and detract from the intended visual impact – and doesn’t it just look so much better for it? Not that I’m ranting. At all. Nope. This was so very nearly my favourite…


This French edition, published by Rue Fromentin in May 2018, is a bit different from the rest – for starters, it has broken away from the orange and black colour scheme. I love the soft-focus figure offering up a charger, presumably to a god. Though I’m guessing it wouldn’t be Zeus… It’s a beautiful image, the shape of the woman and colouring working well in making this a cover full of mystery. So this is my freebie selection – which is your favourite?

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #ASeasonsofSpellsbookreview

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I’d read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series, The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick, so was pleased to see this third one was available – I love the depth of this enchanting world, where Christianity didn’t sweep through and wipe out all the pagan religions, which now exist in this Regency era alternate history.

BLURB: Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison…

And that’s as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to include. I firmly advise you to read the previous two books in this series before attempting this one. The world where the UK and France are still fractured into a number of states, where the Roman and pagan gods exist side by side, which provides a complex backdrop to the action.

Things have moved on for Sophie and Gray and in this book, there is far more in the viewpoint of Joanna, Sophie’s feisty younger sister and her very close friend and the love of her life, Gwendolyn. I really liked their relationship, which is sparky as they also have to negotiate the social norms of the time, which does not approve of, or acknowledge their love.

What worked really well for me was how Lucia and Roland’s relationship had to unfold. It’s an arranged marriage, providing peace, stability and more prosperity for the population of two kingdoms and it’s unthinkable that it won’t go ahead. But when they meet, Roland in particular, is underwhelmed at Lucia’s attitude. Reading how they had to negotiate this issue, I was aware that it isn’t often an arranged union is looked upon as anything other than a bad thing in fantasy novels. I also was delighted just to once more sink into this unique world Hunter has created and which I really love, given the care and detail she provides in her magic-making and the political strains that a fractured kingdom causes – nicely done.

Any niggles? I’ll own to being a tad frustrated that poor old Gray and Sophie were once more wrenched apart – I do enjoy seeing them together. Though it did underline just what danger everyone is facing when the threat from the continent becomes clear, that he is sent on such a hazardous mission. I also found the pacing towards the end of the story a tad uneven, in that the build-up was brimful of tension and the denouement did wrap everything up rather rapidly. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. And if Hunter decides to turn this trilogy into a quartet, I’ll happily read the next one, too. I just love the world she has created. Recommended for those who enjoy interesting alternate historical settings with their fantasy adventures.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc War of the Maps by Paul McAuley #Brainfluffbookreview #WaroftheMapsbookreview

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I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, as Paul McAuley is always worth reading – I thoroughly enjoyed his cli-fi thriller Austral and the first book in his sci fi series The Quiet War.

BLURB: On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The worldbuilding, as ever with McAuley, was both detailed and plausible. But what I liked most of all about this story was that we mostly stayed in the viewpoint of the lawman, known as a lucidor, who is determined to track down a truly horrible antagonist – a murderer who casually commits atrocities, and enjoying watching his victims suffer. Unfortunately, he is also one of the foremost scientific thinkers on the planet who is able to help fight the influx of mutated creatures engulfing villages, countryside and towns, slaughtering humanity, domestic animals and wildlife alike. There are some gripping passages of the ruined landscape where no birds or insects break the silence…

So, who is right – the dogged lucidor who is convinced that Remfrey He should account for the lives he has torn apart? Or the authorities who feel that, in this extremely unusual case, Remfrey He should be allowed to atone for his misdeeds by travelling to the site of the suffering land to assist in beating back the alter women? These grotesque mutations have a social structure resembling ants and gather everything in their path to tear up and reuse it for their own purposes – including people.

Remfrey He is one of the most satisfyingly nasty characters I’ve encountered in a while, and by contrast, I grew to love the lucidor, whose name we hardly ever see. He has adopted his birth name, Thorn, after he retired from his profession of tracking down lawbreakers, when he was known as Lucidor Kyl. He is elderly, tough, resourceful and trusts no one and we’re in his head for a large chunk of the narrative. This story starts off as one man tracking another through an increasingly dangerous landscape, and broadens out as the lucidor is sucked into some of the upheavals caused by the dangerous mutations.

One of the intriguing details is that some people are gifted with particular talents, such as scrying. As well as being brilliant and resourceful, Remfrey He is a silvertongue, with the gift of persuading most people to become his disciples. And the reason why the lucidor was sent after him, is that his gift nullifies the talents of those in close proximity. I liked how that played out, because the consequence is that other people who might be able to successfully apprehend Remfrey He don’t want to work with the lucidor, as he sucks their gift dry.

This isn’t a fast-paced book. McAuley’s habit of writing dense description about every step of the way ensures that we see the world through the lucidor’s eyes and his days of plunging headlong into adventures are well and truly over. But I not only could see the world, I could taste and hear it, as this book swallowed me up and had me engrossed until right up to the end. It’s a gem that deserves to be far better known than it is. Highly recommended by fans of well-written intelligent colony world adventures and epic fantasy. The ebook arc copy of War of the Maps was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10