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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Flightless Afternoon – Book 5 of the Ageless Mysteries by Vanessa Nelson #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #FlightlessAfternoonbookreview

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Vanessa Nelson is one of the excellent indie authors I’ve discovered since I started my battle with Long Covid. And this book dropped onto my Kindle as I pre-ordered it – something I very rarely do.

BLURB: The unthinkable has happened. One of the Ageless has been killed, their body left in a public space, displayed for all to see. The Archon is furious and threatens to burn the entire city, unless the person responsible is found and turned over to her for justice.

Thea March is called on to investigate again. As little as she wants to turn anyone over to the Archon, she also knows that the Ageless could burn the city to the ground and not care about the death and destruction they cause. Working with Niath, can Thea find the person responsible for the Ageless’ death? And, if she finds them, can she bring herself to turn them over to the Archon?

REVIEW: My first piece of advice – don’t start your Ageless Mysteries experience with the fifth book in the series. While Nelson is far too skilful to allow you to flounder for very long, there is an overarching narrative arc that is worth following by reading these in the correct order. So if you have encountered this one without having had the pleasure of reading the previous four books, instead tuck into Deadly Night, the first book in the series.

While I’m aware there are huge numbers of crime fantasy books out there – Nelson’s take is somewhat different. Her setting is a Medieval/Early Modern era with all sorts of non-human magical beings living in the large city, Accanter, alongside the humans. The world is ruled by the Ageless, long-lived, angel-like beings who inhabit the Citadel and can fly. That said, there’s nothing angelic about their behaviour – they are fearsome warriors and supremely arrogant, who think nothing of savagely punishing other races who get in their way. Our plucky heroine, Thea, works for The Watch, which is Accanter’s equivalent to the police, so it’s her task to track down wrong-doers. Which makes this series an essentially a police procedural set within an epic fantasy world.

I love the dynamic, especially as Nelson does it very well. Thea and her mother have a troubled backstory that is gradually revealed throughout the series, which impacts on her ability to do her job, at times. For Thea doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Ageless, something that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. And in this book, that attention becomes lethal as the mentally unstable Archon, supreme ruler of the Ageless and the rest of the world, tasks Thea with discovering who has murdered two of her warriors in two days. Her life will be forfeit if she doesn’t and then the city will burn.

So Thea has a savage double murder to solve against the backdrop of a ticking clock. Fortunately, she also has a loyal team of investigators around her who are equally desperate to solve the case. The pages flew by, even as I tried to eke out the story knowing only too well that I’d end up with a miserable book hangover once I came to the end of this gripping story. And I was right. I love the world, the setting and the characters – particularly Thea’s dogged determination to see justice done for those who cannot help themselves. There are some dangling plotpoints, as the story isn’t wholly resolved and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series. Except, I’m also dreading it, as Nelson has announced it’s the final Ageless Mysteries book. Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy mystery murders.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 21st June, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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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 – Half a Soul – Book 1 of the Regency Faerie Tales series by Olivia Atwater – release date – 30th June, 2022

#historical fantasy #romance #Regency era #feisty heroine

BLURB: Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.

If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

Bridgerton meets Howl’s Moving Castle in this enchanting historical fantasy, where the only thing more meddlesome than faeries is a marriage-minded mother.

I am really in the mood for some historical escapism with a dollop of romance – I’ve just finished listening to Sense and Sensibility. So when I saw this offering, I couldn’t resist, after all it’s got the historical era and romance, plus some magic😊. Let’s hope it’s as entertaining as the blurb suggests!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheVeiledMastersbookreview

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I enjoy Pratt’s writing – his delightful duology made up of Doors of Sleep and Prison of Sleep provides an original spin on the portal adventure premise that has me hoping for more in this intriguing world. And as I’ve also read another Twilight Imperium adventure – The Necropolis Empire – I was more than happy to revisit this entertaining world.

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

REVIEW: The first thing to get out of the way is the Twilight Imperium aspect. Apparently, this entertaining series of space opera adventure books is a spin-off from a popular board game, Twilight Imperium. I mention this in case some fans of the game are prompted to pick up the books. However, if you are a reader who generally avoids reading books connected to TV series, films and games (like me!) you can ignore this nugget of information. If I hadn’t told you the origin of the novel, there’s nothing in the storytelling, characterisation or worldbuilding that would give it away.

One of the aspects that I really like is that although this book is set within the same world as The Necropolis Empire, it is essentially a standalone, even though there are characters from previous adventures that pop up, giving us further insights into their motivations and vulnerabilities. This time, the conspiracy our plucky black-ops heroine is scrambling to head off is truly horrific. Space opera is difficult to write well, as the storyline is often pan-galactic in scope and requires frequent changes of scene and character in order to fully explore all aspects and consequences of the narrative arc. Pratt’s upbeat, energetic style skilfully avoids all the pitfalls, instead giving us intriguing, layered characters, despite the necessary scene changes; and a clear plotline that emerges from the twisty conspiring which held me from the beginning.

I very much like that fact that Pratt’s characters are morally ambiguous. Our protagonists are often self-serving and a bit dodgy. While the ultimate antagonists are not necessarily evil monsters – even though the fate they have in mind is a terrible one for millions of unsuspecting sentient beings. One of the big attractions of Pratt’s writing is that while he is often dealing with dark deeds, the tone of his books tends not to get overly grim, as there are some nice touches of humour throughout to leaven the enormity of the threat. I understand that this is the last of his Twilight Imperium novels – which I very much regret. As ever, tucking into this adventure was a blast and I look forward to reading more from this skilful, entertaining author. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Peacekeeper – Book 1 of The Good Lands series by B.L. Blanchard #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ThePeacekeeperbookreview

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I read Maddalena’s excellent review of this one at Space and Sorcery – and immediately nipped across and got hold of a copy. I really love the premise as I’m always a sucker for a good whodunit in an unusual setting.

BLURB: North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

REVIEW: Yes… I do enjoy well-constructed thrillers, yes… I do appreciate complicated protagonists with a whole suite of luggage that skews their attitude towards the world. But for me, the highlight of this book – what makes it memorable and really stand out – is the setting. This is an alternate world, where the likes of Columbus and the hungry tide of conquistadors never landed on the shores of the Americas, so the indigenous people had the opportunity to develop on their own terms, with their own cultures largely intact. And while the inhabitants of the small village where the crimes occur still live in wigwams, this is a contemporary setting, so there are also mobile phones and high-speed trains. However, there is also a regard for the natural world that is woven alongside everyday life and I am delighted that Blanchard gives examples of how that works. I’d LOVE someone to make a film of this book – the twisty plot and anguished protagonist would work well on the big screen, but overwhelmingly, I think seeing Blanchard’s evocation of how modern life could work alongside Nature would be marvellous.

Getting back to the book, I did find it initially something of a challenge. Chibenashi, the main protagonist, isn’t someone I found easy to like – although learning of the terrible events that have destabilised his life did have me warming to him. Necessarily, the pacing at the start is a bit slow as the world also needs a lot of description. That said, I was never tempted to DNF it as the worldbuilding held me throughout.

Watching Chibenashi struggling to cope was also interesting – he isn’t a classic hero by any means and makes some really dodgy decisions – one in particular had me shaking my head at the time. I had guessed the murderer about two-thirds of the way through, but this time around that didn’t bother me all that much. In the event, the denouement was still shocking especially as the fallout was a bit heart-wrenching and messy, contributing towards making this one a very memorable read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where it goes next. Highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries with unusual settings.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Alexander X – Book 1 of the Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIObookreview #AlexanderXbookreview

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I thought the premise of this one was intriguing – and when I noticed that Wil Wheaton was the narrator, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one. That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of a journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in.

REVIEW: This YA adventure thriller starts out tamely enough – our long-suffering protagonist is taking yet another History test. And given that he’s been going to school for a very, very long time, this is actually his three-thousandth test. Savio nicely captures the tone of a perpetual teen, without making him obnoxious which is quite an achievement. It doesn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton does an outstanding job as narrator, so that I even enjoyed the regular rants on how History is wrong. The only time I felt this monologue verged on being a bit self-indulgent and significantly interfered with the ongoing action was the piece about Paul Revere. I also appreciated the explanations on why and how Alexander is ageing so slowly, which made sense and gave a solid reason for the near-immortality of a very small sample of the population.

The story takes a bit of time to get going, which gave me a chance to fully bond with the main character. That’s important, because if I hadn’t cared about Alexander then most of the book wouldn’t have mattered. And once the action kicks off, it’s foot to the floor all the way. Alexander and his hapless companions find themselves facing a number of powerful and determined antagonists who apparently want to capture him to use against his father. Though they don’t seem to worry too much if he’s seriously hurt in the process. It certainly makes for a series of desperate chases in a variety of vividly described settings. Savio writes action well. There is plenty of tension, along with strong pacing so that he continues to up the stakes, other than the occasional monologue about the past – which I would expect from a near-immortal teenager.

The romantic thread is well handled, showing a more vulnerable side to Alexander without derailing the pace or taking over from the overall narrative. All in all, I enjoyed this YA science fantasy thriller and recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly this audiobook version. While I obtained an arc of Alexander X from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #17

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This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fifteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

My grandmother had a saying, “What goes up must come down.” And yes… it absolutely applies to my current situation. After celebrating my triumphant return to something approaching my life before I got sick with Covid – I then had another relapse that lasted nearly a fortnight, where I spent most of the day in bed again, feeling utterly exhausted. And this time around it was a lot harder to endure after having once more felt like the person I used to be.

The good news is that I know exactly what triggered this setback – my hospital appointment at the Breast Care Clinic, where I had a thorough exam by a consultant, a mammogram and ultrasound scan – just to ensure that some of my Long Covid symptoms weren’t masking something far more sinister and life-shortening. I was so impressed at the efficient and kindly staff and I’m delighted to be able to report that all is well. But the appointment was over three hours long and entailed having to get dressed and undressed a number of times and was also rather emotionally gruelling, as well as extremely painful at times. Small wonder that I was knocked back afterwards.

The huge light at the end of this tunnel is that I am now able to write, once my energy levels improved again. I’ve been editing for a while – but not said too much about it, as initially every time I mentioned I was able to work on my manuscripts, I then promptly found I couldn’t. And it massively mattered to me that I’d lost my ability to write – to be honest, it’s been one of hardest things I’ve had to cope with. And – yes – I know I’ve been regularly knocking out a steady stream of reviews. But while I enjoy recording my responses to the books I’ve read, I don’t define myself creatively by my non-fiction output. For me, it’s always been about the stories I tell. I’ve been writing science fiction and fantasy for longer than I care to think and to quote the late great Terry Pratchett, ‘Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.’ I’ll fully endorse that! And when I simply didn’t have the mental energy to hold a character and his story in my head long enough to get it down onto the page, I was devastated. Though the big silver lining was said lack of energy meant that devastation was overlaid by a Zenlike calm caused by my inability to feel very much about anything. So when this week, I finally completed the chapter I’d started before I went down with Covid, I wept with relief that my secret dread – that I’d never regain my ability to write – hasn’t come to pass. I’m thrilled that dear old Castellan is back in my life in all his grumpy glory😊.

Our Boomerang Boy is back with us this weekend, which is another joy. He cycled over on Friday night and will be going home again later today. We went shopping together in Rustington yesterday – he is such good company. And today, my sister is coming over to see us, which is also such a treat. Himself is, as ever, my rock and my saviour – even though my relapse coincided with his annual leave so that we ended up doing very little and going nowhere together, despite optimistic plans for day trips to places we’ve missed seeing for the past year and bit. I’m so blessed that his love, constancy and care has never faltered.

This week I’ve read:-

Veiled Threat – Book 3 of the Highland Magic series by Helen Harper
Integrity Taylor has regained possession of her ancestral lands – and inherited a whole host of new problems. The spectre of what really happened to her parents is casting a shadow over everything while Fomori demons are being sighted up and down the Highlands. It doesn’t help that Aifric Moncrieffe still seems determined to see her dead and emerald-eyed Byron remains stubbornly blind to his father’s true nature.

Integrity is determined to stay in control of her own destiny, however, even if it means confronting the darkness across the Veil yet again. And at least she’s still got a sense of humour…
Harper has nailed writing feisty heroines facing huge odds, who cope with dollops of often inappropriate humour – which I thoroughly enjoy. This latest adventure also has brought some intriguing twists to the ongoing narrative arc, which means it won’t be long before I tuck into the next book, which I think is the final one in this entertaining series. Which, I’m dreading – as I’ve grown very fond of Integrity. 9/10

AUDIOBOOK – Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip
Brenden Vetch has a gift. With an innate sense he cannot explain to himself or describe to others, he connects to the agricultural world, nurturing gardens to flourish and instinctively knowing the healing properties each plant and herb has to offer. But Brenden’s gift isolates him from people–and from becoming part of a community.

Until the day he receives a personal invitation from the wizard Od. She needs a gardener for her school in the great city of Kelior, where every potential wizard must be trained to serve the Kingdom of Numis. For decades the rulers of Numis have controlled the school, believing they can contain the power within it–and punish any wizard who dares defy the law.But unknown to the reigning monarchy is the power possessed by the school’s new gardener–a power that even Brenden isn’t fully aware of, and which is the true reason Od recruited him…
This standalone fantasy adventure is a joy. I was hugely impressed by McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld – see my review. So jumped at the chance to tuck into this one when it came up as a freebie with my Audible membership. And I wasn’t disappointed – it’s stood the test of time very well. I particularly enjoyed the shafts of dry humour throughout and loved dear Brendon. Though it’s a pity that the cover decided to depict Od as some glamorous maiden, when McKillip is at such pains to describe her so very differently. 9/10

Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly
September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .
What a treat. Hambly’s vivid evocation of the time and place had me dreaming of it – and I am just a bit in love with Benjamin January. It’s the first time I’ve read this series, but it certainly won’t be the last. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Destroyer – Book 7 (Sequence 3, Book 1) of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
It has been two years since the starship Phoenix left Alpha Station on a rescue mission where over four thousand human spacers were under attack by a hostile alien race. Now, exhausted from their journey, the crew of the Phoenix yearns for home. But when the ship makes the jump into atevi space, they learn the worst: that supplies to the station have been cut off; that civil war has broken out on the atevi mainland; that the powerful Western Association has been overthrown; and that Tabini-aiji, Bren Cameron’s primary supporter and Ilisidi’s grandson and ally, is missing and may be dead.

With no one left to lead the Western Association, Ilisidi and Bren know that the survival of their allies lies in their hands. And with the atevi world at war, the only safe landing strip lies on the human colony at Mospheira. Although there are many dangers inherent in bringing a powerful atevi leader such as Ilisidi onto human lands, Bren realizes they have no other choice. But even if they safely survive their landing, will Bren and Ilisidi together prove strong enough to muster the remaining shards of the Western Association and regain control of their planet?

The long-running Foreigner series can also be enjoyed by more casual genre readers in sub-trilogy installments. Destroyer is the 7th Foreigner novel. It is also the 1st book in the third subtrilogy.
This audiobook was a lifesaver during a couple of particularly wretched nights when I simply couldn’t sleep, despite feeling utterly exhausted – not a combination I recommend. Daniel May’s brilliant narration brought poor old Bren’s current woes to life and had me crouching in the pouring rain alongside him, hoping that all his associates would survive the desperate battle raging around him. This series really comes into its own when listening to it and I’m delighted there are plenty more Foreigner adventures to enjoy. 9/10

Delusions of the Past – Reg Rawlins #6 – Books 4-6 of the Reg Rawlins, Psychic Investigator series by P.D. Workman
What kind of a monster poisons a psychic’s cat? When Starlight first fell ill, Reg thought that she was the cause of it. She should have been watching him more carefully. She should have found out about household plants and chemicals that could hurt her familiar. She was clearly a negligent owner.

But it soon becomes clear that there is some darker force at work, and Reg is going to need all of her resources to find the culprit before it is too late if she is to have any chance of saving her furry companion’s life.
I really enjoy this series. Some cosy mystery series are so slathered in treacle they become frankly sickly – this one isn’t. In amongst the cute pets and intriguing fantasy creatures is a hard edge that means the story can often take an unexpected turn to a place just dark enough to keep me turning the pages, desperate to discover what happens next. And with Workman, you can’t ever really predict what that will be… I’ve just spent money we don’t really have to buy the next bundle, because I want more Reg Rawlins in my life. 8/10

This week I have posted:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Knave of Secrets by Alex Livingston

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandHardCiderbookreview

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The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Knave of Secrets By Alex Livingston #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheKnaveofSecretsbookreview

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I was intrigued by the premise. After suffering withdrawal symptoms after the completion of Sebastian de Castell’s wonderful Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack , Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker – I thought another fantasy adventure involving card games and magic would be fun.

BLURB: Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I wanted to love this one more than I actually did. There is a huge amount of explanation regarding the world, which is full of complicated names, a tangled and even more complicated political situation and characters who all have complicated backstories. Livingston’s insistence of giving a lot of the information in big lumps throughout, rather than letting the reader absorb it alongside the unfolding action meant that I always felt distanced from the characters.

The writing style favours telling over showing, which isn’t my personal preference. And while the characters are all layered and nicely ambiguous, I didn’t ever feel particularly close to them as Livingston tends to keep them at one remove from the reader. The same applies to the action scenes – while they were vividly depicted, some of the urgency and snap was diluted by yet more explanation that should really have gone elsewhere. The overall plot, which was suitably twisty and surprising, worked well and came to a solidly good conclusion – although I did feel the ending was a tad abrupt.

That said, for those who are fans of detailed worlds with huge amounts of background detail, including maps, historical events and long explanations of a variety of fantasy card games – this is a solid treat. I was particularly impressed at the sheer intricacy of the games Livingston constructed and the appendices make fascinating reading. While I obtained an arc of The Knave of Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 8th June, 2022 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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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 – The Veiled Masters: A Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt – release date – 21st June, 2022

#science fiction #space opera adventure #alien encounter #feisty heroine

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

I thoroughly enjoy Tim Pratt’s writing and have read another book in this series – The Necropolis Empiresee my review. I hadn’t appreciated before I acquired the arc that the novel is a spin-off from the board game Twilight Imperium, because if I had, I wouldn’t have bothered with it. Which is a happy accident, as I thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring space opera adventure, which was full of twisty action with a thoroughly likeable protagonist. So I’m looking forward to some more enjoyable time in this engaging world.

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver #BrainfluffNEGALLEYAUDIObookreview #Wolfbanebookreview

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I have read a couple of books in this well-known and captivating series – see my review of Spirit Walker. While it’s labelled as a YA/children’s read, it has captured the hearts of many adults over the years, including me. So I was delighted when the audiobook for the latest book in the series popped up.

BLURB: It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack. The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…

REVIEW: This is a compelling adventure set in prehistory, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to be clever, brave and highly skilled at a multitude of tasks just to get through an average day. They lived in close contact with the natural world surrounding them, from which they derived their food, clothes and shelter. Small wonder they also formed a strong spiritual attachment to the animals and plants that impacted their lives. I love how Paver has characterised that attachment, as I listened to this gripping adventure facing Torak and Renn.

Wolf now has a mate and so when he is yanked away by the machinations of a major demon, Torak and Renn are determined to save him. But it’s a perilous journey that takes them far away from their beloved forest, where they encounter other tribes whose customs are different from their own. This is a delight to listen to – partly because the writing style is clean and powerful, but also because Sir Ian McKellan happens to be the narrator. His rendition is masterful – I’d listen spellbound if he recited the football scores, and I hate football…

Paver’s scene setting is vivid – I could easily envisage the landscapes she describes in a world not yet reeling from the environmental damage we’ve inflicted. The story holds real tension – and there is also a very moving scene where a much-loved character is laid to rest. The death rites are fascinating as well as poignant. All in all, this is a treat and highly recommended for fans of prehistorical adventure – though don’t start with this one. Instead track down the first book in this series, Wolf Brother. And a bonus is Paver’s Afterword, where she describes her research into aspects of her characters’ lives – it brought this highly enjoyable book to a fitting end. While I obtained a copy of audiobook Wolfbane from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10