I have enjoyed the Alex Verus series, following the fortunes (or is it misfortunes) of hapless divination mage Alex Verus – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1),Veiled(Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound(Book 8). So I was pleased to catch up with Fallen as I’m trying to make an effort to continue onwards with series I’ve enjoyed.
BLURB: Once Alex Verus was a diviner trying to live quietly under the radar. Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends…and love. But it’s come with a price–the Council is investigating him, and if they find out the truth, he’ll lose everything. Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Council, and he’s preparing a move that will bring Alex and the life mage, Anne, under his control. Caught between Richard and the Council, Alex’s time is running out. To protect those he cares for, Alex will have to become something different. Something darker…
REVIEW: Like a number of the long-running, urban fantasy adventure series I’ve been following, such as the Harry Dresden series, the overall tone has steadily got darker as the series continues. And in this one, Alex finds himself caught between a rock in a hard place. As it had been a while since I’d picked up one of these book – once again, I was struck by just what an unpleasant experience it was to find yourself with any magical ability in Jacka’s alternate world. Immediately practitioners have to choose between being Light or Dark mages – something which Alex has tried to avoid. While many of the Dark mages are just plain nasty, the Light mages are not as advertised, either. Judgemental, with draconian punishments for anyone who doesn’t see the world through the same lens, they aren’t all that much better. And Alex has made some powerful enemies on The Council.
There were a couple of incidents in the middle of this one that took the story to another level. A character who has appeared throughout the books and helped Alex a great deal suddenly was subjected to a shocking attack. It was cleverly done, because I found I was very angry at what had been done – to the extent that when Alex makes a momentous decision, I’m right alongside him, hoping this gives him sufficient power to keep himself, and those around him properly safe. That said, there are still moments of humour that I enjoyed – the little elemental he relies on for transport is amusingly unreliable at times. The pages zipped by and I found I’d reached the end with real regret there wasn’t more.
However, I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ve more Alex Verus goodness waiting for me – I have an arc of the new release. For those of you who have also let this adventure lapse for whatever reason, I can confirm the narrative arc takes Alex in a different, challenging direction. And Jacka is a master at depicting thrilling magical battles. Highly recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy adventures set in London. 9/10
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Elizabeth Bear’s covers. There is a mix of fantasy and science fiction series here – and I’m really excited at just how much of her canon I have yet to read, given that I’ve recently read and loved Ancestral Nightand Hammered. She is very fortunate to have had a series of fabulous covers over the years – just look at these beauties. Which are your favourites?
I was absolutely delighted to be approved for this next adventure in this entertaining, original series, as I’ve grown really fond of Irene. See my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. But when a series continues over a period of time, the ongoing challenge is to make each story fresh and exciting.
BLURB: Librarian spy Irene thought her to-do list would be her undoing. She’s on missions for both the Library and a dear friend – the detective Vale. And she’s also training her new Fae apprentice, who’s more interested in the stacks than sleuthing. But now someone is trying to kidnap her and kill her friends. As Irene, Kai and Vale try to track down the would-be assassin, they uncover a plot. It’s even more insidious than usual and could threaten Irene’s headquarters, Vale’s home and the Library itself. Someone is creating links between high-chaos worlds and Vale’s world. Someone who wants Irene well out of the way – and will do anything to make this happen. When the allies’ investigation takes a wrong turn, they find themselves trapped deep underground. And while they wander among long-abandoned archives, Irene’s old enemies are closing in.
REVIEW: I really appreciated diving back into this clever portal fantasy, featuring a magical library with a cool, well trained protagonist who performs well when in danger. Given her magical ability is words of command that can change and affect the world around her, it makes Irene very powerful. But Cogman is also good at finding antagonists that are equally formidable, so that she genuinely has to struggle to prevail.
Much about this story worked really well. Having a new, Fae student who tends to be impetuous and rather rash, means that Irene has her work cut out to keep her safe. Especially as the young woman has the survival instincts of a bunny in the headlights, particularly at the beginning of the book. I enjoyed watching Catherine’s character develop and gain confidence throughout the story. I also liked seeing Kai’s relationship with his elder brother – it’s always diverting to get a bit of sibling rivalry going to upset a usually smooth team dynamic.
And the major plot twist was nicely effective – I was pleased to see the re-emergence of an old enemy who I loved to hate – and though I had an inkling about the reveal, it was gripping to see just how much it undermined Irene and her sense of self belief. This is definitely going to influence her actions in the next book, I think.
What was less successful, was the depiction of the ongoing relationship between Irene and Kai. In the past, I have very much felt the connection between them, but although we were told about it – I didn’t feel that strong emotional vibe this time around. While I’m aware this isn’t principally a romance, if the element is there and apparently they still care deeply for each other, I would have liked to have been more convinced by it. My other concern is that Epilogue… I very sincerely hope that isn’t a major misstep – only time will tell!
Having said that, you’ll see by the score that these issues weren’t major impediments to a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable portal fantasy adventures and those featuring magical libraries – though whatever you do, start with The Invisible Library, or you simply won’t get the best from this engrossing series. While I obtained an arc of The Dark Archive from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
Whatever else it’s been, 2020 has been a marvellous year for science fiction reads, particularly space opera. So what am I looking forward to reading in 2021? I’ve determined to become more disciplined and complete series that I’ve started, thoroughly enjoyed – and then dropped again because the new shiny drew me away… This is the final post that I’m linking to #Sci Fi Month 2020. So in no particular order:
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky Anyone who has been on this site for a while knows I’m a huge fan of his writing – and I was delighted to learn that this sequel to the thought-provoking novella Dogs of War – see my review – is due out in early January 2021.
The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky The Expert System’s Brother is one of those books that hasn’t left me alone since I read it – see my review. So I was so excited to learn that we have now the opportunity to follow what happened next to poor old Handry after his previous adventures.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear I was blown away by Ancestral Night – see my review – and am thoroughly enjoying Machine, so got hold of Hammered – see my review – for more Elizabeth Bear goodness. And I want to continue with this series, seeing as I had such fun with the first book.
A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine After the acclaimed A Memory Called Empire – see my review – I’m sure I won’t be the only desperate to get my hands on this sequel. And the good news is that we won’t have all that long to wait…
Endgame – Book 6 of the Sirantha Jax series by Ann Aguirre I started this series far too long ago and have loved the progression of Jax. So one of my Christmas presents from me to me, will be a copy of this one, seeing how much I enjoyed Grimspace, Killbox and Aftermath – review to follow.
Network Effect – Book 5 of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells I loved All Systems Red – see my review – but given that the novellas aren’t all that long and I read quite fast, I simply couldn’t justify the expense of following the rest of the novella series. The first novel, however, is a different proposition and I’m really looking forward to tucking into this one next year.
By Other Means – Book 5 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie I’ve loved following super-soldier Sorilla Aida on her adventures in On Silver Wings, Valkyrie Rising, Valkyrie Burning and The Valhalla Call. But, again, this is a series that has simply taken too long to catch up. So I’ll be tucking into this one sometime in January or February.
Driving the Deep – Book 2 of the Finder series by Suzanne Palmer I loved listening to Finder earlier this year – see my review. So I have decided to treat myself to the audio version of this one, so I have another space opera action adventure to keep me company while cleaning the house.
Lines of Departure – Book 2 of the Frontlines series by Marko Kloos I loved the first book, Terms of Enlistment – see my review – and fully intended to tuck into the second book , which I have on my TBR, much sooner. As it is, better late than never. So this is another offering I intend to read in the early part of 2021…
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat, bouncy vibe of young Ara has she faces off the creepy alien shadows and a nasty crime synicate in Navigating the Stars and Chasing the Shadows – review to follow. So I’m keen to see how this all plays out in the final book of the series.
Fleet of Knives – Book 2 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Embers of War – see my mini-review. The sentient ship Trouble Dog rather stole the show for me and I’m only too happy to read more about his ongoing adventures.
And there you have it – 12 science fiction reads I have lined up to get me through the miserable months of January, February and March, in amongst my fantasy and crime reads. Are there any books here that you are intending to also read? Or others you would like to recommend? I’ve loved taking part in #Sci Fi Month 2020 – it’s been a joy to browse through the master schedule and make a note of books I want to get hold of. But I am trying very hard to be adult about this – and work on completing more series that I have already started. Wish me luck!
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
The week started overcast and dull, but the last couple of days has been brighter and sunnier – and doesn’t that make a difference? Himself has been on annual leave and we planned to clean, tidy and declutter. The great news is that we have made a bit of progress! The kitchen and the lounge are now looking a LOT better. Yay! My eldest grandson is now out of quarantine and returns to school this week to his Drama exam, so I am very relieved. And in this week’s links below, I have included Tim’s mix of the song ‘Let It Go’ using 103 clips from films and TV programmes, which he has also edited himself – I think he’s done a magnificent job. Do nip along and check it out…
I have now successfully disentangled my monster manuscript and have the complete first draft of Picky Eaters 2, which is now called Flame & Blame. I also have two-thirds of the next book written, entitled Trouble With Dwarves and I’ve been working on completing the plan for that one and the next book in the series, which will be entitled, A Conspiracy of Dragons. So enough to keep me happily occupied for the rest of the year and into 2021…
I have also been loving Sci Fi Month and I’m very sorry that it’s coming to an end – but I’ve picked up so many recommendations for exciting new sci fi reads. A huge thank you to thank you so much to Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for all their hard work and if you are looking for more science fiction goodness in your life – here’s the link to the Master Schedule for a quick browse.
The photos this week come from a rather soggy walk along the beach with Himself, when we talked through the plans for Trouble With Dwarves. Notice the shingle and seaweed up across the sea front after a recent storm…
Last week I read:
Fallen– Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka Once Alex Verus was a diviner trying to live quietly under the radar. Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends…and love. But it’s come with a price–the Council is investigating him, and if they find out the truth, he’ll lose everything.
Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Council, and he’s preparing a move that will bring Alex and the life mage, Anne, under his control. Caught between Richard and the Council, Alex’s time is running out. To protect those he cares for, Alex will have to become something different. Something darker… I was delighted to dive back into this excellent Brit-based urban fantasy adventure, which is one of the smartest I’ve come across. Needless to say, Verus is in a bucketful of trouble and things are steadily getting worse… I’ve an arc for the next book, which I’m looking forward to, after an intriguing ending. Review to follow…
Lifelode by Jo Walton Lifelode is the Mythopoeic Award Winning novel from Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning author Jo Walton. It was published in hardcover in 2009 by NESFA Press and is now available for the first time as an ebook.
At its heart, Lifelode is the story of a comfortable manor house family. The four adults of the household are happily polygamous, each fulfilling their ‘lifelode’ or life’s purpose: Ferrand is the lord of the manor, his sweetmate Taveth runs the household, his wife Chayra makes ceramics, and Taveth’s husband Ranal works the farm. Their children are a joyful bunch, running around in the sunshine days of the harvest and wondering what their own lifelodes will be.
Their lives changed with the arrival of two visitors to Applekirk: Jankin the scholar and Hanethe, Ferrand’s great grandmother and the former lord of the manor, who has been living for many generations in the East, a place where the gods walk and yeya (magic) is so powerful that those who wield it are not quite human. Walton is one of my all-time favourite authors, so I was thrilled to discover this gem that I hadn’t yet read. As ever, it’s a masterpiece… Review to follow.
The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Gogman Irene is teaching her new assistant the fundamentals of a Librarian’s job, and finding that training a young Fae is more difficult than she expected. But when they both narrowly avoid getting killed in an assassination attempt, she decides that learning by doing is the only option they have left – especially when the assassins keep coming for them, and for Irene’s other friends as well…
In order to protect themselves, Irene and her friends must do what they do best: search for information to defeat the overwhelming threat they face and identify their unseen enemy. To do that, Irene will have to delve deeper into her own history than she ever has before, face an ancient foe, and uncover secrets that will change her life and the course of the Library forever. It was a real treat to get hold of the arc of this latest offering in this engaging portal fantasy. Irene is one of my favourite protagonists – cool, clever and generally in command of the situation. I loved the major plot twist, but I’m not too sure about that Epilogue… I’m hoping it isn’t a massive misstep! Review to follow.
Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ Sung by 103 Movies and TV Shows https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC4et1M8T_I&feature=youtu.beAnd here is Tim’s rendition of ‘Let It Go’ – one of his recent projects… Though I teach him – I want to make it clear that I had nothing to do with this achievement. This is his own talent and hard work shining through!
Himself recommended this one – he’d read it and thought I would enjoy how different it was, and he was right. Because, being the shallow sort, I would never have picked it up as I don’t like the cover. I’m linking this review with #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: Starship engineer Anailu Xindar dreamed of owning her own ship, but she didn’t find the courage to actually go for it until she was forced out of her safe, comfortable job. She goes shopping for a cheap, practical freighter, but she ends up buying a rare, beautiful, but crippled luxury ship. Getting it into space will take more than her technical skills. She’ll have to go way outside her comfort zone to brave the dangers of safaris, formal dinners, a rude professor, and worst of all, a fashion designer. She may even have to make some friends… and enemies.
REVIEW: This is charming and after reading a fair number of foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action space opera adventures (I’m looking at you, Seven Devils and The Unconquerable Sun) it was a real pleasure to tuck into something far more sedately paced.
Anailu is a young engineer, who suddenly finds herself no longer part of a ship’s crew when she refuses to sign the new Contract that her corporate employer wants to lock her into. So with her savings, she decides to find a suitable ship and start up her own cargo business. This book charts her adventures along the way. And I found myself turning the pages and reading far later into the night than I’d planned to discover what happened next.
There is a charm and bounce to this book. I liked the world and the fact that most of the characters we encounter are largely decent folks, who are trying to get along the best way they know how – and if they can lend someone else a helping hand, they do so. Which is quite a contrast to the tone of many books in this genre. The feel reminded me, in places, of Becky Chambers’ books – although the writing isn’t as fluid or accomplished.
Nonetheless, I was completely won over by Anailu and enjoyed learning more about her and her remarkable ship. This book is clearly the start of a series, though I note that as yet a sequel hasn’t appeared. I’ll be keeping an eye out, though. I have really enjoyed this one and was very sorry to get to the end of this entertaining adventure. Highly recommended for space opera fans who also appreciate their space opera a little more low key and upbeat. 8/10
When taking the dragonets fishing, don’t use them as bait – even if they pester you to do so. Their parents simply won’t understand that they were perfectly safe, even if you manage to scrub the toothmarks off their scales.
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.
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 MODERN SCI FI covers. I’ve selected Embers of War – Book 1 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell – see my mini-review. I’m linking this article with #Sci Fi Month 2020.
This offering was produced by Titan Books in February 2020. This is the default cover – and I can see why. The spacescape with a planet and it’s moon having sustained a major hit of some description, with the ship trying to outrun the massive explosion, is very dramatic. Or maybe it’s the ship blowing up – but I think the reflection within the clouds and that ominous glowing within the planet surface is more likely to be a catastrophic big bang about to engulf the planet. If I have a grizzle about this one, it’s that the title font is a little underwhelming and in thumbnail it simply disappears.
Published in October 2019 by Fanucci Editore, this Italian edition is my least favourite. I love the spacescape – those cool blues and again, that ominous explosion in the background, with the ship featured in the foreground. But WHAT possessed them to then stick a couple of lines across the middle of the artwork? I’ve no idea what they are supposed to signify and they are just a distractingly ugly intrusion.
This French edition, published by Denoël in April 2019, is another cracking cover. I love the fact that this ship is weaving its way through an asteroid belt, giving the cover a very dramatic look, with all those ominous rocks looming out of the darkness of space. And isn’t that a cool ship – it’s got some kind of pattern across the top… I also particularly like the title font, which works really well on this edition as that hot red stands out from the darker tones in the cover. This is a real contender…
This Croatian edition is another wonderful offering. Published in 2019 by Hangar 7, this cover has taken the title very literally. That ship in the foreground looks as though it’s breaking up – and we can see flying embers in the upper half of the cover against the spacescape. While below the ship, there is either a suited person, or small survival capsule trying to get away from the unfolding catastrophe. I also like the cool font, which works well. Do I like this one more than the French offering, though? I cannot make up my mind!
And finally there is this Russian edition, published in August 2020. Oh wow – again, something huge is exploding on the other side of the planet – look at the waves of heat coming off the surface. And in this one, we definitely have the sentient ship, Trouble Dog, featured in the foreground. For the first time ever – I simply cannot make up my mind between the final three covers. I think they are all fabulous and I’d happily pick any one off the shelves and hand over my hard-earned cash to get hold of the story😊. But which is your favourite?
I’d seen glowing reviews for this book – and when someone compared Martine’s writing to that of C.J. Cherryh, then I had to get hold of it. It has languished on my TBR list for longer than it should have, so I’m very glad to finally read it. I have linked this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
REVIEW: I can see the similarity with Cherryh’s dynamic. Mahit is flung into the middle of a tense, potentially deadly situation, where not only her own fate, but the fate of all those she cares about is at stake. She has no one who she can confide in, or trust – for the one source of support that was provided proves to be unreliable in a way that utterly compromises her. So she is conflicted and frightened, while dealing with a sophisticated group of people who immediately patronise and belittle her, simply because she isn’t one of them.
I absolutely loved it. This is science fiction at its beguiling best. A different culture, which is far more alien to Mahit, brought up on a space station, than she had ever imagined, even though she has spent most of her life preparing for this. I loved her character and how we were alongside her and in her thoughts. It would have been so easy to get the pacing wrong – either speed up the action so that there wasn’t time for her reactions to the unfolding sequence of events. Or to allow the story to stutter as Mahit’s thoughts and fears prevailed at the expense of the narrative.
The worldbuilding is beautifully handled. Mahit’s culture shock at the difference in surroundings, the clothing and food, is visceral. And I also very much enjoyed the cast of supporting characters, particularly the wonderful Three Seagrass, who is Mahit’s cultural aide. I found this one difficult to put down as the situation continued to grow in intensity and complexity – to the extent that I was afraid the conclusion would be something of an anti-climax. It wasn’t. The final denouement was both unexpected and surprising – and completely satisfying.
This immersive, memorable read won’t be for all sci fi fans. While plenty goes on, it is interspersed with periods of reflection by Mahit as to the possible consequences, in the manner of C.J. Cherryh. However, I adore this form of writing and am very much looking forward to reading the second half of this duology in 2021. Highly recommended for those who enjoy this form of story-telling. 10/10
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. I have linked this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020…
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine – release date – 2nd March 2021
#science fiction #space opera adventure
BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.
Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
I absolutely loved A Memory Called Empire, as it’s one of my Outstanding Reads of the Year – I’m reviewing it tomorrow. And so I am very much looking forward to this sequel! This has been an excellent year for space opera adventures – and it looks as though that run is going to continue into the coming year – yay! Anyone else got this one on their wish list?