Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m displaying Phil Williams’ covers in honour of his recent release of Kept From Cages, which I loved. I discovered his quirky Ordshaw trilogy last year – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae. He also designed the covers for all the books in the series, as well as the new Ikiri series, which I find very impressive. Which ones do you particularly like?
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Last Smile in Sunder City – see my review, so when I saw the second book was coming up, I was delighted to be approved to read it. Would I enjoy it as much as the first book?
BLURB: The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.
Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.
Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.
What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.
But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.
REVIEW: It starts well – I very quickly felt right back at home in this grim, noirish city where everything is a bleaker, more tattered version of itself because Magic has now disappeared. I settled into the first two adventures well enough. Though wincing somewhat as Fetch seems to take far more than his fair share of beatings, and I felt suitably sympathetic at his angst and guilt. But…
It’s a longish book at well over 400 pages, and generally that sort of length doesn’t bother me – but just about the halfway mark, I was conscious of this one starting to drag. Fetch’s constant misery became irritating and the fact that the plot seemed to cycle round in ever-widening circles, so that what initially seemed like a progression just became more of the same – Fetch investigating a case… feeling miserable… getting beaten up… Rinse and repeat. It didn’t help that there was precious little light and shade – it was basically all shades of dark.
I’m aware that right now I’m not really in the right place for lots of bleakness. But the quirky cover and the strapline comparing this book to Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series had me thinking that maybe this book would be a whole lot lighter, as by the end of the first book, Fetch seemed to have found some closure. The world is well described, and Arnold’s vivid descriptions of the once-magical characters are both imaginative and original – I love the premise. But Fetch’s constant angst was also annoying the other characters in the story – it comes to something when I find myself nodding in agreement as a major antagonist verbally shreds the hero.
If you are looking for a fantasy crime series with a real difference and enjoy your world on the grimy, grimdark side, then you may well find this one suits you. While I obtained an arc of Dead Man in a Ditch from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 6/10
Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?
On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?
REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.
It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.
But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story. 9/10
This week’s deja vu review is from 24th October, 2012…
I met up with Janet Edwards at last year’s Fantasycon, when she told me that Earth Girl was due to come out in the coming year and we also exchanged a few words at Eastercon, when I heard enough about the book to put it onto my reading list. So I loaded it onto my Kindle for the journey to Brighton for this year’s Fantasycon.
BLURB: In the far future, the universe is divided into two different groups: the Norms, who can portal between planets, and people like Jarra, Earthgirlthe one in a thousand born with an immune system that doesn’t allow them to survive anywhere but Earth. Norms come back to Earth for one reason: to study human history – like the ruins of what was once New York City. But only if they don’t have to interact with any Apes along the way. 18-year-old Jarra has a plan to change that.
REVIEW: This debut novel is a delight – it is marketed as YA, but this adult science fiction fan found it completely engrossing, as did my husband. Jarra is a strong protagonist – spiky, yet believably vulnerable. About halfway through the novel, there is an episode that appears to have split Earth Girl readers into those who feel that it is unrealistic and those who don’t. I’m in the latter camp. The series of events leading up to the shock that catapults Jarra into behaving as she does is entirely convincing – as is her reaction.
So Edwards has set up a strong female character and an intriguing situation – has she also managed to depict a sufficiently detailed and complex future? Absolutely. One of the characteristics of YA fiction – which is probably why you see a lot more Urban Fantasy, rather than Science Fiction in this genre – is that it is generally fast-paced. So it is a big ask for authors working with a primary world where the surroundings and customs are significantly different from our own time – unlike most urban fantasy offerings which are mostly set in modern cities with a few extra supernatural touches laid over the familiar landscape – to produce a satisfactory setting without holding up the narrative drive.
Edwards manages to provide plenty of interesting insights into her future world as part of the plot progression – an achievement a whole lot more difficult than the author makes it look. In fact, the world and the reasons why archaeological teams are frantically mining these decaying cities was – for me – one of the main treats of this book.
Any grizzles? Well – it is a minor niggle, but I did feel that I would have liked the ending to be slightly less… tidy. But that observation doesn’t detract from the fact that Earth Girl is a thoroughly engrossing read by a talented author, who is definitely One to Watch. 9/10
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this post-apocalyptic adventure set in England in a ruined landscape where scattered remnants of humanity try to eke out a precarious existence – see my review of The Book of Koli. Though the overall tone of this one isn’t as bleak as that scenario might suggest – and if you’ve read his best-seller The Girl with all the Gifts or The Boy on the Bridge, then be aware that this series isn’t as doom-laden as those stories. For me, that’s a plus.
BLURB: Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.
REVIEW: The previous book, The Book of Koli, was solely in our young protagonist’s head, and the major difference here is that we also learn of what befalls the small community that exiled Koli, as we are also in the first-person viewpoint of Spinner. She featured largely in Koli’s life before he went on the run, so it was interesting to see her take on what happened. I would just mention that there are series where you can crash midway into them without too much trouble – this isn’t one of them. Essentially this is an overarching narrative that has been chopped into book-sized segments and if you try picking up what is going on, while you’ll probably get the gist, there is far too much of importance that you’ll have missed.
Once again, we have the broken, ungrammatical language that helps define the worldbuilding, partly to give an indication of the length of time that has elapsed and partly to show rather than tell of the lack of education and erosion of knowledge. It’s an issue that is bound to divide readers – some tolerate, some loathe, and others absolutely love it. I’m in the latter category and find it really helps me get immersed in the world. Koli isn’t travelling alone. He’s accompanied by a grumpy older woman who is a travelling healer and has come to a grim conclusion about the viability of humankind – hence the journey to try and locate a more organised settlement with a large population.
I really enjoyed this second slice of the adventure. We see and learn more about Koli’s companions, as well as also discovering more about the capabilities of the technology they are using. I particularly enjoyed seeing how another community, living near the sea, manages to exist. And it was refreshing to also realise that not every settlement in this dystopian view of the future is innately hostile or aggressive.
This second book is well paced, with plenty going on, as well as increasing what is at stake and how important it is that Koli and his companions succeed. If I have a concern, it’s how Carey is going to combine the two strands of his story – that of Mythen Rood and Koli’s fortunes – in the final book, The Fall of Koli, which is due to come out in March next year. While I obtained an arc of The Trials of Koli from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: This collection is set immediately after Earth Flight, and focuses on Jarra, Fian, and the other archaeologists before they head to excavate the alien ruins on Fortuna. Full Contents List:- The End, and the New Beginning – Jarra Tell Morrath (Revised collected edition of the serial previously published on the author’s website.) I Will Be Right Here Waiting – Fian Eklund (Novelette) Twenty Seconds in Ark – Dalmora Rostha (Short story) Full Circle – Lecturer Dannel Playdon (Novelette) Raw Material – Krath Karman (Short story) Balance of Power – Amalie Roche (Novelette) The Real Jerez Rivera – Jerez Rivera (Novelette) Year End 2788 – Lecturer Dannel Playdon (A related short story set eleven months earlier.)
REVIEW: While the contents above give a sense that these are standalone short stories, or novelettes, I read them as an ongoing narrative as they followed on one from the other, covering the same narrative timeframe, except for the story at the end. These stories and novelettes aren’t particularly short, so there isn’t any jarring or sense of dislocation in moving from one to the other, as we got to know more about some of the members of the History class that Jarra attended. I enjoyed learning more about some of the people I’d already read about in Jarra’s previous adventures, but this could just as easily be a taster and introduction to the Earth Girl series.
It’s a clever idea to produce this book. Edwards excels at writing in first person viewpoint (I), but inevitably the big drawback with that point of view, is that we can only have access to what the protagonist knows. As the Earth Girl trilogy books are in Jarra’s viewpoint, this fills in some of the details she isn’t privy to – such as the private life of her lecturer Dannel, which I particularly enjoyed. I’d always felt his constant attention to the needs of his class was slightly unrealistic, but now that detail makes sense, given his need to lose himself in his job while coping with the aftermath of a personal tragedy.
One of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Edwards’ writing is her upbeat tone. Even when tackling difficult issues, such as the prejudice against babies born with the Syndrome, while she deals with the subject with suitable seriousness, the mood is always infused with the energy and can-do enthusiasm of her young protagonists. It is an aspect of her writing that I have always much admired, as so often older writers don’t successfully depict that sense of overriding optimism that many youngsters display, even when coping with overwhelming odds.
If you have read and enjoyed the Earth Girl trilogy and would like once more to dive back into that world, this collection comes highly recommended. And if you haven’t and want to know what all the fuss is about, then it is an ideal place to start. It reminded me all over again just why I became such a fan of Edwards’ writing. 9/10
BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny. But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?
A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
REVIEW: This further set of adventures takes Dan right out of his comfort zone – not much in the way of forests and trees out on the Fens. And he’s staying over with Fin’s family – people he doesn’t want to let down, particularly as he isn’t completely sure about where his ongoing relationship with her is going. To complicate things further, the Green Man isn’t saying much about the emerging crisis, either.
McKenna has been clever in moving Dan away from his usual haunts, where we already know he has a certain amount of power. Now, both personally and as half-Fae, he is out of his depth. It was enjoyable to learn more about Fin and her background – seeing her within her own family and contrasting her sense of belonging, in comparison to Dan’s sense of isolation, brought home why he is quite so wary. It also nicely raised the stakes when recalling his criminal record, so that when problems get sufficiently out of hand to come to the attention of the police, Dan is at an immediate, major disadvantage. This further compromises him, as he deals with an entitled, arrogant character very sure of his own place in the scheme of things.
Once again, the fae characters ping off the page with their sense of otherness and evident threat – the hobs and their unnerving powers, and those sylphs… Who knew that creatures of the air could be so lethal? McKenna further flexes her skill in writing action with a particularly dramatic fight scene in the middle of a storm that had me holding my breath when Dan and his landrover take a beating. It makes a doozy of a climax.
While The Green Man’s Silence can be read as a standalone, I recommend you get hold of at least one of the other books in the series first, in order to get the best out of this outstanding book. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who are looking for well-written fae adventures with a difference. 10/10
I loved Zoo City – it’s one of my all-time favourite reads – see my review. And when I saw this one right at the beginning of the COVID lockdown, I requested it despite the pandemic theme. My heart goes out to Beukes as the timing for this one is dire.
BLURB:They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back. She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible. It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
REVIEW: The way the apparently innocent flu mutates into something far more lethal is both scary and plausible – particularly now. I thought the worldbuilding was particularly good, but then that’s Beukes’ superpower, anyway. A post-apocalyptic America where many are reeling from their losses and trying to do deal with the situation as best they could was well depicted and, for me, one of the more enjoyable parts of the book.
My main problem was that I don’t much like Cole and I loathe Billie and as these are the protagonists, with a few sections in Miles’ head, it meant I spent most of the book tolerating, rather than sympathising with main characters. I found Cole’s stubborn, stupid idea to get Miles “away” almost as dumb as Billie’s nasty scheme, while some of the action scenes descended into a horrible kind of farce. Both sisters weren’t good at listening to others and I was profoundly sorry for poor Miles, who was being dragged around the country on the rather scattered whim of his mother and daily exposed to all sorts of unnecessary dangers. She wasn’t a particularly effective mother who’d bonded well with her son. A lot of the banter between them seemed to be Cole trying to coerce Miles into doing what she wanted, without being too heavy-handed about it. And most of the novel seemed to revolve around the toxic relationship between Cole and Billie, rather than an examination of how a society without men would really function.
As for the ending – what was that about? This pandemic was portrayed as a worldwide problem, so that simply didn’t make sense. That said, this one won’t leave me alone. The ugly muddled scenes of violence… the series of run-down places they stayed and some of the pathetic survivors, who’d lost husbands and sons… I’ve dreamt of these. Which proves that while it isn’t a book I necessarily always enjoyed, nonetheless it has sunk its hooks into my inscape with the powerful worldbuilding and vivid writing. Recommended for fans of post-apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios. While I obtained an arc of Afterland from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 7/10
I can’t lie – it was the cover that caught my eye on this one. Bold, bright and with a ship speeding through space – just what I needed😊. Better still, there is a protagonist without legs, which I further liked…
BLURB: AD 2118. Humanity has colonised the Moon, Mars, Ceres and Europa. Captain Ellisa Shann commands Khidr, a search and rescue ship with a crew of twenty-five, tasked to assist the vast commercial freighters that supply the different solar system colonies.
Shann has no legs and has taken to life in zero-g partly as a result. She is a talented tactician who has a tendency to take too much on her own shoulders. Now, while on a regular six-month patrol through the solar system, Khidr picks up a distress call from the freighter Hercules…
REVIEW: This one is written in first-person viewpoint (I), across several protagonists. It starts with what should be a routine call for help – and turns into something far more stressful and unexpected. I loved the initial scene-setting and how lethal acceleration is to the oh-so-fragile crew, which is done really well. The world is vividly depicted without lots of info-dumping and I quickly bonded with the Shann, the captain. When something then goes wrong, the captain quickly and decisively deals with it – and while we were regularly in other characters’ viewpoints, it was Shann who was my solid favourite. I felt her character and motivation was by far the most well nuanced and established. However, there were times when she seemed oddly detached from the crew, who she’d spent years alongside. We’re told they are a tight-knit bunch, but Shann doesn’t seem to know them well enough. I liked the fact that despite she is clearly tough-minded and brilliant, she is also fiercely individualistic and maybe that has compromised her leadership skills. This sort of nuanced characterisation is unusual in such an action thriller.
I thought the overall pacing worked well and mostly the characterisation was successful, though it’s always a challenge to get that completely right in such a action-packed story. I also thought the action scenes were very well written, with a strong balance between the characters’ thoughts and emotion amidst the unfolding chaos.
However, while the initial emergency has been dealt with, our intrepid crew are still facing a major hazard with a host of questions that have been raised, but not fully addressed. I’m assuming that this is the start of a series, but there is nothing to suggest that is the case. If it isn’t, then I am beyond disappointed – I want more! On the grounds that I believe it is the beginning of a series, this one is highly recommended to fans of high-octane space opera adventure. While I obtained an arc of Fearless from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Most of the first half of the week was dominated by the launch of Mantivore Warrior on Monday, which went really well. Thank you to everyone who retweeted and mentioned that Warrior is now live and let loose on the world.
The weather was a lot better – though not good enough for our Writing Group to get together on Wednesday evening, which was a real shame. It had been bright and warm all day, until the evening when it started raining, so we were Zooming once more. Though it was a really productive meeting, where several of us shared our work and I got some valuable feedback on the beginning of Picky Eaters 2.
Unfortunately, I am now struggling with a very sore back and my usual strategies for dealing with it aren’t working, so I’ve a physio appointment on Tuesday. I was supposed to travel down to Ringwood yesterday to see my in-laws with my husband – but I woke up feeling too sore and car journeys are never my friend, anyway. I’d travelled to Brighton on Thursday to see my daughter and the children and brought back the boys to stay overnight – a last sleepover before they go back to school. It was lovely to see them and their stay was rounded off by going out for a meal together at a local pub restaurant with a vegan menu, where my daughter and little Eliza joined us on Friday afternoon. Today is my husband’s birthday, and today’s photos are from the big wheel which was recently installed on Littlehampton foreshore. We are planning to have a lazy day together and go out for a meal with my sister tonight.
Last week I read an astonishingly strong selection of books:
Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae. But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive. I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was so refreshing to read of a sixty-something protagonist, who isn’t magically enhanced or rejuvenated and Hearne’s trademark humour is evident in this series, too. Recommended, particularly for fans of the Iron Druid series.
AUDIOBOOK – The Delirium Brief – Book 8 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross Bob Howard’s career in the Laundry, the secret British government agency dedicated to protecting the world from unspeakable horrors from beyond spacetime, has entailed high combat, brilliant hacking, ancient magic, and combat with indescribably repellent creatures of pure evil. It has also involved a wearying amount of paperwork and office politics, and his expense reports are still a mess. Now, following the invasion of Yorkshire by the Host of Air and Darkness, the Laundry’s existence has become public, and Bob is being trotted out on TV to answer pointed questions about elven asylum seekers. What neither Bob nor his managers have foreseen is that their organization has earned the attention of a horror far more terrifying than any demon: a British government looking for public services to privatize. This was huge fun to listen to – and has made me determined to get hold of the next one in the series sooner, rather than later as this one ended on something of a cliffhanger. I’d forgotten just how smart and darkly funny Charles Stross’s writing can be. Review to follow.
The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of the Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind. Carey keeps the tension up and expands the story by giving us an insight into what is going on in the village that exiled Koli in the first place, as well as taking Koli’s adventures further. The world is brilliantly depicted and I enjoyed the characters.
The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago? A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles. I thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s latest adventure, which takes place in a corner of England that is rich with history and folklore. I loved that Finele was once again part of the story and found this one impossible to put down. Review to follow.