Category Archives: alternate history

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Lady of Magick – Book 2 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyofMagickbookreview

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I read and enjoyed the first book in this series, The Midnight Queen, which charts the fortunes of Sophie and Gray and if you haven’t yet read this first book, then I recommend you do so before plunging into this one.

BLURB: In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magickal knowledge can finally be nourished. But she must put her newly learned skills to the test sooner than expected. All is not well in the Kingdom of Alba, and before long the Marshalls find themselves beset by unexpected dangers.

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to divulge – I read a stream of reviews complaining on how the pace dragged in the first half of the book, which I found rather surprising. Until I read the blurb after I finished the book and realised that it gave away a major plotpoint that occurs just over halfway through the book – which the author clearly intends to come as a nasty surprise to the reader. However, not if you started the book expecting it to crop up from the first page…

Hunter does a good job of depicting a world where Christianity didn’t gain ascendancy, so there are a variety of religions, including some of the Roman deities and a lot more, besides. Latin is the lingua franca and magic is part of the everyday, though not everyone has magical ability and as we are in an alternate Regency period, women don’t have much agency, though if they are particularly magically gifted they do have more opportunities.

Hunter is a beguiling author – when I’m in the middle of her tales, I find I’m swept along by the intensity of her writing and the nuanced characterisation. It wasn’t until I put this one down with a sad sigh and had cleared my head a little, I realised that the lassitude that afflicted two of the main characters did flatten the pace of the story at times – and I’m not sure how that could have been avoided.

I did thoroughly enjoy watching Joanne coming into her own and finding her feet, after all the hardship and emotional turbulence of the last couple of years. I do like the spiky relationship she has with her sister, and also the sense of loss she feels now that Sophie is no longer there. She is the character who comes to the fore and is by far the most successfully depicted in this book, I think. Not that any of the characters fail to convince – apart from her portrayal of a complex, conflicted world, Hunter’s strength is her characterisation.

While I don’t agree that the pace drags during the first half, I do think that the game-changing climactic scene in the grove near the end is a tad rushed. But I am definitely going to continue reading this enjoyable, engrossing series – it’s worth it for the worldbuilding alone… Recommended for fans of Brit-based fantasy with roots in our rich, historical past.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police series by Jodi Taylor #Brainfluffbookreview #DoingTimebookreview

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I have been a big fan of Taylor’s writing since Himself stumbled over this immensely talented author when he picked up The Nothing Girl and after that, we discovered the popular Chronicles of St Mary’s – see my review of Just One Damned Thing After Another – though you’ll also find reviews for the next four books in the series if you use the Search box at the top of the right-hand column and enter Jodi Taylor’s name.

BLURB: At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history… And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace? Doing Time follows three hapless new Time Police recruits – Jane, Luke and Matthew – as they try to navigate their first year on the beat. It’s all going to be fine. Obviously.

The book is in multiple viewpoints – Jane, Luke and Matthew all tell parts of their first testing days while training for the Time Police, though I like the fact that we don’t get to know exactly why they joined at the same time.

There is Taylor’s trademark humour, along with moments of real lump-in-the-throat poignancy – I don’t know anyone else who can swing the mood around from tears to laughter and back again with such conviction. What has been reined in a tad in this first book of a new series, is the anarchic mayhem that regularly breaks out in a St Mary’s book as those historians get an idea they want to test. I found it significant that the only time Taylor cuts loose in the same way, is when one of the characters finds himself back at St Mary’s for a short while. I was pleased to see that the more restrained, repressive atmosphere of the time police force has filtered into the writing.

That didn’t stop the tension being tight-wound to the point that I couldn’t put the book down as one character’s life becomes badly impacted by a ruthless antagonist. The sudden resolution to the situation didn’t have me wanting to break off, either. Taylor’s pacing, as ever, is brilliantly handled and I loved the way our initial bonding or otherwise with the main characters goes on altering and developing throughout the book as we learn more about each of them.

Once more, I reached the end of the book with the story having been satisfactorily concluded, but nonetheless feeling a real sense of loss that there wasn’t more. This tends to be my default emotion when getting to the end of one of Taylor’s books – and it’s a struggle to keep from plunging straight into the next one.

Highly recommended for fans of near-future, character-driven stories where time travel features, but isn’t necessarily the engine powering the narrative. The ebook arc copy of Doing Time was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffbookreview #TheEmptyGravebookreview

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It took me a while to summon up the courage to listen to this slice of Lockwood & Co’s adventures, because it’s the last book in the series – and I so very much didn’t want the awesomeness to end…

BLURB: Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered in Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co. series. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family’s past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle.

As is apparent from the blurb, this isn’t a series you can easily crash into. As each of the stories, while standalone for each of the mysteries they pose, adds another piece of the puzzle that Lockwood and his young associates are struggling to solve – what caused the Problem in the first place, some fifty years ago. Why did ghosts suddenly take to infesting the world of the living, causing fear, havoc and so many countless deaths?

By now, I am thoroughly at home with Lucy, the main protagonist whose dry humour leavens the creepier moments, and her companions – the dashing young Anthony Lockwood, clever, spiky George, precise and poised Holly and acerbic Kipps – not to mention Flo Bones and the Skull, who Lucy carries about in a rucksack in a jar. While this apparently a children’s book, there are plenty of moments that are genuinely creepy – sufficiently so that when my grandson was listening, he decided that he’d rather hear them during the day rather than when he was trying to get to sleep. In my opinion, this series is definitely more suited to the eleven to fifteen age-group, though this rather picky granny absolutely loved it.

There is a layering in the characterisation, a real sense of poignancy when dealing with Lockwood’s loss of his family and a depth of scene setting and worldbuilding that is a solid delight throughout. While I loved the Bartimaeus series, I’ve enjoyed Lockwood & Co even more, given those footnotes got a bit annoying halfway through.

As it is the final book in the series, there isn’t much to say that won’t immediately lurch into Spoiler territory – but don’t start at The Empty Grave, please do begin with the first book, The Screaming Staircase. Right now, I wish I had a timeturner so I could give it a twist and begin allll over again. I’m feeling drained and a tad emotional… the way you do when a world has sunk its hooks right into your heart and you know that even if you reread the story, you can’t ever experience it in quite the same way again. Highly recommended for everyone and an outstanding ending to an outstanding series.
10/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 2nd October, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWW

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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 – Doing Time – Book 1 of The Time Police by Jodi Taylor

#Time travel #near future #spinoff series from the Chronicles of St Mary’s series

BLURB: At some time in the future, the secret of time-travel became available to all. Chaos ensued as people sought to take advantage. Because there will always be nutters who want to change history…

And so the Time Police were formed. Internationally sanctioned thugs whose task it was to keep the timeline straight by any and all means possible. And they succeeded. The Time Wars are over. The Time Police won. But who will win the peace?

As soon as I saw the cover and the blurb, it was a no-brainer that I’d request this one. I love the madcap adventures of the other nutters – the history buffs who inhabit St Mary’s – as they visit a variety of momentous occasions throughout history for the purposes of research, see my review of Just One Damned Thing After Another. And I won’t have long to wait. This offering is being released on 17th October – yippee!

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Whispering Skull – Book 2 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheWhisperingSkullaudiobookreview

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I loved Stroud’s Bartimaeus series – so tucked into the audiobook version of the first book, strongly encouraged by The Cap, who loved The Screaming Staircase – see my review here – to find it a joy. So it was only a matter of time before I treated myself to this, the second book in the series…

BLURB: In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations. Finally, in a fit of anger, Anthony challenges his rival to a contest: the next time the two agencies compete on a job, the losing side will have to admit defeat in the Times newspaper. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the excavation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a Victorian doctor who reportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well-until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom…

That is as much of the blurb as I’m willing to share – but I would say that if you have encountered this book without having yet had the pleasure of reading The Screaming Staircase, then don’t go any further. This is a complex, layered world and Stroud has designed these books to build on the narrative arc, therefore you’ll miss far too much that is important if you crash midway into this series. And yes… I regularly crash midway into series, so when I say ‘don’t’ I mean it.

This alternate contemporary world, where if someone dies violently or in unhappy circumstances, their ghosts can linger and at their most lethal, kill those unfortunate to encounter them. Adults and most children cannot see or sense these dangerous spirits, but a handful of children gifted, or cursed, with the ability to see, sense or hear these ghosts are employed by agencies to help neutralise them. Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins and Lucy Carlyle are three such teenagers, who prefer to work on their own instead of being directed by adults who can no longer take part in the really dangerous part of the work.
Artefacts which are strongly associated with a death can be possessed by one of these dangerous spirits. The authorities charged with trying to find a solution to The Problem, as this sudden widespread haunting is called, are keen to possess all such artefacts – but there is also a thriving black market in such objects. Lockwood & Co are aware of the fact, but when the job they are working on ends in sudden chaos and danger, they are charged to track down a particular artefact. Though it rapidly becomes apparent that this is a very dangerous undertaking.

However, the threat of death is never far away in this job, anyway… Stroud’s vivid, darkly threatening world once more pulled me in and Katie Lyon’s narration, while not quite as brilliant as Miranda Raison, is still gripping and effectively portrays Lucy’s first person viewpoint. I would add that as well as being genuinely creepy in places, Lucy’s sharp-edged observations are also very funny. All in all, this series is turning into one of the highlights of the year to date and I’m thrilled to discover that I have the other three audiobooks just waiting to be read. Lucky, lucky me!
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #TurningDarknessintoLightbookreview

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When I saw this spinoff novel in the world of the Memoirs of Lady Trent series, I immediately bought it, even though we’re officially broke. There are limits, after all… we can always exist on fresh air and sunshine for a couple of weeks – but to go without a book like this? Nope – can’t do it.

BLURB: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study. When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Despite claims that this would be a good entry point to the Lady Trent series, my firm advice would be – don’t touch it until you have read the complete series, apart from anything else, the book contains big spoilers to Within the Sanctuary of Wings and frankly, because of the nature of the narrative, I think you’d be floundering a great deal of the time if you tried plunging into this world via this book. As it has an epistolary structure, containing diary entries, letters, notes and translations of ancient Draconean tablets, I think you need to already have a good idea of the world and the political structure.

That said, I really loved this one. Brennan’s writing talent pings off the page as I quickly bonded with Audrey, brought up to disregard the rigid conventions of polite society, and passionate about the Draconean civilisation. She also happens to have been born into a family of high achievers – her grandmother, Lady Trent, blazed a trail with her insights into the life cycles of a variety of dragon species and her father is a world-famous translator of ancient languages. Audrey, notwithstanding her youth, is desperate to also make her mark – more particularly since she was robbed of a claim to fame by someone she’d trusted. This need drives her more than it should – and leads her into making some major mistakes. Cora, unloved and disregarded, is also someone I fell for in a big way, as well as dear, kindly Kudshayn, the draconian translator who helps Audrey with her huge task in translating these tablets.

The translations are beautifully done and the scholarly exploration of the ancient religion compared with the modern variant is perfectly achieved, with the mythological stories so well written, it was a struggle at times to remember they were a fantastic conceit nested within a novel. The initial pacing is leisurely, but once the enormity of what is going on began to emerge, I simply couldn’t put this one down. While the theme of prejudice and bigotry was all too evident, the theme that caught my attention, was the way that intellectual arrogance is also a snare that caught most of the main characters in some way.

I found this a fascinating read that crawled under my skin – I’m sure it will be one of those that stays with me and the only reason it isn’t getting a solid 10 from me, is that I did find myself skimming some of the myths, particularly at the beginning. Highly recommended for fans of the Lady Trent Memoirs series.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK How To Seize a Dragon’s Jewel – Book 10 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell #Brainfluffbookreview #HowToSeizeaDragonsJewelbookreview

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I can’t claim that I haven’t been warned – David Tennant, the narrator of this series, has repeatedly told us at the start of the last few books that this series would be getting darker. Nevertheless, I am a bit shaken at just how bleak Hiccup’s outlook has become – suddenly the nasty bullying he received at the hands of Snotlout during Gobber’s pirating lessons seems cosy…

BLURB: The Dragon Rebellion has begun, bringing the Vikings’ darkest hour upon them. Hiccup has become an outcast, but that won’t stop him from going on the most harrowing and important quest of his life. He must find the Dragon’s Jewel in order to save his people… but where should he begin? Don’t miss Hiccup’s most dangerous adventure yet!

Hiccup is now thirteen years old, alone and living on his wits as he is being hunted by both Furious, the dragon leading the rebellion against the Vikings, and his arch-enemy Alvin the Treacherous. Well… he’s not entirely alone. Hiccup has his riding dragon, Windwalker, and of course, naughty little Toothless, his common-or-garden dragon and an ancient frail small dragon, who is currently trying to teach Toothless manners… Right now, the jokes that Toothless provides still had me chuckling aloud – but there were times, too, when I wanted to weep. I’m a granny whose read faaar too many books to be reduced to tears by a comedic coming-of-age series about Vikings and dragons, surely? Apparently not.

The characterisation, worldbuilding and above all – the plotting of this series is a masterclass in how it’s done. Cowell once more swept me up into Hiccup’s madcap, OTT world where every single character has a Dickensian immediacy that pings off the page. And in this book, for the first time, we get to meet Hiccup’s mother, Valhallarama. One of the things I love about this series is that while inevitably the children are the ones with agency, the adults aren’t unduly belittled. Hiccup’s relationship with both his parents is complicated – but particularly in this book, I loved the tenderness and genuine love that is depicted by both parents and the boy, even if they didn’t understand each other.

This one has left the story on a cliffhanger, but even so, I haven’t plunged immediately into the next book. Never mind that it’s a children’s book – I needed a break, albeit a short one, before once more immersing myself into Hiccup’s action-packed, emotional story.
10/10

Sunday Post – 7th September, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

This week was a hectic one, as I started back teaching Tim, and attended meetings with the other tutors and Sally to co-ordinate our approach over the coming year. On Monday evening, I met up with a group of ex-students and we caught up on each other and listened to each other’s writing, while enjoying Anita’s fabulous home-made apple crumble – yum! I also met up with Gill at the Look and Sea café on Tuesday morning, before we plunged back into our Pilates class on Wednesday, after the summer break – while I was okay on Thursday, I was hobbling around on Friday stiff and sore. On Wednesday evening, it was Writing Group again and I got to hear about Liz’s wedding in between everyone reading out our writing.

It was Himself’s birthday on Friday, but he was working, so we celebrated on Thursday, which he had off, instead. We visited the Weald and Downland Museum on a lovely sunny autumn day – it was idyllic as the pic shows… I’ll post more in a separate post. We felt quite smug as Friday turned out to be a rather chilly, windy day that we’d had such a fabulous time the previous day.

My sister and I went flat hunting again on Saturday afternoon. Two were a bust and one was definitely a contender – fingers crossed she is able to nail this one, as it is only up the road from where I live.
I’ve been editing, though it hasn’t gone as smoothly because so much was going on. I’m hoping that by the end of the coming week I can get right back into the writing groove again.

Last week I read:

Illuminae – Book 1 of The Illuminae series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started…

I had heard so much about this dystopian YA science fiction adventure and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan
As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archaeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

This spinoff series, charting an adventure featuring Audrey, granddaughter of the famous scholar of dragon behaviour, starts slowly and then as it gathers pace, becomes impossible to put down. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Cut price science fiction offer…

Friday Faceoff featuring The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles now available

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kingdom of Souls by Ren Barrron

Review of The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter

Sunday Post – 1st September 2019

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

On (Not) Defending Historical Fiction https://writerunboxed.com/2019/09/02/on-not-defending-historical-fiction/ I thoroughly enjoyed reading this intriguing article. While historical fiction hasn’t been my go-to genre for a while, it was a pleasure reading this intelligent response to ‘that’ question.

Brilliant Book Titles #301 https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/brilliant-book-titles-301/ I haven’t featured any of these offerings for a while – but this one caught my eye…

Group Hug… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/group-hug/ You’re on your computer, working away – and it alllll goes wrong☹. I was in something of a state when I spotted this little gem, which made me laugh and gain perspective once again.

An Interesting Character Study: Prospero from The Tempest https://interestingliterature.com/2019/09/03/an-interesting-character-study-prospero-from-the-tempest/ Those who know me also know I’m obsessed with this play – so found this article well worth reading.

Chase Bookfest – Cannock Chase’s first book festival devoted to women’s popular fiction and thrillers – Saturday 21st September 2019 https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/chase-bookfest-cannock-chases-first-book-festival-devoted-to-womens-popular-fiction-and-thrillers-saturday-21st-september-2019/ A shoutout about a special event for keen readers who live in the area…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter #Brainfluffbookreview #TheMidnightQueenbookreview

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I’d like to take credit and claim that I was the one that stumbled across this gem – but it was Himself, once again, who unearthed this enjoyable read, though if I’d come across it, I certainly would have succumbed, given the gorgeousness of that cover…

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented – and highest born – sons of the kingdom are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover . . .

Gray’s Britain is a fragmented kingdom of many tongues, many gods and many magicks. But all that concerns Gray right now is returning as soon as possible to his studies and setting right the nightmare that has seen him disgraced and banished to his tutor’s home – without a trace of his powers. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

That is the start of this story – we’re tipped right into the middle of the disastrous expedition that impacts so badly on Gray’s life, to the extent that I did wonder a couple of times whether this was the second book in the series. I’m conscious that some readers don’t enjoy this approach, but I happen to love it – so long as I’m not left floundering for too long – and I wasn’t. While I enjoyed the characters – Gray’s diffidence and cleverness are well portrayed in third person POV – what particularly enchanted me is the world.

This version of Britain doesn’t have Christianity sweeping through the country and wiping away the variety of pagan religions that proliferated before. So there are mentions of the Roman pantheon, along with several of the old Celtic deities and magic is also tied up with the worship of them. The historical era is Regency and while the story isn’t particularly original, there are plenty of twists and turns that held me right to the ending.

There is a slow-burn romance bubbling away throughout and if the book had been all about that, then I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much, but as the viewpoints swing between the two main protagonists, Sophie and Gray, with a few extra characters giving their points of view from time to time – we get to see their relationship mature. This is a main subplot to the narrative driving the story – that of a shadowy conspiracy against the Master of Merlin College, that, perhaps goes even higher than that…

I found this one difficult to put down as the sense of tension held me throughout and while many elements of the plot were familiar, I enjoyed how Hunter played with our expectations and tweaked some of them. The climax of the story was suitably exciting and all the dangling plotpoints were all tidied away very neatly – a tad too neatly for the first book in a series, I felt. Because there is no way that I believe His Majesty is going to be content to let things lie as they’ve been arranged – but I’ll have to read the next book to see if I’m right, which I’m looking forward to doing. Recommended for fans of British-based fantasy with a splash of romance.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHeartoftheCirclebookreview

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This one was recommended by one of my book blogging friends, so I scampered across to Netgalley and requested it. I’m so sorry I can’t recall who exactly it was who suggested it – but do please let me know and claim the glory – so I can heartily thank you…

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

This book is set in Tel Aviv – Landsman is an Israeli author – and the different setting is just one of a range of aspects that sets this book apart. It is set in an alternate dystopian setting where magic-users around the world face a variety of measures designed to limit their freedom. In the US, they are forced to live in ghettos and while apparently Israeli society is more liberal, it doesn’t prevent many attacks on sorcerers, with most police turning a blind eye to such crimes. Reed is one of those fighting for equal rights for the magical community, putting himself at risk as he serves in a coffee bar. I found his edgy character, with his ability to read and diffuse people’s moods, appealing and sympathetic – even when he was being a bit of a prat, which is when you know the author has nailed her protagonist.

There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, notably his flatmate, Daphne, who is a seer. I like the gritty detail that people who can see into the future or become assailed with other people’s strong emotions are prone to depression and mental illness with a high suicide rate among them – it makes sense. I felt that Landsman had thought through carefully what would be the ongoing consequences for someone cursed with such a gift. In the middle of all this turbulence, Reed falls desperately, helplessly in love with another empath. His same-sex relationship with Lee, an American, grows steadily more intense throughout the book and described with passion and tenderness and while this isn’t principally a romance, this relationship plays a pivotal role in the narrative.

I burned through this book in just over two days, staying awake faaar too long to find out what happens next. I like Landsman’s layered characterisation and trick of writing a situation from the inside out – and would happily read anything else she has written. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and is highly recommended for anyone who likes reading about magical worlds with a difference. The ebook arc copy of The Heart of the Circle was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10