Category Archives: Book review

Review of INDIE Ebook Broken Heart Attack – Book 2 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries series by James J. Cudney #Brainfluffbookreview #BrokenHeartAttackbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Academic Curveball – see my review here, so when I realised the second book was already out, and given the major cliff-hanger ending, I got hold of this one.

When an extra ticket becomes available to attend the dress rehearsal of Braxton’s King Lear production, Kellan tags along with Nana D and her buddies, sisters-in-law Eustacia and Gwendolyn Paddington, to show support for the rest of the Paddington family. When one of them appears to have a heart attack in the middle of the second act, Nana D raises her suspicions and asks Kellan to investigate who killed her friend. Amidst family members suddenly in debt and a secret rendezvous between an unlikely pair, Kellan learns the Paddingtons might not be as clean-cut as everyone thinks. But did one of them commit murder for an inheritance?

Cudney’s smooth, readable style scooped me up and swiftly drew me back into life on Braxton campus. While you might initially flounder slightly if you hadn’t had the pleasure of reading Academic Curveball, Cudney ensures you’ll soon make sense of what is going on – and indeed, there’s plenty to keep poor Kellen on the back foot.

His main relationship is with his feisty, sharp-tongued grandmother, Nana D. I really like the intergenerational dynamic within the story. Kellen’s grandmother isn’t introduced just to give us a few smiles at his expense as her snarky replies leaves him waving in the wind, Nana D is important to the story as a character in her own right. I also like the fact that the victim is one of her elderly friends – and that her death is investigated with the same rigour as the hapless youngster in the previous book. Far too much casual ageism is exhibited within this genre, so encountering Cudney’s take on the older characters in his story is refreshing change.

The mystery is nicely twisty, with plenty of potential suspects. I also liked the character development moving forward through the series – while the Sheriff was extremely hostile towards Kellen’s involvement in the previous book, she becomes less so during this investigation, as Kellen proves his worth and gains her rather grudging trust. Once more, Cudney’s skill in handling the whodunit is apparent, while I had a couple of candidates in mind for the wicked deed – neither of them were responsible and yet the culprit had a solid motive.

Any niggles? Well, I was floored by the revelation at the end of the first book and very eager to find out exactly what had happened – to the extent of skimming the first few pages to discover the outcome. If I have a grizzle, it would be that this major plotpoint was slightly squeezed out of the story at the expense of the investigation. So I’m hoping the next book will put Kellen’s personal issues right in the centre of the story, because I’m very keen to see him finally face up to that cauldron of regret, anger and thwarted love…
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of The Fethering mysteries by Simon Brett #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLiarintheLibrarybookreview

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When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.

Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…

Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.

I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer #Brainfluffbookreview #RoughMagicbookreview

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I have to come clean – I requested this book because I was under the impression that it was a fantasy adventure, due to the title. For once, my trick of not reading the blurb tripped me up…

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. An outrageous feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the army of Genghis Khan, the Derby sees competitors ride 25 horses across 1000km, and it’s rare that more than half of the riders make it to the finish line. In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, wildly underprepared and in search of the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Finding on the wild Mongolian steppe strength and self-knowledge she didn’t know she possessed, even whilst caught in biblical storms and lost in the mountains, Lara tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. She didn’t just complete the race: in one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she won, becoming the youngest-ever competitor to conquer the course.

Lara makes an intriguing protagonist – in this painfully honest memoir of a tricky time in her life when she signed up for this most testing adventure on a fairly random whim, I get a sense of a very strong determined personality who is a work-in-progress. I liked the messiness of the characterisation. She is clearly someone not comfortable in her own skin – literally, as it happens. This gawky nineteen-year-old has been suffering with chronic stomach pains that no one has been able to successfully diagnose – and as the race wore on and many of the other competitors dropped away, it did occur to me that the reason why she managed to stick it out when so many others couldn’t, is simply that she’s used to being in constant physical discomfort and pain.

I say ‘simply’, but of course real life isn’t that simple. This book isn’t just about Lara’s gritted determination to complete – and ultimately win – a particularly gruelling horse race, it’s also about her take on the stunning scenery, the people in her life – and how comfortable she feels within herself. It’s striking that when in amongst other people, what falls out of her mouth is often crass and/or simply embarrassing. She mentions near the start of the book that she hasn’t many filters and at school she was in the habit of coming out with whatever was floating through her head at the time.

There’s a sense of her not really fitting in – not at home, or in her daily life and certainly not at the start of the race. By the end, however, it’s a different matter. The vets and race organisers begin to look upon her as a contender and there’s an implicit sense that there’s growing respect for her. Not that she mentions it – I’m not sure even now that she’s aware of how awed they were at her toughness and horsemanship. It’s striking that her main competitor pushed her horses really hard throughout, which eventually cost her the race. Mostly, Lara didn’t.

I’m conscious that I’ve written a great deal about the protagonist and not a whole lot about the race – it’s partly because I don’t want to stray into Spoiler territory, but also because I love the fact that while one thing is going on – the race – Lara is also busy growing up…

Her descriptions of her various horses, the varying weather and stunning scenery, along with her immediate reaction to it is masterfully done. This book pulled me in and held me throughout – I found it a fascinating, layered read that told me about so much more than a very challenging horse race. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about true adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn #Brainfluffbookreview #AcrosstheVoidbookreview

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I was so excited about this one – the premise looked amazing and the opening scene absolutely hooked me. What a fabulous beginning…

Commander Maryam “May” Knox awakes from a medically induced coma alone, adrift in space on a rapidly failing ship, with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there. Slowly, she pieces together that she’s the captain of the ship, Hawking II; that she was bound for Europa—one of Jupiter’s moons—on a research mission; and that she’s the only survivor of either an accident—or worse, a deliberate massacre—that has decimated her entire crew. With resources running low, and her physical strength severely compromised, May must rely on someone back home to help her. The problem is: everyone thinks she’s dead.

First, the good news. The first half of the book is riveting – that opening sequence where May surfaces on a failing ship, struggling to work out what is going on with a badly glitched AI and memory issues, worked extremely well. The science aspect was entirely believable and the character development and backstory were effective and well written. I was drawn into her life, despite not liking her very much.

I also liked the fact that May was black, with a successful black mother who had helped and supported her. So it was a real shame that I never really warmed to May – in fact as the story wore on, I found myself disliking her selfish behaviour more and more. For me, the dealbreaker was the disgraceful manner in which she neglected her mother as she became old and ill – and then made a huge scene on her death, where we’re all supposed to feel very sorry for her grief. Hm – not me. By this point, I was sick and tired of May’s self absorbed behaviour, just hoping that poor old Stephen would see the light and run away in the opposite direction from her as fast as possible.

Because if you’re sensing a BUT, you’re right… this is a book of two halves. The first half drew me in and absolutely had me hooked, but about the halfway stage, I had a ‘Whoa!’ moment. The storyline lurched into the utterly unbelievable – setting up camp in Fantasyland, where it firmly stayed. I continued reading, hoping that somehow, at some stage, this would stop reading like the script of a really silly sci fi movie, and dial back to what started out as a thoroughly engrossing, strong story. It didn’t. The silliness wore on into the outright ridiculous.

It’s a shame. The characters were well depicted, so that even if I hated the main protagonist, it didn’t stop her being well portrayed, warts and all. The story could so easily have continued to be a gripping, well written thriller with plenty of heft, instead of lapsing into lazy Hollywoodesque clichés that I saw coming on encountering the opening sequences. Frequent comparisons with The Martian demean both the film (which did get a tad daft at the end) and certainly the book, which is far better crafted and more realistic than this effort.

Apparently, the tortured romantic element is being touted as sci-cry – and it’s certainly a crying shame that a better editor didn’t rein in the author(s) in this promising, yet horribly flawed effort. Not recommended for anyone who enjoys believable sci fi.

While I obtained an arc of Across the Void from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
4/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSuddenAppearanceofHopebookreview

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My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets. It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time. A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger. No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am. That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

And that’s the premise – yes, I know. Absolutely fantastic idea. I thought that I was in for another adventure along the lines of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. The character is telling us the story from the inside out in first person viewpoint, which is always a plus for me and, as ever, North extends the situation so that I had a visceral experience of what it is to be completely forgotten. After a moment. The heartbreak of having your own family no longer recognising you, losing all your friends and unable to progress within school or hold down a job because you don’t have the paperwork is well explored.

There is also an excellent plot around the amazing new app called Perfection, which helps users to maximise their happiness and abilities to succeed in today’s modern world – however, there’s a catch… I was on my way to giving this book a solid 10 out of 10 about three-quarters of the way in. And then somehow I was having difficulty in keeping focused on the writing. Now, it might well be me – but I really don’t think so. I like North’s writing, and I’m used to her pacing, which is definitely on the leisurely side, but somehow I became slightly disconnected with the story and couldn’t quite fully re-bond with it again.

That said, I don’t want you to go away with the idea that this isn’t a good read. After all, I have given it an eight. And if I had the choice to go back and pick this one up again – I would do it in a heartbeat. Recommended for fans of intelligent, nuanced near future adventures peopled with three-dimensional characters.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of NETGALLEY arc The Art of Noticing: Rediscover What Really Matters To You by Rob Walker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheArtofNoticingbookreview

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I have been struggling with stress and mild depression throughout this year. It’s badly affected my ability to sustain the relationships around me that matter, my physical health, my teaching and my writing. One of the more miserable aspects of this malaise is that I’m finding it very difficult to put in place anything that might help me out of this hole. I’ve fallen into patterns of behaviour that while initially helping me to flick into escape-mode, now over the longer term, are aggravating the situation – and through a sense of hopelessness, I am finding it difficult to wean myself away from them. So when I saw this book, I thought it might provide me with some ways to help myself at a practical, concrete level.

Distracted? Overwhelmed? Feel like your attention is constantly being pulled in different directions? Learn how to steal it back. Accessible and inspiring, this book features 131 surprising and innovative exercises to help you tune out white noise, get unstuck from your screen and manage daily distractions. Make small yet impactful changes and bring focus to the things and people that are most important to you.

And there’s the blurb – so the question is, are those 131 exercises really surprising and innovative? Can I envisage myself taking part in any of them, or a close alternative that would be a better fit for my own lifestyle and personality?

The answer to the first question is – yes. All the exercises are slightly off the wall and unusual, requiring a shift from everyday thinking – to the extent that some of them are used to help art students hone an alternative, original view of the world. Some of my favourites include the one inspired by writer Paul Lukas, who likes to discover the backstory of everyday objects in an activity he calls ‘inconspicuous consumption’, by asking ‘how did it get that way?’. I also like the exercise Brian Rea uses of making lists of immaterial things – such as the things he is worried about, memorable moments during a dinner party, the bars he visited when living in Stockholm. None of the above remotely appeal, but I’m attracted to the idea of making a list of the flowers blooming in my garden, along with the date when they first appeared, for instance. Another exercise I particularly like is making a glossary of unfamiliar vocabulary that exist within a specific expertise, by asking people for terms within their work life that don’t regularly come up in everyday usage.

There were a number of exercises that left me cold – one was to record a couple of minutes of activity on your smartphone and write a poem, or description of it, after viewing it repeatedly to ensure you absorb all the minutest details. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, it just didn’t appeal.

What I appreciate is that Walker has taken pains to spread these exercises across the widest spectrum of interests and sensory input. There are exercises that appeal to our visual senses – like the above, for instance. There are exercises involving sound-mapping the surrounding environment, with some ingenious variations; exercises involving drawing or painting; and using modern technology to make short films of the day objects you touch every day. In short, whoever you are and whatever your particular strengths and inclination, I think you’ll find something in this book that you could use or adapt. And that was something else I really like – there is no sense in which Walker is at all dogmatic about any of the suggested exercises. He frequently suggests variations and at the end of the book actively encourages his readers to find different ways to put this approach in place.

These exercises are all designed to help us reset ourselves within our environment, so that we focus on the immediacy of existing in the way we’ve done for millennia – the way we’re designed to do. I will be campaigning for the hard copy edition of this book for my upcoming birthday, as the ebook isn’t a particularly friendly medium for browsing and flipping back and forth. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to reconnect with their surroundings in any way.
10/10

Review of Children of Blood and Bone – Book 1 of Legacy of Orïsha series by Tomi Adeyemi #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenofBloodandBonebookreview

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Everyone was talking about this book when it first came out – while I was snagged by the stunning cover. When I had some book tokens to spend and saw it on the shelf, I scooped it up – and then didn’t get around to reading it until now…

They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

This is a book about injustice, oppression and prejudice wrapped around a tale of magic, using the power to try and carve out a better future for those afflicted with the white hair of the maji. Told in multiple first person viewpoint, we see the story unfold through the eyes of two sets of siblings from opposite sides of the conflict – Prince Inan and Princess Amari, whose father is responsible for the oppression, as he battles to expunge magic from the world after it caused the death of his family; and Zélie and Tzain, whose mother is brutally murdered by the king’s guards.

I was interested in the fact that the story isn’t straightforward – while the systemic degradation of a people is clearly wrong, Adeyemi doesn’t hide the fact that once magic is unleashed, its power to kill and maim large numbers indiscriminately is terrifying. Indeed, one of the main protagonists accidentally kills someone they are fond of and respects when their magic slips beyond their control. The king’s argument is that he takes no pleasure in supressing, torturing and murdering maggots, as he calls magic-users, but it’s for the good of the kingdom. It’s clear he regards them as sub-human.

But we also see at very close quarters the grief of a girl who has done nothing wrong, except to be born to a woman with a strong talent for magic. Over the years, she hasn’t only seen her mother murdered, but suffered daily humiliation at the hands of brutalised guards and been constantly afraid. When there seems to be an opportunity for the hundreds of orphaned children scattered across the kingdom to once again regain their magical heritage, Zélie and Tzain set off on a quest to gather the necessary artefacts and be at the right place at the right time to perform the ritual.

The book covers that journey. Along the way, they encounter the prince and princess – and I love how Adeyemi plays with reader expectations as to how that will play out. Gripping, action-packed and highly emotional, this is a book that at times I had to put down because I needed to surface from the intensity – at other times a crowbar wouldn’t have levered it out of my hands. I’d love to see this book become a classroom text for young teens, given the moral questions it raises. What do you do when a slice of the population is perceived as a threat to the rest? How do you responsibly neutralise that threat? Is it ever justifiable to ostracise a people because a very small number of them are exceptionally dangerous?

It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see that these are questions very relevant to our current political situation – but in certain areas of the country, any discussion of that situation may well be seen as not only controversial, but inflammatory. So using Children of Blood and Bone would be immensely helpful in raising these issues to tease out the moral implications. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a gripping fantasy adventure with unsettling echoes in our modern world.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #WithintheSanctuaryofWingsbookreview #2019TheBacklistReaderChallenge

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It’s been far too long since I finished the fourth book in this series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – and I realised that I had been putting off completing this series simply because I didn’t want all the fun to stop. However, all good things must come to an end…

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent–dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field. And yet–after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia–the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure–scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies–and what she discovered there, Within the Sanctuary of Wings.

The other issue, of course, is after whisking us around the world, where Lady Trent endured desert, biting cold and torrid jungle in her search for knowledge about the various species of dragons, would this latest adventure managed to measure up to the previous cracking reads? The answer is yes. Now at a stage in her career where her exploits have given her a worldwide reputation, Lady Trent still is not wholly accepted within the scientific circles of Scirland. So while she is constantly in touch with fellow academics, corresponding around the world on the subject of dragons and respected as a leading authority, she is also becoming increasingly restless. Those of you who have read any of these books won’t find it a huge surprise that when reports of the remains of a completely new species come to her attention, she quickly organises an expedition to travel to the inhospitable range of mountains where this frozen corpse was last seen.

I love Lady Trent. She is the embodiment of a host of plucky Victorian ladies who ventured across the globe in long skirts and boned stays on a variety of scientific expeditions that subsequently were often erased from history. Brennan, by now knows her heroine very well, so we can relax into the adventure that befalls her – Lady T is something of a disaster magnet – which also takes the whole series into a completely different direction.

Does this final adventure adequately bring this whole series to a satisfactory conclusion? Oh yes – I thought this culmination of Lady T’s eventful life of scientific exploration was very well handled. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading this delightful series and enjoy the opportunity to read a different sort of book about dragonkind, then this one comes highly recommended. Whatever you do, though, don’t start with this book – go back to the beginning of the series and pick up A Natural History of Dragons see my review here. I only wish that I was also able to turn the page and experience the pleasure of the first book for the first time, again.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook In Evil Times – Book 2 of the Imperials series by Melinda Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #InEvilTimesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The High Ground – see my review here – which I read in response to Sci Fi Month and as we had the second book already, I tucked in.

Thracius Tracy Belmanor and the Infanta Mercedes de Arango have graduated from The High Ground and have become officers in the Orden de la Estrella. Tracy’s posting aboard a battleship leads him to further doubt the intentions of the Solar League, as he and his comrades are required to assimilate the settlers of a Hidden World. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ own posting and her difficult marriage to Beauregard Boho Cullen, made to assure her succession of the throne, divides her loyalties. In a society where most humans and all aliens are second-class citizens, the two young officers have difficult choices to make…

As in the first book, the storyline focuses on these two young people who became very close during the first book, even though it was clear their relationship would never be able to go any further. I had sort of assumed that during this book, love would somehow find a way – because that’s what happens in amongst the action and mayhem in most space opera. So I was more than a tad gobsmacked when events took a completely different turn.

I had become very attached to both characters in the first book, but found Tracy harder to like this time around. He is eaten up with anger and bitterness, making no attempt to compromise and foster friendships in amongst the other young officers. That said, even though there were times when I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled, I admired his gritted courage and his determination to do the right thing. His tactical ability and leadership skills are not utilised sufficiently, but when he is called upon to act, he does so with flair.

However, my favourite character by a long country mile is Mercedes. Her life is allll about compromise – she marries the man who she likes rather than loves to secure her family’s grip on the imperial throne. She fills the role of Infanta, rather than continue her career as a fighter pilot, even though she is exceptionally good at it – and all without becoming embittered and angry, in stark contrast to Tracy’s attitude.

The action in the book highlights some of the trickier moral actions the underpin the social structure. When a human colony is discovered illegally operating outside the Imperial League, the consequences are shocking. Its economy is hi-jacked and resources given over to the League, the population brought under control – and all the children under ten years old are taken away to be adopted or fostered by loyal families on other worlds, which means the population are assimilated within a generation. This issue is explored within the story in a manner that had me wondering both about the justification and the long-term effects.

The entitled nobility, who advance by dint of their birth rather than their ability, have a casually dismissive attitude towards the rest of the human population, which is the attitude typifying the huge majority of humans towards all the alien species who are employed as servants or indentured labourers. I really enjoyed this interesting exploration of the society through the lens of two major protagonists, while finding the unexpected plot twists prevented me from putting this one down. I read it in two greedy gulps and surfaced wanting more, so immediately went looking for the third book, The Hidden World – something I hardly ever do.

Recommended for fans of grown-up space opera that takes the characters and story arc outside the confines of the usual genre conventions.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Tim series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenofRuinbookreview

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I absolutely loved the Children of Time – it’s one of my all-time favourite science fiction books. So was thrilled to hear that there was a sequel on its way and even more thrilled when I was approved to read and review it.

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time. Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth. But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed. And it’s been waiting for them.

Once more, this is an ambitious, well-written epic adventure featuring humans, spiders and octopuses all as intelligent, sentient beings. Not only does this book encompass three species and convincingly depict their struggles to communicate with each other and amongst themselves, it sprawls across a brain-achingly long timespan. Furthermore, it does so whilst fracturing the timespan, so that some of it is told out of sequence…

I am a solid fan of Tchaikovsky’s work and familiar with the recurrent themes in his writing. I particularly love his knack of giving us unintended consequences, which is exactly what happens when a bored, rather lonely terraforming scientist decides to uplift a species of octopus to act as maintenance crews to the underwater equipment altering the planet for human use. No one writes non-human species better, in my opinion. I was completely convinced by what drove the spiders and the octopus societies, while the humans caught up in the middle of the crisis were also convincingly portrayed.

You might be sensing a but – and yes… there is one. For all that, I found the first half of this book rather a trudge. It might well be me – right now I’m tired and extremely stressed, although that doesn’t usually impact upon my reading. But while I was enjoying the slices of the adventure, I found the scrambled timeline really frustrating and at times, difficult to follow.

Once the stakes were clear and the action lined up for the desperate denouement, which was entirely gripping and held me throughout, the book rolled forward to a triumphant conclusion that will leave me pondering what happened for weeks and months to come. Tchaikovsky’s books tend to do that to me – it’s why I love reading them so much.

However, this one was a struggle and while it probably is more me than the book, I have to be honest about my reading experience. However, don’t be put off – especially if you loved Children of Time. Recommended for fans of well-written, first contact adventures with big, thought-provoking themes. The ebook arc copy of Children of Ruin was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10