Category Archives: Book review

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

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I requested this one after being attracted by the eye-catching cover and reading the premise, which was very intriguing.

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer. In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back. Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters

So did this live up to my expectations? Oh yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As to be expected with a story that starts in the middle of the Great Fire of London, this one starts with a bang. James Marwood watches the destruction of St Pauls Cathedral, with a vivid description of the heat and violence as the fire ripped through the interior and then destroyed the quantities of stationery and books that was stored in the crypt, in the belief that they would be safe.

Taylor has clearly done his research – there is a wealth of historical detail here woven into the everyday lives of the people caught up in the drama and terror. I was interested to learn that the official version – that there was a surprisingly small loss of life, given the ferocity and speed of the flames – is contradicted in this book. As the fire storms across tenements at a speed faster than a man can run, there is a general acceptance that whole families and communities were immolated. The reason why there is no official recognition of this loss of life is simply that the destruction was so thorough, nothing is left of the poor souls caught up in the conflagration but ashes.

That said, most of the action takes place in the days, weeks and months after the fire. I really liked this. That single event has caused havoc in the capital, which is nicely reflected in the political turbulence that is still being played out after the Civil War. Once Charles II regains his throne, one of his missions is to track down the handful of people responsible for executing his father. The young protagonist is caught up in this business – as are a number of other people in the story, even though they were either children or not yet born when the execution occurred.

I am conscious that I have managed to make this book sound as if it is some sort of historical account of the aftermath of both the Civil War and the great Fire of London, when of course, it’s nothing of the sort – it is a murder mystery adventure. That said, after the initial drama, the pace necessarily slows down. We are not in an era of fast car chases, or fast anything for that matter. This mystery reflects the fact that most people walk everywhere and the majority of tasks are still done by hand. So this mystery spools out over a period of time, which gives the denouement an extra kick as it takes place among the shattered remains of St Paul’s Cathedral. There were a number of intriguing twists, with one in particular I certainly didn’t see coming. I am delighted that this is the start of a series featuring James Marwell and I shall certainly be getting hold of the next book. Recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of The Ashes of London from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Blood Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

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For once, it wasn’t the cover that caught my eye with this one – it was the premise. I recall reading about these hospital ships with horror and reading a murder mystery that was based on one of these floating hulks seemed quirkily original.

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.

Thomson does a marvellous job of vividly recreating the grim and effluvia of this stinking corner of London. At this point, the poor old Thames is little more than an open cesspit and London is generally draped in sooty smoke, with far more mists and fogs than you’d normally expect, caused by the runaway air pollution. Unsurprisingly, there is a high rate of illness, though The Blood specialises in the ailments brought into London from sailors and passengers who have returned from the Empire with all sorts of nasty complaints.

Jem Flockhart is an interesting protagonist – he is a young apothecary, continuing his father’s business and producing herbal remedies and medicines for the physicians coping with the high rate of illnesses. The team working on The Blood are mostly young medical practitioners without any money or support behind them, seeking to make a reputation by either publishing a brilliant paper on one of these new diseases, or catching the eye of an established medical man. However, the likes of Dr Proudlove, a black doctor whose mother ran a brothel, is highly unlikely to gain the reputation he wishes, despite being both clever and hard-working.
Jem teams up Will Quartermain, a young architect, when investigating this entangled case that lays open the seamiest side of London life, after they discover the body of a young woman in a derelict boatyard. While it’s evident she was drowned, the water in her lungs is clear, whereas she was discovered floating in a vile-smelling thick soup that could scarcely be described as water…

I thoroughly enjoyed this. Jem is a wary character who despite his obvious youth, clearly knows his way around this lawless, blighted area – and has an almighty secret of his own. This means that he is relatively free of many of the prejudices of the time – which also rings true. While there is clearly a rich backstory to his and Will’s current relationship, I had no difficulty in working out exactly what was going on and this book works well as a standalone, despite being the third in the series.

As for the mystery itself, it is one of those very twisty affairs, where one apparently solitary murder triggers a string of other incidents so that more people die, pulling in a wider circle of potential suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and the vivid world unflinchingly on display – though I’m humbly grateful that I don’t live in that time and place. I’ve thought about this one a lot since I finished reading it and will be looking out for the other books in this series. Recommended for fans of vividly depicted historical fiction, especially Victorian noir.
9/10

 

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc School for Psychics – Book 1 of the School for Psychics series by K.C. Archer

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And yes – true to form, it was the cover that sold this one. I loved that gold on black effect, which worked really well. And after reading Kristen’s review on her blog, Metaphor and Moonlight, I went ahead and requested it…

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic. When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

This is part of the rather chatty blurb, but gives you a good idea of Teddy at the start of the story. She is definitely rather scattered, but what you don’t immediately appreciate at the beginning of the book, is the fear underlying her bolshie attitude. She could immediately sense when anyone was lying, right from when she was a small child – and that terrified her. I liked the flaws and her apparent flakiness, which we discover has a solid cause. As a result, the book does take some time before the story gathers momentum and really hits its stride.

While the story is told from first person viewpoint via Teddy’s character, we also get to know a number of the other students, though because she has a tendency to hold them at arm’s length, we don’t perhaps know them quite as well as we would like. But it also means that when the twists come, it is a surprise.

Himself, being the paranoid sort, immediately worried about who would be monitoring such a potentially powerful tool as an establishment where people with psychic powers can be trained and moulded into law enforcement officers. I was pleased to see this aspect is addressed as the book progresses and this bodes well for the second book in the series, which should give us more of the political landscape and open up the whole issue of psychic warfare as a wider subject.

This is an enjoyable start to a series that promises to continue gaining traction as it progresses and I look forward to the next book. Recommended for fans of mental powers and school-based stories. While I obtained an arc of School for Psychics from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Children of the Shaman – Book 1 of the Children of the Shaman series by Jessica Rydill

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This cool cover caught my eye a while ago, and as Rydill is also a Grimbold author, I added it to my Kindle. And there it stayed for far too long until I needed some fantasy in my life.

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel.

That’s as much as I’m prepared to share of the rather chatty blurb, which gives the impression that it is a children’s book, due to the young protagonist. However, to be honest, that isn’t how it read. It doesn’t even have a YA vibe. Young Annat is extremely precocious – and like many youngsters growing up in difficult places at difficult times – very observant of the adults around her. Thus we get a sharp-edged look at tangled, often painful adult relationships through the eyes of someone not yet fully able to understand the power and misery of doomed love affairs.

I really enjoyed this perspective. Annat’s unfolding relationship with her formally estranged father is extremely well handled and certainly rings true to someone who also had an absent father when growing up. I am also impressed at the way Rydill approaches the shifting dynamic between Annat and her older brother. Previously, when they were both living with her aunt, her brother is the special one as he is singled out for his academic cleverness. However, once they are tipped into the middle of this adventure with their charismatic, unstable and magically gifted father, who drags them along on a journey filled with physical hardship and constant danger – it is Annat’s growing powers and stoical toughness that gets the paternal approval, while he merely sighs over her brother’s timidity and clumsiness.

I’m aware I may have given the impression that this is all about relationships within a family dynamic – perhaps clustered around the kitchen table. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. This book is full of adventure, ranging from action surrounding a steam train to a castle stronghold controlled by a fanatical lord, intent on executing anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. Once I opened it up, it was always difficult to put this one down again. And since I have finished reading it, I have found myself thinking about those cleverly nuanced characters and wondering how I would have coped in those circumstances.

The good news is that this is the first in a series and I won’t be leaving it too long before once more getting back in touch with Annat and her family. Highly recommended for fans of quality fantasy.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook The Green Man’s Heir by Juliet McKenna

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I’m a solid fan of this author’s work – see my review of The Hadrumal Crisis – and have always enjoyed the politically aware worldbuilding and sharp characterisation of her epic fantasy novels, all set in the same world. This one, however, is a complete break from her former body of work. This is, in effect, a very Brit take on the urban fantasy sub-genre, where the supernatural world interacts with the human version in trying to get to the bottom of a crime. But instead of grimy city streets, the setting is an English stately home and instead of the usual fare of vampires and werewolves, we have dryads, boggats and wyrms…

A hundred years ago, a man with a secret could travel a few hundred miles and give himself a new name and life story. No one would be any the wiser, as long as he didn’t give anyone a reason to start asking questions. These days, that’s not so easy, with everyone on social media, and CCTV on every street corner. So Daniel Mackmain keeps his head down and keeps himself to himself. But now a girl has been murdered and the Derbyshire police are taking a closer look at a loner who travels from place to place, picking up work as he goes. Worse, Dan realises the murder involves the hidden world he was born into. When no one else can see the truth, who will see justice done?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

And she has absolutely nailed it. This is a complete and utter joy. I loved the character of Daniel, part-dryad, who is desperate to meet up with others in his situation and when he finally tracks down someone who can help – it doesn’t end well… He is a sympathetic protagonist with a few chips on his shoulder – not surprising given his heritage and how it has caused him problems. He is tall, well-built and innately attracts women. While that might sound like dream attributes, in reality it has caused him a lot of problems with annoyed boyfriends and brought unwelcome attention from the police, when such incidents turn into brawls.

I love the setting of a country district – McKenna has got the social faultlines running through modern England spot on. While the beautiful setting, juxtaposed with the grim threat reaching back into history and now posing a possibility of creating havoc all over again, works beautifully. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go until I put it down in the wee small hours, drained and slightly giddy.

The book hangover I’ve had since has been painful, because despite reading perfectly enjoyable, well written adventures, they haven’t been this world, with these characters. I want them back. I want more. And I’m hoping, fervently, that McKenna has plans to make this a series, because I’m already addicted.

Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and murder stories with a very cool paranormal twist.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Meet Me in the Strange by Leander Watts

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I took one look at this amazing cover and fell in love with it, so immediately requested the book.

Davi tries to help a new friend, Anna Z, escape a cruel and controlling brother, and the teens end up running away to follow the tour of their rock idol, the otherworldly Django Conn. The story is set in a weird and wonderful retro-futuristic city of glam-girls and glister-boys and a strange phenomenon that Anna Z calls the “Alien Drift.”

This is a really intriguing read. Firstly, I am clearly not the target audience. While I enjoy my music and at times lock onto new artists and play an album to a standstill – I no longer have the intense, self-defining relationship with music that I recall needing during my teenage years. This book is targeted at those youngsters and those not so young, whose relationship with their music is mind-altering and profound.

Davi, the protagonist, is deliberately left ungendered, but is clearly male – although that doesn’t matter as much as you might think in this futuristic world where gender fluidity clearly prevails. The language is a delight – Watts uses a form of slang of his own devising, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I get a tad tired of sci fi authors using sayings that originated from our nautical past with the assumption they would still prevail in an era where we are no longer in an environment where the sea matters, so I thoroughly enjoyed the way Watts plays with language.

The same imagination and inventiveness is bestowed upon the world building and details of Davi’s everyday life as the son of a hotel owner whose relationship with his children is fleeting. Davi and his older sister live an odd, unstructured life with far too many resources, far too much time and scarily little interaction with anyone they can turn to for guidance or advice – other than a few kindly members of staff who do their best to look out for the teenagers. By contrast, the actual storyline suffers. It seems that so much imaginative energy has been expended on the world building and cool characterisation depicted through the inventive language that the actual plot is rather simple.

However, I’m not sure the target audience will really mind. What this book offers is a glimpse into the daily life of an imagined teenager in the future, including his love of music and his attempt to help Anna get free from her brother. Indeed, since I completed this book it keeps popping back into my head – the world and the feel of it, right down to the musty splendour of the hotel, which has seen better days. Recommended for readers who also enjoy music as well as inventive and futuristic world building. While I obtained an arc of Meet Me in the Strange from the publisher, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

8/10

Review of Indie Ebook Queen of Chaos – Book 3 of the Sequoyah trilogy by Sabina Chase

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I picked up this offering on Himself’s recommendation as he knew I was on the lookout for well-written, entertaining space opera adventures that didn’t necessarily feature a lot of romance.

The exciting conclusion to the Sequoyah trilogy.

And that’s the blurb. Really. I can fully understand why Chase hasn’t included anything else as the story spans the complete trilogy and I don’t think there is much she could add without lurching into spoiler territory. A warning – if you did crash midway into this series, I don’t think you could ever fully work out the complete backstory or who was doing what to whom. Given it is such a treat, the only sensible approach is to start with the first book, The Long Way Home. Consequently, I will not be discussing much of the plot points. But I will add that the story follows the fortunes of Moire and the best way to give an idea of what is going on is at this stage to provide the blurb for the first book…

Webspace pilot Moire Cameron is one of the best–but even she can’t fly her way out of a catastrophic drive failure that triggers a time-dilation bubble. Left suddenly eighty years out of date, she is on the run in a world she no longer knows, caught in the middle of a human-alien war while agents of Toren hunt her for the information only she has–the location of the pristine world of Sequoyah.

This is the starting point – Moire is not only struggling to cope with a future world where the customs and technology have dramatically altered, she is also in possession of information wanted by nearly every major powerbroker in the galaxy. This puts a huge target on her back – and the trilogy provides the story of what happens next.

Of course, if she isn’t likeable, there wouldn’t be much tension. I found myself warming to her very quickly. She is highly trained to cope in emergencies and that training is giving a thorough workout as she ricochets from one crisis to another. Her adventures include tangling with the secret service; being involved in a number of firefights; rescuing some lost souls; involved in a major salvage operation and tripping over an alien in an unexpected place – and that’s only some of what happens… We also get to know the cast of characters who she encounters on her adventures, some of whom become her companions.

Chase has the knack of writing appealing, memorable characters who I quickly bonded with, so whenever they were in danger, I found I really minded. As the dangers piled up and the stakes grew ever higher throughout the three books, I did wonder how the third book would be able to resolve everything. To be honest, I have slightly delayed picking this one up in case the ending didn’t live up to the rest of the series. I needn’t have worried. Chase is clearly capable of delivering and Queen of Chaos manages to successfully keep the action moving forward at a good clip right until the exciting denouement.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one – it is the triumphant conclusion to an excellent space opera trilogy and I thoroughly recommend it.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Burn Bright – Book 5 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs

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Himself is a real fan of Patricia Briggs and pounced on this latest instalment of her werewolf urban fantasy series with glee. I idly opened it up, read the first couple of the pages – and was caught…

They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm. With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

I make a habit of crashing into series out of order as anyone who has spent any time reading my reviews knows. Mostly, I manage to work out what is happening without too much difficulty, but I can’t deny that it sometimes causes a bit of confusion at the beginning of the book. Not this time, though. Immediately Briggs pulled me into the action so at no stage was I floundering, which demonstrates a great deal of skill, given this is the fifth book in the series. Of course, I was aware there was a hefty backstory and some of the previous events were mentioned, which has certainly whetted my appetite to read more about these engaging characters.

And it is all about the characters. I loved both Charles and Anna, so very different and yet so suited. I also enjoyed reading about the jockeying for position and the pinsharp awareness of their ranking within the pack and how that balances with the human side of their character. I’ve read one or three werewolf stories in my time, each with its own take on how the blend of wolf and human works, and this was a dynamic I particularly enjoyed. I also liked the fact that despite this is a world where lives are invariably lost – they matter. Near the beginning one of the deaths really winded me – I had expected that it was going to be alright and this particular character, whom I’d really liked, would prevail. It was a shock when it didn’t.

Another of Briggs’ skills is her ability to write broken, desperate characters with compassion and empathy. Some of the oldest fae and werewolves are overwhelmed by the weight of years and bloody experiences they have endured and are too dangerous to live in the socially supercharged atmosphere of the Pack. Briggs doesn’t just tell us how dangerous and unpredictable they are – her demonstrations of their lethal oddness had me reading waaay later into the night than I should have done.

As for the climax and solution – the risk is when I’m so thoroughly invested in a story so early on, I’ll find that the ending doesn’t quite live up to my expectations. This wasn’t an issue here – there was another surprising twist near the end that certainly changed everything once again. And then again, when another twist superseded that one… The conclusion tied up most of the plot points, leaving a major one dangling in the breeze, ready for the sixth book in the series. I’ll definitely be reading that one – and before that – I’ll also be backtracking and reading more about these charismatic, engaging characters in the meantime.

Highly recommended for fans of quality urban fantasy.
10/10

Review of Kindle Ebook The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

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I’ll be honest – I’ve had The Stone Sky for some weeks and have been putting off reading it because the first two books, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate were such powerful reads, I didn’t want to risk being disappointed if the ending was fumbled. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realised that the slew of glowing reviews evidently meant this hadn’t happened.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

I’ve been interested to note that some people classify this series as fantasy, while others, like me, regard it as mostly science fiction with a fantastic twist. While it is probably one of the most epic, wide-ranging stories I’ll read – given that it tackles humanity’s complicated and grim relationship with their home planet – at its heart is a mother’s desperate search for a lost child who was snatched by her father after committing an unthinkable crime. A crime that most would have regarded as wholly justified.

In addition, there is that viewpoint – the one I am always advising my creative writing students never to use – the second person POV, ‘you’. And yet, I dived back into this POV without so much as blinking. I regularly gush over books I love on this site – but I rarely claim that a series, or a book takes the genre of SFF in another direction and to another level. The Broken Earth trilogy does just that. Like many other reviewers, I find I am scrambling to think of words that adequately sum up my emotions and feelings when I read this book. Inevitably, whatever I say will fall short. However, I do have just a couple of words of advice. Whatever you do, do NOT start this book unless you have read the other two in the series. They are essentially a single book covering a single narrative arc, sliced up into separate volumes and if you don’t start at the beginning, you won’t have any hope of being able to sensibly work out what is going on. And above all, this story deserves to be told in its entirety.

When you start The Fifth Season all set to fling the book across the room because of the odd viewpoint, do hang on in there for at least 30 pages. I am not going to claim for one minute that this series will appeal to everyone, but reading through a number of reviews I am aware that most readers find the POV offputting initially, before finding themselves sufficiently engrossed so that it doesn’t matter. The main question remains regarding The Stone Sky – does it bring this immense story to a satisfactory conclusion? And this was what had prevented me from picking it up, because I couldn’t see any way that Jemisin could pull that one off. However, she does. Although it is only February, I am not expecting another book this year to top The Stone Sky. Never mind 10 stars, I would give it 100 if I could.
10/10