Category Archives: Bristolcon 2015

Review of KINDLE EBOOK Spark and Carousel by Joanne Hall


This is the latest book, released at Bristolcon this year, from Joanne Hall, whose duology, The Art of Forgetting, so impressed me – read my review of Rider here. My copy of  Spark and Carousel was provided by the author on the understanding that if I enjoyed the book, I would review it, but did I enjoy it as much as her previous work?

Liathan is struggling to care for his master and mentor, who is slowly losing his mind. Carousel, street dancer and acrobat, is excited at the prospect of being allowed to work in one of the bawdy houses in the dry and wearing pretty clothes – how hard can it be? Allorise is desperate to avoid marrying an old man with rotting teeth and a big gut, just to advance her father’s schemes. These three characters come together in an explosive mixture that engulfs a city and threatens the Kingdom…

spark&carouselI’ve taken liberties with the rather chatty blurb because Hall’s plotting is too enjoyable to be Spoiled by prior knowledge of what is going to happen. From the start, we have enjoyable, sympathetic characters with engrossing problems, along with a fair dollop of humour. But do be warned. Hall’s smooth, readable style is deceptive – she reels you into her world and then suddenly ambushes you with an unexpected twist you don’t see coming. I found Carousel’s journey, in particular, a hard one to follow at times…

While the scenario is a familiar one, with a powerful, yet unskilled magic-user causing major damage – the vividness of the world-building, the strong characterisation and the accelerating pace as the story gathers momentum makes this offering stand out. I’m reminded of Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise in the sheer energy of the writing and intelligent plotting.

Hall has the knack of providing interestingly nuanced characters – no one is whiter than white. So our protagonists all have their flaws and the main antagonist, Allorise, is clearly charming and facing a miserable existence. The fact that her way of dealing with it is extreme and leads her down a steadily darker path is both believable and jaw dropping. However my favourite character is Carousel, the spiky street kid, who is negotiating becoming a woman in a mileu where that process is a commodity – something Hall doesn’t flinch from.

If you like your fantasy intelligently written with fully rounded characters and a full-on scenario, then track down this offering. I’ve read a crop of really good fantasy recently and Spark and Carousel is right up there with the best of them.

Bristolcon 2015


I was really looking forward to this one – though during the long train journey to Bristol, a treacherous little voice whispered in my ear that maybe my fond memories of the warm friendliness I’d experienced at this Con over the last two years had been exaggerated with the telling and retelling. But from the moment we wandered into the Reception, the cosy sense of being amongst like-minded folks was palpable.

And the programme had me struggling not to drool as it was packed with a series of enticing panels, intriguing small 001group sessions and useful other events, such as How To Draw Dragons and Other Stuff hosted by Graham Higgins. I sorely needed that clone to attend all the sessions AND hang out in the bar to catch up with conference friends I chat away to on Twitter or WordPress…

Being the nerdy sort, I love panels and overall, the standard of discussion was impressively high, doubtless helped by the inspired subjects on offer.

Favourites include What Makes a Good Dystopia? which was ably moderated by Janet Edwards and Censorship in the Global Village, where Juliet E. McKenna had some interesting things to say about self-censorship, relating to her campaign against this piece of limp-brained legislation from the EU. I also very much enjoyed Radically Alternate History, deftly moderated by Dev Agarwal as I’m a sucker for this particular sub-genre. And the day’s panels was rounded off by Here Be Dragons. This always had the potential to be enjoyable, but Anne Lyle’s inspired idea to get the panellists to sell their particular favourite imaginary monster to the audience had us all cheering for Mhairi Simpson’s battle chickens… You couldn’t make it up, could you?

The rowdy game of Be A Bard in the bar on Saturday night was another highlight – where buttercores and mantiflies were also brought into being, along with the idea of an anthology – or is it a bestiary? – featuring these creatures.

Other treasured memories include Janet Edward’s explanation for how she broke her ankle – ‘I fell while rescuing the occupants of a space ship.’; Joanne Hall’s fantastic book launch party for her latest release, Spark and Carousel, complete with wine, cake and an awesome lightshow. Thanks to my technical advisor, I have now managed to load the ARC onto my Kindle, so will be shortly getting stuck into it. Another highlight was meeting up with another delightful bunch of writerly folks, including Ben Galley, Alice Reeves, Lor Graham, Jo Lindsey-Walton and Richard Bendell.

I also got to read a short piece from my science fiction novel Running Out of Space, shortly to be published. Many, many thanks to the kind souls who stayed behind to listen and apologies for the rather croaky delivery. Of all the times to go down with a cold…

Those darned panels I didn’t manage to see – I’d have LOVED to have made Faster Than Light and Bad-ass with a Baby and who wouldn’t want to be able to Learn to Write Your Name in Galifreyan with Andy Bigwood?

I only managed a fleeting hug with the wonderful Sophie Tallis as she was busy dashing between panels and exchange a grin with Justin Newland while he was panelling. So much for catching up. It also sounded like Friday night was great fun – THAT reading by Cheryl Morgan was obviously an event not to be missed. It would also have been a blast to have watched Galaxy Quest with an equally appreciative audience. Oh – and next year, can someone sort out the relative time anomaly? It was advertised as a day-long affair, but I swear it zipped past in just a couple of hours…

Massive thanks to everyone who slaved to make Bristolcon 2015 such an exceptionally enjoyable day. I’m only too aware that producing a day where everyone runs so smoothly takes a great deal of hard work. It just gets better every year – and I’m definitely making that train journey again next October.