I always love feathers on book covers – and when I stopped to read the blurb, I thought this one sounded intriguing. So I was delighted to be approved.
BLURB: Twenty-two-year-old Cassia’s sister is dying, and she doesn’t know why. Soon after, Cassia wakes up in another realm, not only does she find her missing best friend, Lucas, but he knows how to save her sister.
Meanwhile Lucas is part of a community of Reborns, people who were born on earth and after death, were reborn in this realm with magical abilities. The original beings of the realm, the Firsts, rule over them.
But, to keep the Reborn numbers manageable, the king of the Firsts releases a curse to cull them and Cassia finds herself in the middle of it. She needs to break the curse before her time runs out, otherwise she will be trapped there forever.
REVIEW: Firstly, despite Cassia being twenty-two and having taken responsibility for caring for her ailing younger sister, she often behaves more like a mid-teen than a twenty-something. This sets the tone for the book, which reads like a YA adventure, with the emotions dialled high and many of the characters still unsure of who they are and their role in life. This isn’t in the way of a criticism – I regularly read and enjoy YA fantasy adventures, but it is important for other readers to know whether this is one they’d enjoy, or not.
I very much liked the poignancy of the separation between Lucas and Cassia at the beginning of the novel, which is powerfully written. So I assumed that the developing romance would feature the two of them – and it came a nice surprise when this wasn’t the case. Given that this is the relationship that drives the narrative throughout the book, I was delighted that it came from an enduring, close-knit bond that didn’t evolve into smouldering looks and all the sensations around physical attraction. Although there is all of that going on – it is far more confusing and difficult and fortunately for me, it didn’t upstage the ongoing issue of Cassia’s urgent task while in the magical realm.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. Plenty is going on throughout, with lots of action and drama and while at times I found Cassia annoyingly stubborn and self-centred – they were flaws I could live with. However there were aspects of the world that I did find irritating. Because of the ongoing pace of events, people need to be able to move around fast in a world where there is no mechanised transport. The author has decided to use a magical strain of wolf which are ridden and can travel very fast. Having chosen such a quirky form of transport, she then proceeds to treat these strong, powerful creatures like cars. They promptly bound up and allow anyone at all to clamber on board, they don’t appear to get tired, or ever act up. And once at the destination, everyone jumps down and they politely wait around for the return journey. Just like a car… I find it inconceivable that such apex predators would tamely submit to such treatment and it bugged me throughout the book.
That said, I did get caught up in the story and was sorry when it came to an end. There isn’t any mention on Goodreads or Amazon of a sequel – and there should be, because there are far too many dangling plotpoints waving in the wind. I, for one, want to know what happens next. Recommended for fans of YA portal fantasy adventures featuring a headstrong and plucky heroine. While I obtained an arc of The Last Feather from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I’ve been needing some series escapist charm in my life ever since I was first smitten with long COVID well over a year ago – and this one looked just the ticket. Indeed, the cover reminded me of the wonderful Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster. Would my expectations be fulfilled?
BLURB: Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.
If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.
REVIEW: To be honest, the blurb makes this quirky, enjoyable offering sound more ordinary than it actually is. Dora is an interesting heroine, given that she has sustained a terrible injury right at the beginning of the book and throughout, she is successfully portrayed as someone who is slightly at odds with social expectations. It’s technically a tricky characterisation to pull off – if she is too weird, then it just gets embarrassing and a tad annoying, yet if she isn’t odd enough, then the whole premise falls flat. I think Atwater does a really fine job in portraying someone who is constantly struggling to find the appropriate social persona without compromising the character, or silting up the pace.
I also enjoyed the anger against the yawning gulf between rich and poor that is expressed within the story. There were, indeed, well-born men and women of the day who felt outraged at suffering of those less fortunate than themselves and it’s refreshing to see a social reformer as a main protagonist in a Regency romance. It certainly gives the story a bit of heft, especially when we come to the fae and their reactions to the land of mortals. This became a real page-turner that I couldn’t put down until I reached the end – which tied up the story very satisfactorily. I’m delighted to note that there are other books available in this entertaining series, which I’ll certainly be tracking down. Highly recommended for fans of historical romance with a fantasy twist. While I obtained an arc of Half a Soul from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.
BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.
Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .
REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.
In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.
And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.
There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fourteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.
After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!
Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.
I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.
So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!
The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!
This week I’ve read:-
Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.
There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman. I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.
Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.
Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.
Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be? This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10
Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.
The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake. This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10
Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads: “Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.” Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.
Somewhere dark. Somewhere deep. The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.
Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him. Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast. This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.
The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.
At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance. But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do… I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10
AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.
The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever… What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
I’m a fan of Helen Harper’s writing – see my reviews of Bloodfire and the Lazy Witch series – Slouch Witch, Star Witch and Spirit Witch. So when this one popped up on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc.
BLURB: The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.
There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.
REVIEW: This fantasy magic-based class struggle adventure is set in a version of Glasgow in an approximation of the early Victorian period. Harper’s feisty heroine, Mairi, has had a tough time of it. Raised in an orphanage and determined to better herself, she is currently working as a shopgirl/general servant to an unpleasant couple who run a shop selling tartan cloth. The other thing to know about her is that she cannot speak.
Having a mute heroine could have really got in the way. But Harper’s clever writing and skill in getting us to care about her main character meant that it didn’t in any way slow down the action. The scene setting is excellent. Tension crackled off the pages as Mairi tries to keep a low profile in a city where anyone different is immediately at risk.
There is a zombie element – the Afflicted who roam the streets at night looking for anyone to snack on. Obviously there is also a curfew in place for the protection of everyday folk, who are understandably terrified of the Afflicted. Especially as no one really knows how they are made. Do they become infected by being scratched or bitten by an Afflicted? Is it an illness? Or is it magic? The Mages claim to protect the general population, but then they claim to work for the service of the city. And as far as everyone else is concerned, they live a life of luxury shrouded in secrecy and if anyone tries to get too close – the consequences are dire.
This one grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. And now, I’m desperate to know what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended for fans of gripping historical fantasy stories featuring a gutsy heroine. While I obtained an arc of Hummingbird from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This was the first full working week since I recovered from the flu, so Monday and Tuesday saw me teaching as usual. I am now on the last lap of the final edits for Dying for Space which is the sequel to my debut novel, Running Out of Space, and am planning to release it on 14th December. So I am in the process of preparing for the blog tour – Lola is once more organising it for me to run from 14th-31st December. And I was a bit startled to realise when about to publish my usual Friday Face-off blog, that it was my 1,500th post…
On Wednesday I returned to Pilates and Fitstep, taking it easy, which was just as well as I was horribly unfit and Friday found me stiff in places I didn’t even know I had muscles. On Thursday, Mhairi came over and offered her usual awesome help and companionship. On Friday evening Himself and I actually had a date night – we went out to The Dragon, our favourite restaurant and afterwards returned home to snuggle up on the settee and watch the final two episodes of season 7 of Game of Thrones. Oh my goodness – what a finale! It was raining yesterday – of course it was as we were due to pick up the children. My daughter invited us to stay for brunch, which was wonderfully good. On the way home we swung by Worthing for some shopping and in the afternoon my sister came over for a meal and we sat and watched Strictly with Oscar, aged 7, passing judgement on the dancing and the judging.
Today, I will be spending most of the day filming Tim’s script in a converted barn for the medieval scenes. We are nearly at the end, so fingers crossed it doesn’t rain and the light levels are good. I hope everyone is also having a great weekend.
This week I have read:
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder. This took me some time to complete, but it was worth slowing down my normal reading speed to savour the dense prose and keep track of the characters. An unusual, rewarding read with some surprising twists and a poignant, powerful ending.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was. This is another quirky, unusual read which defies strict genre classification. It’s a lovely, warm-hearted tale that nonetheless avoids sentimentality. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
The Prisoner of Limnos – Book 6 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series
In this sequel novella to Mira’s Last Dance, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court, and confined in a precarious island sanctuary. This little gem is yet another excellent addition to this entertaining, unusual series and takes the story that halted at the end of Mira’s Last Dance onward, encompassing yet another exciting adventure.
Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky Special limited edition sceince fiction hardcover novella by the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Only 1000 copies.
Scions have no limits. Scions do not die. And Scions do not disappear.
Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong… This supposes that in a post-apocalyptic world where resources are scarce, corporations are involved in the inevitable wars with the top families encased in top-of-the-range armour that makes them almost invulnerable. Needless to say when the dirty jobs are handed out, it’s the regular grunts that end up having to pick up the pieces…
I picked this one off the shelves because I loved the look of the cover and the idea that this book filled a gap left by J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman appealed.
England. A century ago, give or take a few years. An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real. An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government. Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives.
This book is set in a Dickensian England in an alternate time when any negative emotion appears as either soot or Smoke. The aristocracy and upper classes generally don’t show any signs of such debased behaviour, whereas the lower orders are steeped in it. London, with its factories and crowded living conditions, is a byword for degradation and filth as a perpetual cloud of Smoke infests its streets. We follow the fortunes of three youngsters – two boys who are pupils at the boarding school – Charlie and Thomas and a girl Livia.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way this book opened and found the initial tension and questions surrounding Smoke pulled me into the story. However, while it continued to be enjoyable and there was never any risk of my not finishing it, the readability factor that initially hooked me began to dissipate. Vyleta seemed to need to thoroughly explain his world and that was the factor that began to drive the story, rather than the other way around. It is, indeed, a fascinating premise. But I did find the continual addition of random characters who we never saw again giving us slices of their viewpoint rather jarring and it diluted the characterisation and strength of the initial protagonists, who became rather generic. The love triangle also seemed an oddity and didn’t sit at all well with me, given how it cuts right across the gothic atmosphere and managed to diminish the story into a will-they-won’t-they romance while also trying address some really big and interesting themes.
I’m conscious that it sounds as if I thought this was a bad book and it’s not. There premise is original – Vyleta handles the subsequent class divide really cleverly – and at times, the writing is wonderful. But I have a feeling that this book is trying to be a gothic, Dickensian read while having a wide YA appeal and in trying for both goals has managed to fall short of the original greatness this book promised. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it and would be interested in reading other works by this author – he certainly has a fertile, original imagination.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day: Autonomy by Jude Houghton
34% The tour included endless rows of pristine assembly lines, the workers silently and efficiently constructing components, machine shops full of smoke and dust and grease, a triage centre, a cafeteria that fed a million people a day with jellyfish and insects, and even an underground catacomb of stone shelves where workers in tightly overlapping shifts were allowed to rest for a couple of hours.
“So in total we have seven hundred and fifty buildings, each with twenty thousand workers, and a turnover of over thirty-five million employees a day,’ Solquist said proudly.
BLURB: Balmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersen is the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart.
What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite? What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world? What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making? What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed? Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.
This is a compelling near future tale about what happens when civilisation crashes in 2020. The remnants of world leaders decide in their wisdom (highly plausible when you think that many current governments are clearly unfit to lead us out of a wet paper bag…) that runaway capitalism is the way to keep humanity alive. The writing is smooth and readable, the plotting sharp and the message very chilling… I’m loving it.
I need to declare an interest – Steve is a fellow tutor at Northbrook College and a thoroughly nice chap. That said, I wouldn’t have volunteered to spread the word about Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter if I didn’t believe in the quality of the story. Steve and Jeff are delighted that Riddler’s Fayre is in the process of being re-released with a new publisher, with changes to more closely reflect the nuanced tale they had originally envisaged.
Aeden is young man with no memory, adrift in a world of riddles. His only friend – a man hated for his race and creed, their only hope – a nun on the run for opposing the Holy Wars. Meanwhile a veteran of the Third Crusade is hunting Aeden, believing him to be the clue to discovering the greatest secret in alchemy – the identity of the First Matter.
As you may gather from the blurb, this is set in 1199 in the Middle Ages and there is a lovely map at the front of the book, along with a short prologue, giving us plenty of information about the period in order to appreciate the story. Aeden is a young man struggling to cope – and the only clue to his identity are a number of peculiar tattoos on his arm. Meanwhile, a returnee from the Crusades, Ludovic Parvell, is on a mission of his own. A mission that will ensure he will be on a collision course with Aeden and those looking out for him. The artwork is lovely – in graphic novels, the characterisation is achieved with the dialogue and the drawing. Facial expressions, gestures and their movements tell you as much about who they are and their role in the story as what is contained in the speech bubbles. In a good quality graphic novel, the drawings provide you with a rich seam of information, as each page adds another layer onto the story. Anderson has done a lovely job.
The mood in the castle is effectively portrayed as brooding and ominous by the dark colours and confined settings, with Parvell’s uncertain temper kicking off as he snaps out orders to his apprehensive underlings. I really like the story arc – if I have a grizzle, it was that I was just really getting into the story when it suddenly stopped to be continued in the next slice of the adventure.
But if you enjoy graphic novels, this beautifully drawn and engrossing tale of religious intolerance and growing distrust of strangers may be set in the distant past, but it also has something to say about our own turbulent times.
This apocalyptic adventure is more Brit than fish and chips and warm beer. Does it work?
Edgar Hill is 35 and caught in his own headlock. Overweight slob, under-performing husband and reluctant father – for Ed, the world may as well have already ended. So when it does end in a catastrophic asteroid strike and Edgar and his family find refuge in an Edinburgh army barracks, it comes as something of a relief. His world becomes simpler, life becomes easier – things might just be looking up.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to realise that whatever else is going to happen – Life isn’t going to get any easier for Ed. In a twist I’ve no intention of blurting about, he finds himself needing to be at the other end of the country in a hurry. Not only are the majority of cars burned out, but with most of the roads damaged and cratered, hopping in a car and driving anywhere is an impossibility. So he and his travelling companions are faced with legging it through the chaos, encountering a variety of interesting characters.
Walker briefly explores some of the faultlines in British society by having Ed and his spend a night in a stately home, hosted by the surviving member of the landed gentry and then end up in a inner-city council estate. I did feel the characterisation was very predictable in both scenes, which was disappointing. There was none of the sharp-edged unexpectedness of Gloria, for instance – which was an incident that has stayed with me for the poignancy and horror of it.
However, I did enjoy Ed’s character. His sense of being adrift, before the meteors strike, is palpable – something I have discussed with men about their loss of identity within our modern society. Ed is believable and although there are times I want to shake him – I also find myself sympathising with him, which is important. As the whole unfolding adventure is filtered through his viewpoint, unless we care about him and his goals, we won’t fully bond with the story.
I did care. In fact, I was gripped by the book, staying up far too late to discover what happens next. By about two-thirds of the way through, I figured out I’d know how it was going to end – and I was wrong. The ending was a genuine surprise and worked well in the overall context. If you taste runs to end-of-the-world adventures, then track this one down, as it’s well written, pacey storyline makes for a gripping read.
The ebook arc copy of The End of the World Running Club was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book