Category Archives: class warfare

Sunday Post – 5th November 2017

Standard

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…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 29th October 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World of Fire – Book 1 of the Dev Harmer Mission series by James Lovegrove

Teaser Tuesday featuring Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang + Mello and June at It’s a Book Thang host the final leg of the blog tour for Running Out of Space

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Artemis by Andy Weir

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 in the Saga of Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt Jr

My 1,500th Post… Friday Face-off – Much as I love you, I cannot permit you to maul this particular coat – featuring Frederica by Georgette Heyer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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

Gerry Rafferty: Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway https://theimmortaljukebox.com/2017/10/31/gerry-rafferty-her-father-didnt-like-me-anyway/ Once more Thom at The Immortal Jukebox presents a gem of a tune, complete with knowledgeable analysis.

Pirates for Halloween? https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/10/31/pirates-for-halloween/ Viv discusses this ongoing blight that steals income from authors – and how it can also cause other serious consequences..

Halloween Special: Petticoat Loose https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/10/29/halloween-special-petticoat-loose/ In amongst this marvellous scenery lies a spooky tale…

10 of the Best Seduction Poems https://interestingliterature.com/2017/11/01/10-of-the-best-seduction-poems/ As the weather cools and we start snuggling up together for warmth, we reflect on other ways to generate some heat…

When I’m Almost Done Reading a Good Book… https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/when-im-almost-done-reading-a-good-book/ Yes… I think we’ve all been there.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Advertisements

Review of Smoke by Dan Vyleta

Standard

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.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 16th August, 2016

Standard

Teaser

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 autonomyconstructing 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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Graphic Novel Riddler’s Fayre: The First Matter By Steve Carroll and Jeff Anderson

Standard

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 taleRiddler's Fayre 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.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

Standard

This apocalyptic adventure is more Brit than fish and chips and warm beer. Does it work?

endoftheworldrunningclubEdgar 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
8/10

Review of Luna: New Moon – Book 1 of Luna by Ian McDonald

Standard

I read Desolation Road, Chaga and Kirinya longer ago than I care to recall, so when I kept seeing reports of Luna on the book blogs I frequent, I decided to get hold of it, to see if the McDonald magic was still as formidably effective as I hazily remembered…

The Moon wants to kill you. She has a thousand ways to do it. The bitter cold of vacuum. The lethal sleetluna of radiation. Choking dust as old as the Earth. Your weakening bones… Or you could run out of money for water. Or air. Or simply run foul of one of the Five Dragons: the corporations that rule the Moon and control its vast resources. But you stay, because the Moon can make you richer than you can imagine. Adriana Corta is eighty. Her family run Corta Helio. They have survived the vicious corporate wars and the dangerous peace that followed. But now that peace is fracturing. Adriana may have to die but she will not be killed by her rivals, or the Moon. And whatever happens to her, Corta Helio will not die.

This is capitalism, red in tooth and claw. We follow the fortunes of various Corta family members, from the founding matriarch, Adriana and her children and grandchildren, as well as one particular newcomer – a Jo Moonbeam as Earth immigrants are dubbed – Marina Calzaghe. Think of Game of Thrones set in space – indeed, McDonald himself apparently named this duology ‘Game of Domes’.

The depiction of life on the Moon, with all its burgeoning opportunities set against an intensely hostile environment where every breath you draw has to be paid for, is vividly realised. We also get a ringside seat at the dynamics within the Corta clan – their ambitions, their strengths, flaws and loves. My particular favourite is the first person recollection by Adriana of her early days on the Moon, but all the family members are characterised by a streak of recklessness and striving to grab hold of life with both hands. Not that they are remotely cosy or even all that likeable – Rafa, Lucas and Ariel are all unpleasantly arrogant and entitled, however that doesn’t prevent them being engrossing. As with the Game of Thrones, things don’t necessarily go all that well for the main protagonists.

There are a number of assassination attempts and dynastic marriages are not sufficient to paper over the cracks steadily growing amongst the Five Dragons – what then happens to the subsequent offspring is that they become another resource to be fought over. McDonald’s evocation of a freebooting society teetering on the edge of utter lawlessness is beautifully portrayed.

So, does the story come to a satisfactory conclusion? Nope. Not remotely. It all kicks off near the end, so I put the rest of my life on hold to discover what happened to these characters I have come to know well throughout the book – only to get to the last page with no resolution whatsoever. This is the ultimate ‘to be continued…’ I wouldn’t have minded quite so much – but this is March 2016 and the sequel isn’t scheduled for publication until September. I have no idea what those who read this book back when it was first published back last September felt when they realised they would have to wait a whole year for any kind of resolution, but I am a tad fed up.
8/10

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

Standard

This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

Review of Charmed Life – Book 1 of The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

Standard

I’ve been reading this entertaining series – see my review of Witch Week here – to my granddaughter, who is becoming a confirmed fan of speculative fiction, and during the summer holidays we have recently completed this classic. Would she enjoy it as much as I did?

Everybody says that Gwendolen Chant is a gifted witch with astonishing powers, so it suits her enormously when she is taken to live in Chestomanci Castle. Her brother Eric (better known as Cat) is not so keen, for he has no talent for magic at all. However life with the great enchanter and his family is not what either of them expects and sparks soon begin to fly…

CharmedLifeThis book is from the viewpoint of Cat, Gwendolen’s younger brother. I initially read it years ago and it simply blew me away. The writing is so sharply witty, the humour knockabout – but with a sharp poignancy underneath that also left me with a lump in my throat several times. So rereading it to a young audience, would the magic still stir again?

Oh yes. Reading it aloud, and knowing what happens next, I was able to appreciate the technical skill and storytelling genius of Wynne Jones, as Cat experiences the fireworks his wilful and lethally gifted sister produces. Cat is a wonderful character – quiet and unassuming, trying to slide through life without drawing any attention to himself and always looking to Gwendolen for guidance. We make assumptions alongside him, to find them blown away in the amazing, shocking denouement that is so delightfully pitch perfect in pacing, heightening the drama, providing the switch moment when Cat learns exactly what Gwendolen is up to and how it impacts upon him that I get goose pimples when I think of it.

If you are considering writing any form of fiction where a climactic moment is important, I urge you to go and hunt for this book. If you loved the Harry Potter series, then track down Charmed Life. It is a classic for a solid reason – quality fantasy action pings off every page and I don’t see why children should have all the fun, anyway.
10/10

Review of The Red Queen – Book 1 of The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

Standard

I’d heard the buzz surrounding this book, so scooped it off the shelves as soon as I spotted it. Would it live up to all the excited hype?

theredqueenReds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is, until a twist of fate brings her before the Silver court. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly ability of her own. But will she survive in amongst her enemies?

I’ve tweaked the rather chatty blurb, because while the initial premise isn’t particularly ground-breaking, what this book does have going for it are the constant twists and turns. Aveyard isn’t afraid to take the plot and give it a thorough shaking every so often, so you suddenly find yourself in quite a different place from where you thought the narrative was going. Furthermore, she manages to accomplish the sudden twists with sufficient skill and smoothness that I didn’t find it remotely annoying or jarring – a trick that is harder to pull off than Aveyard makes it look.

It doesn’t hurt that Mare Barrow is a thoroughly enjoyable protagonist. While her edgy attitude at times reminded me of Katniss Everdeen, that didn’t overly interfere with my enjoyment of the story or the world. Another dystopian world with a cowed underclass and dominating, entitled ruling elite, this divide is pre-ordained at birth. If you are lucky enough to have silver blood, you’re automatically given opportunities and privileges the red-blooded can only dream of.

However, there are important differences. While Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series focused on the dangers of ultra-consumerism, particularly our increasing habit of treating other people’s experiences and reactions as reasonable entertainment in an ever-growing slew of reality shows, Aveyard’s world has a more feudal feel. Her major theme is more about the nature of power – who possesses it, who snatches it, who longs for it and how that plays out both in the conflict between the silvers and reds, as well as the constant jostling for position among the courtiers surrounding the king and his family. And one of the consequences of all that jostling is betrayal. Who is betrayed, how it happens and where it leaves the main characters – particularly Mare.

I became engrossed in this world, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see where Aveyard takes it.
8/10

A Posh Night and Musings on Power…

Standard

You may or may not know that Number One Son is an actor – and this week-end we travelled up to Salisbury where he was appearing in Posh to see him. Obviously, I am not in a position to give a proper review of the play – but I did think I’d share with you my thoughts and impressions of the production.robbiejarvisposh1

An elite Oxford dining society has hired a gastro pub for their termly dinner with the sole aim of getting totally ‘chateaued’. As the evening progresses and the booze flows, tempers fray and things get disastrously out of hand. Darkly comic and disgracefully entertaining, Posh isn’t just one big party: the boys are planning a revolution. Laura Wade’s critically acclaimed play is inspired by the real-life Bullingdon Club, which counts the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London among its former members. As we approach the 2015 General Election, this razor-sharp play portrays what Boris Johnson himself described as superhuman arrogance, toffishness and twittishness. Welcome to the Riot Club.

Glowing maternal pride aside, what first struck me was just what a very high standard of acting and ensemble playing is achieved. There is all sorts of business going on, with rowdy drunken games, eating and drinking and other 100_3827darker activities during the meal – plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. And most of the time there are ten plus actors onstage, with the dialogue constantly firing between them. More opportunities for actors to lose their place, tread on each others’ lines and generally mess up. None of which happened. Neither is there a single weak link – everyone on the stage could be easily heard at all times and conveyed their parts with conviction and skill.

I knew the dialogue was funny, I was expecting a fair amount of mayhem – what I hadn’t expected, was to come away with such a prickling awareness that the class warfare which has hampered this country for generations is alive and thriving. As one of the Boomers growing up in the 60’s and 70’s when we were all telling ourselves that class boundaries were closing up and by the next century would be a thing of the past, I find it profoundly depressing.

Whatever the reasons – I’ve all sorts of STRONG opinions as to the various causes – the simmering anger against ‘the other lot’ is exemplified by the shocking climax in the play, and the chilling closing scene. And when we met up after the show, Robbie was telling me that as the first half came to an end when they were in Nottingham, a woman stood up, shouting, “Yeah – we hate you, too!” and regularly people have walked out of the show. In this election year, however, it behoves someone to shed some light on one of the long-running faultlines in British society, an undertaking that the cast of Posh delivers with energy and skill.

100_3844The following day before heading home, we visited Salisbury Cathedral. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was nine – what immediately struck me was the sheer size of the building, compared to Chichester and Arundel cathedrals. And as we went around with one of the wonderful guides and were shown a succession of tombs and artefacts, the most impressive being Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta, I was again struck by just how much religious and political power has rested in the building since its consecration in 1258. So while some of the statues and images were a bit knocked about during the Civil War, the cathedral was sufficiently wealthy and powerful to protect its treasures – it’s no accident that the Salisbury cathedral’s copy of the Magna Carta is the best preserved. Unlike Lincoln, for example, they were never in the position of having to exhibit it around the country to raise funds. Power – who has it, and who wants it – is a theme I constantly return to in my own writing.

However, the real reward this week-end was appreciating the sheer quality of Posh and feeling very proud of Robbie’s part in it.