Category Archives: Deja vu review

Déjà vu Review of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik – Book Five of the Temeraire series #Brainfluffbookreview #VictoryofEaglesbookreview

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I have dusted off this review – which I first posted back in October 2010, nearly ten years ago – in honour of Naomi Novik’s recent release, A Deadly Education. Her Temeraire series is a real joy – and is one of the few series that I have been seriously tempted to reread…

If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.

The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.

It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow…
As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.

While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.

In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast, reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series.
9/10

Deja vu Review of KINDLE EBOOK The Crossing Places – Book 1 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

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This review was originally posted on April 4, 2014 and I am still working my way through the series, finding each book an enjoyable addition to Ruth’s ongoing story…

This series was recommended by Himself and my mother, so it was with some anticipation that I started reading the ebook.

BLURB: When a child’s bones are found on a desolate Norfolk beach, Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson calls in forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway. Nelson thinks he has found the remains of Lucy Downey, a little girl who went missing ten years ago. Since her disappearance he has been receiving bizarre letters about her, letters with references to witchcraft, ritual and sacrifice. Ruth is soon drawn into the Lucy Downey case and into the mind of the letter writer, who seems to have both archaeological knowledge and eerie psychic powers.

REVIEW: Ruth Galloway is a forty-something archaeologist who lives on her own at the edge of Saltmarsh in an isolated cottage with a couple of cats. I found her character immediately appealing and realistic. Her concerns about her weight and her single status struck a chord with me – and I suspect many other female crime fans. This series is evidently going to be something of a partnership between Ruth and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. So did I also feel an affinity with the other main character? Yes. Nelson is clearly a complicated personality and – unlike Ruth and many other detectives in other series – he is a family man with two daughters and an attractive wife. I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out during the series. The other powerful factor in this book is the stunning backdrop – the salt marshes. Griffiths evidently knows and loves this landscape and has it bouncing off the page as a character in its own right, particularly during the climactic scenes where the dangerous surroundings heighten the drama and tension during the denouement in a classic showdown that manages to provide plenty of surprises.

Of course, while a sympathetic protagonist is obviously important – this is a whodunit, so what really matters is how Griffiths handles the plot. Do we know exactly who did it halfway through the story, or does it all come as a complete surprise? I’m not noted for my skill in spotting the culprit, but I thoroughly enjoyed Griffiths’ ability to provide plenty of twists and turns, without completely losing the day to day realism that a contemporary crime thriller needs. It’s a trickier balance to achieve than Griffiths makes it look. And another potential bear pit she manages to deftly sidestep is the fact that her victim is a child.

Obviously when a child goes missing, our protective instincts are instantly aroused – whatever the circumstances, a child is never anything other than an innocent victim. However, when a story highlights this scenario there are also distressed parents to portray and possible cross-questioning of other upset children… It can turn into a mess – I’ve discarded more than one whodunit halfway through either because of the casual manner in which the parents’ grief is depicted, or it’s simply too harrowing. I wasn’t tempted to do put this book down – Griffiths treats the disappearance of a child with sufficient seriousness, yet neither was the situation overwhelmingly grim.

Small wonder that this book created the buzz it did when it first hit the bookshelves, back in 2010 – and I’m delighted that I now have another well-written, edgy crime series to read. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet sampled Elly Griffiths’ world, track down The Crossing Places – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10

Deja vu review – Earth Girl – Book 1 of the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards #Brainfluffdejavureview #EarthGirlbookreview

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This week’s deja vu review is from 24th October, 2012…

I met up with Janet Edwards at last year’s Fantasycon, when she told me that Earth Girl was due to come out in the coming year and we also exchanged a few words at Eastercon, when I heard enough about the book to put it onto my reading list. So I loaded it onto my Kindle for the journey to Brighton for this year’s Fantasycon.

BLURB: In the far future, the universe is divided into two different groups: the Norms, who can portal between planets, and people like Jarra, Earthgirlthe one in a thousand born with an immune system that doesn’t allow them to survive anywhere but Earth. Norms come back to Earth for one reason: to study human history – like the ruins of what was once New York City. But only if they don’t have to interact with any Apes along the way. 18-year-old Jarra has a plan to change that.

REVIEW: This debut novel is a delight – it is marketed as YA, but this adult science fiction fan found it completely engrossing, as did my husband. Jarra is a strong protagonist – spiky, yet believably vulnerable. About halfway through the novel, there is an episode that appears to have split Earth Girl readers into those who feel that it is unrealistic and those who don’t. I’m in the latter camp. The series of events leading up to the shock that catapults Jarra into behaving as she does is entirely convincing – as is her reaction.

So Edwards has set up a strong female character and an intriguing situation – has she also managed to depict a sufficiently detailed and complex future? Absolutely. One of the characteristics of YA fiction – which is probably why you see a lot more Urban Fantasy, rather than Science Fiction in this genre – is that it is generally fast-paced. So it is a big ask for authors working with a primary world where the surroundings and customs are significantly different from our own time – unlike most urban fantasy offerings which are mostly set in modern cities with a few extra supernatural touches laid over the familiar landscape – to produce a satisfactory setting without holding up the narrative drive.

Edwards manages to provide plenty of interesting insights into her future world as part of the plot progression – an achievement a whole lot more difficult than the author makes it look. In fact, the world and the reasons why archaeological teams are frantically mining these decaying cities was – for me – one of the main treats of this book.

Any grizzles? Well – it is a minor niggle, but I did feel that I would have liked the ending to be slightly less… tidy. But that observation doesn’t detract from the fact that Earth Girl is a thoroughly engrossing read by a talented author, who is definitely One to Watch.
9/10

Déjà vu Review of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of The Hadrumal Crisis by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffdejavureview #ReviewofDangerousWaters

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This week’s deja vu review is one from 2013, featuring one of Juliet E. McKenna’s earlier books…

Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I have a particular fondness for politically nuanced Fantasy written by intelligent, talented writers. Her canon of work to date firmly puts McKenna in this category – in fact, I’m frustrated that she isn’t a lot better known. So – would I find this first offering in her latest trilogy up to the mark? After all, this will be her thirteenth book set in this world – can McKenna sustain the originality and range of different situations necessary to keep and extend her readership?

BLURB: The Archmage rules the island of wizards and has banned the use of magecraft in warfare, but there are corsairs raiding the Caladhrian Coast, enslaving villagers and devastating trade. Barons and merchants beg for magical aid, but all help has been refused so far. Lady Zurenne’s husband has been murdered by the corsairs. Now a man she doesn’t even know stands as guardian over her and her daughters. Corrain, former captain and now slave, knows that the man is a rogue wizard, illegally selling his skills to the corsairs. If Corrain can escape, he’ll see justice done. Unless the Archmage’s magewoman, Jilseth, can catch the renegade first, before his disobedience is revealed and the scandal shatters the ruler’s hold on power…

REVIEW: The three main protagonists who tell the story are Corrain, the enslaved Caladhrian captain; Lady Zurenne, recently widowed and suffering the depredations of an insolent steward on behalf of the hated and powerful Minelas; and Jilseth, who is Archmage Planir’s favourite fixer. They all face difficult odds – arguably, Jilseth has the hardest, if not the most desperate task. For it falls to her to try and keep the exploits of the outlaw mage from reaching the ears of the Caladhrian nobility – for the Archmage and his Council are only too aware that for all their power, mages are vulnerable to infuriated mobs with pitchforks.

I loved this book, which grabbed me from the moment I read the first page and held me right up until the end. It’s a long book, but at no point did I feel the action sagged – because this book has it all… slavery, magic, political plotting, overbearing nobility and desperate widows… The contrast of characters is perfect – Corrain’s vengeful fury battling with his need to remain suitably submissive as a slave is deftly portrayed. What I like about McKenna, is that she doesn’t see the need to paint her heroes and heroines as faultless or completely likeable. So Corrain makes some significant mistakes – but given the circumstances and his background, it is entirely realistic that he would underestimate anyone physically weaker.

Jilseth is the most capable of the protagonists – and yet, she cannot sustain her stance of disinterestedness, despite her best efforts. I particularly enjoyed the friction between the magewoman and Lady Zurenne, when Jilseth is trying to discover exactly what is going on. I’ve read a couple of reviewers who were frustrated that Lady Zurenne seemed unable to break free of the rules stifling her ability to act as a free agent. Apparently, they were waiting for her to arm her feisty eldest daughter with a sword and turn her into some female warrior… McKenna has managed to resist the modern trend in historical fantasy of abruptly emancipating her female characters, thank goodness.

It is a trend that intensely annoys me. It suggests that our female forebears merely needed to pull themselves together, learn a few defensive moves, grab a handy weapon and they would be able to operate just fine alongside their menfolk. But as Lady Zurenne’s reactions and instincts clearly demonstrate – no matter how outrageously unfair the law may be to women, it is a far harder business to defy legal and social conventions. If it wasn’t, millions of women wouldn’t be still struggling across the planet in the face of daily injustice and discrimination. I think she rises to the challenge of keeping herself and her daughters safe magnificently and one of the reasons why Jilseth can no longer remain completely impartial, is witnessing Lady Zurenne’s plight – and her gritted courage in coping with it.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book. McKenna’s nuanced, smart writing presents her world as every bit as messy and complicated as ours – and though this book and series is nested within a very well established setting, at no time does the author rely on a reader’s prior knowledge of her previous output in order to make sense of this one. Which is a harder trick to pull off than you might think – or maybe not, given how few writers really manage to do it.

So, though I would recommend that you dive into McKenna’s world if you are looking for intelligently written, three-dimensional fantasy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t start with this particular series. I strongly recommend it – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10

A Deja Vu Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin #DejaVuBrainfluffbookreview #TheHundredThousandKingdomsbookreview

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I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!

This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.

BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.

Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.

She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive…
10/10