Category Archives: epic science fiction

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is diamons, so I’ve chosen Diamond Mask – Book 2 of the Galactic Milieu Trilogy by Julian May.

This is the offering produced by Pan Books in 1994 is for me, the best. I love this cover – beautiful and otherworldly. It doesn’t hurt that this is the cover of the book we own which absolutely blew me away when I read it and I still don’t think I’ve read anything else quite like it.

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This cover produced by Del Rey Books in January 1995 could be every bit as strong as the above offering – the artwork is detailed and beautiful with that stunning diamond in the centre of the cover. And then they go and ruin it by sticking that horrible block of red across the top and a lot of blather over some of the remaining landscape *sigh*…

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This more modern cover, produced by Tor in 2013 is reasonably effective. I’m always a sucker for a cool-looking spacescape. I find it fascinating that they figure – correctly, I suspect – that May’s name is the one which will influence the buying public, rather than the book title. The only thing that jars for me is the mask that looks as if it’s a complete afterthought.

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This Italian cover, produced in 1996 by Nord, might be another strong piece of artwork – but your guess is as good as mine, given they smothered a chunk of it with a vile bilge-brown frame, then plastered that peculiar metallic wing affair across the top of the main detail with a rather shocked-looking face peering out. Probably the original artwork designer horrified at the horlicks they’ve made of his cover.

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This effort, produced by Knopf in March 1994, is plain bizarre. Nothing on the cover to denote this is science fiction, at all. The monochrome image of a rather androgynous young man is ruined by slapping a bright yellow slatted band across his eyes – apparently to denote the diamond mask of the title. Could it be more jarringly ugly? Oh yes – they then excel themselves by sealing his lips with a bright red box that informs the reading public that this is A Novel. I hope no one got paid for producing this crime-against-design, because if they did it’s daylight robbery.

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I think that given the quality of the writing and the importance of this amazing series to the genre, some of these covers are a disgrace. Perhaps you feel I’ve been a tad harsh – what do you think?

Sunday Post – 22nd January 2017

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Sunday PostThis is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Another busy week, though I think I begin to see daylight and hope that Life is beginning to calm down, somewhat. Last week-end we had the pleasure of the grandchildren visiting – it was a joy catching up with them as we hadn’t seen them since Christmas, which now seems a very long time ago. Then on Sunday afternoon after we delivered them back to their parents, we had to rush back and get the spare room ready for an impromptu visit by my son who had a couple of audition tapes that needed doing. So Monday and Tuesday we were working on those between my teaching commitments – it is always a pleasure but as we had a very narrow timescale, it was also quite intense. However, lovely to catch up with Robbie before he flies out to LA on Monday. Unfortunately, my Wednesday evening session with my writing group was wiped out by a headache that threatened to turn into a migraine, but at least I sufficiently recovered to have my marvellous friend Mhairi come over for the day on Thursday. Friday saw us collecting the children for another session of grannying and on Saturday we went out for a meal to celebrate my father’s birthday at the fabulous George and Dragon at Burpham, where the food was delicious and the welcome warm despite the frosty weather. They went to a great deal of trouble to accommodate Oscar’s veganism.

This week I have read:
Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill
terminalregressionLaura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as though she has no place and no business even existing. Her life is forfeit, and it would be better for everyone if she simply ended it, if she simply got a ticket for a train to oblivion and faded from memory.

But what awaits her at the end of the line isn’t death but Terminal B a community of people more like her than she considered possible, including the beautiful, tormented Will Noble. Though Laura still thinks little of her own life, the lives of others begin to fascinate her as never before. And when those lives become imperiled, Laura discovers the last thing she ever expected to find on her way out of the world: a mission and a reason to live.

This is a brave book that confronts the tricky issue of a suicidal protagonist suffering from severe depression. Despite that, it is full of drama and tension, producing a strong story set in a dystopian world demonstrating a lot of skill by this young author.

 

NETGALLEY PREVIEW of Empire Games – Book 1 of the Empire Games series by Charles Stross
empiregamesTwo nuclear superpowers are set on a collision course. Two increasingly desperate paratime espionage agencies are fumbling around in the dark, trying to find a solution to the first contact problem that doesn’t result in a nuclear holocaust. And two women—a mother and her long-lost, adopted daughter—are about to find themselves on opposite sides of the confrontation.

This latest offering by Stross is a spin-off series from his successful portal world Merchant Princes adventures. I haven’t read them all, but those I did read were powerful and engrossing, so I was thrilled when it seemed I’d acquired Empire Games via NetGalley. Only I hadn’t. What I got was a slice of the story. So I cannot fully review the book – only report that it started with plenty of drama and quickly established what is at stake.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 15th January 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Teaser Tuesday featuring Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

Friday Faceoff – Slipped the surly bonds of earth… featuring Abaddon’s Gate – Book 3 of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

Review of A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
from the ‘Hjordis, I Miss You’ series https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/from-the-hjordis-i-miss-you-series/ This intensely personal depiction brought tears to my eyes…

22 photos that will make you want to visit South America this winter https://roamwildandfree.com/2017/01/19/22-photos-that-will-make-you-want-to-visit-south-america-this-winter/ Another pictorial series – this time the scenery will take your breath away…

The Best Canterbury Tales Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/01/18/the-best-canterbury-tales-everyone-should-read/
Once more this marvellous, informative site comes up with a cracking list…

God 1 https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/god-1/ A wonderful poem by the talented Viv Tuffnell…

Inventing a Word For It – https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/inventing-a-word-for-it/ Can you guess which is the right definition for this word?

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Friday Faceoff – Slipped the surly bonds of earth…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is spacecraft – yay! I’ve chosen the third book,  Abaddon’s Gate, in the space opera series The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

 

abaddonsgateThis is the cover produced by Orbit in June 2013. I love the colour, the action and the vibrancy of this cover. It clearly has eye appeal as do all The Expanse covers and plenty of drama. However I’m not a fan of all the chatter, which I think makes it look rather untidy and takes away from the effectiveness of the strong design.

 

abaddonsgate1This German cover produced by Heyne in February 2014 has a completely different colour palatte and is far simpler in design. I do like the relatively uncluttered look which gives me the opportunity to fall in love with the spacescape.

 

abaddonsgate2This Serbian edition, produced in June 2015, has really grown on me. Once again, it is relatively free of all the chit-chat silting up the UK offering and the image is arresting and effect – but I also particularly like the title font which sings out of the darker background. I also think said gate is beautifully depicted here.

 

abaddonsgate3The cover design on this Russian edition, produced in August 2014, is nicely complex and an intriguing angle, so that I stop every time to see if I can figure out exactly where all those worrying pieces floating about have come from. Unfortunately it is ruined by those clunky thick bands enclosing the fonts, giving the cover an old fashioned look and obscuring far too much of the lovely artwork.

 

abaddonsgate4This Italian edition, published in August 2016, has used the same colours as the original but changed the angle of the ship. Sadly, the other detail copied across from the UK editions are all the words cluttering up the cover.

Which is your favourite? Mine is the Serbian edition, but I’d love to know if this one will divide everyone as thoroughly as last week’s offering.

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

Sunday Post – 13th November 2016

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been another hectic week – a sentence I think I shall have to start to pin on the beginning of this post. On Monday, Sally and I attended a local school where they are using the CoPE syllabus we are intending to use with Tim, the fourteen-year-old with autism I tutor. A couple of teachers generously gave up their time to talk us through the pros and cons of the system – the biggest downside being the amount of admin it entails. I was teaching Creative Writing on Monday and Tuesday as usual, though classes were significantly depleted this week by various germlins hitting my students particularly a nasty cough that is going the rounds. On Wednesday, I had a planning meeting with Sally, where we worked out how to best apply the CoPE syllabus to Tim, then in the evening I attended my fortnightly writing group where once more I received valuable feedback on my rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest.

On Thursday, my mate Mhairi came round for the day and in amongst talking about the life, the universe and swapping ideas and advice on our various writing ails, helped me set up the necessary technology for a talk I gave on Thursday evening about the joys of reviewing books and how to share those reviews online to the West Sussex Writers’ monthly meeting. It seemed to go down well, and afterwards Mhairi came back and we talked waaay into the night.

On Friday morning I was teaching Tim, then in the afternoon over to Worthing for a meeting with two writing friends as we are planning a project for 2017. I can’t say much about it right now, but hopefully will be doing so in due course… Yesterday we went down to Ringwood for a gathering of the clan, as it was my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. It was lovely catching up with family members and great to see the birthday boy in such fine fettle after his cancer diagnosis last year.

This week I have read:
penricsmissionPenric’s Mission – Book 3 of the Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems…

Do avoid the blurting blurb at all costs as it will really spoil the opening act of this plot-twisting treat. Once more Bujold provides a cracking adventure with a side-order of wry wit and a delightful protagonist.

 

The Silver Tide – Book 3 of The Copper Cat series by Jen Williams
thesilvertideTales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother. Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed…

It was a treat meeting Wydrin’s mother after following her madcap escapades through two previous books – and explains a lot. Williams’ gleedark, adventure-filled style hasn’t calmed down one jot with this third addition to this series, I’m delighted to say.

 

An Empire Asunder – Book 2 of The Scourwind Legacy series by Evan Currie
The coup that won traitor General Corian the Scourwind throne has been overturned, but his ongoing anempireasunderrebellion has left the empire divided. Lydia’s birthright regained, she adjusts to her role as empress at war, while Brennan begins training as an elite Cadreman soldier. With tensions rising between the empire and the Alliance, this momentary lull seems to portend a gathering storm…

I thoroughly enjoyed the start of this intriguing series that reads more like epic fantasy than a sci fi adventure and this sequel is equally filled with adventure and mayhem – fortunately, looking through his publishing history, it appears that Currie writes fast. Yippee!

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 6th November

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Silver Tide by Jen Williams

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Silver Road – Book 2 of The Shifting Tides series by James Maxwell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Penric’s Mission – Book 3 of Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday Faceoff – Falling off the rails… featuring Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Review of Frontier – an Epsilon Sector novella by Janet Edwards

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Advertising Books Online: Getting the Best Value for your Money https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/advertising-books-online-getting-the-best-value-for-your-money/ A brilliant, informative article for indie authors trying to work out where to spend their hard-earned cash on publicity.

Brilliant Book Title #61 https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/brilliant-book-titles-61/ The award-winning Ballyroan library blog has nailed it again – and friends and family please note – there will be a TANTRUM on Christmas morning if this book is not in my Christmas stocking…

Romeo and/or Juliet (A Chooseable Path Adventure) Book Review https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/romeo-andor-juliet-a-chooseable-path-adventure-book-review/ Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek wrote this quirky, enjoyable review about this enjoyable, quirky book. With Christmas looming, I thought I’d feature yet another book that might hit the spot with family members…

Leonard Cohen – Musician and Poet https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/leonard-cohen-musician-and-poet/ As you must already know, I’m a regular visitor to this site and Jean’s tribute to Leonard Cohen, along with this amazing video which I keep revisiting, is not to be missed.

Waterford Walls 2016 https://inesemjphotography.com/2016/11/11/waterford-walls-2016/
Inessa is a gifted photographer, who regularly takes us on wonderful walks through the lens of her camera. This is the latest offering – enjoy…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Heirs of Empire – Book 1 of The Scourwind Legacy by Evan Currie

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One of the Netgalley arcs I have waiting to be reviewed is An Empire Asunder, the sequel to this one. So given Heirs of Empire was already in my TBR pile as Himself is a solid Currie fan, I decided to read it first. I hasten to add this is not me turning over a new leaf, as I’ll be back to my usual disorganised – let’s-crash-midway-into this series, anyhow – mode in due course…

heirsofempireThe Scourwind family legacy brought the empire to the height of its power and prosperity and defended it against all enemies. Now one man’s machinations aim to shift the balance of power—with violent and devastating consequences.

The blurb continues at some length, but frankly that’s all you need to know before starting Heirs of Empire. The story is so fast-paced and punchy, as events stack up in quick succession, I think it would be a shame to go into it with any more information. Currie is good at writing action and letting his unusual world unfold through the storyline, although I’m still not quite sure what it is or where it is situated. However, given that this is the first in a series, I’ll run with that. It is an interesting mash-up in that this one reads like a classic epic Fantasy novel, but is clearly science fiction as all the big, scary weaponry run on lost technology, rather than magic.

There are three main protagonists – two are teenagers on the run and one is a former elite soldier turned privateer. I really like Mira Desol, who isn’t on anyone’s side except her own and a sense of obligation to those who have thrown in their lot with her. To say she has a reckless streak is putting it mildly. Currie is good at depicting nuanced characters with edges that make them difficult – both teenagers have a reputation for being a pain. But this book isn’t all about their moody angst – they’re too busy trying to simply stay alive to even begin to come to terms with what has overtaken them.

The other major character is General Corian, who is another elite soldier on a mission to rid the empire of those wrongdoers he believes are allowing too much corruption to fester. If I have any grizzles with this very enjoyable, engrossing adventure it is that I would have liked to have seen him more nuanced. He is continually short-fused and furious, but clearly something drove him to take the drastic steps he does and I would like to have seen at least one scene showing his reasoning, given we are in his viewpoint at intervals throughout the story.

However, this isn’t a dealbreaker – Currie has provided an action-packed tale and the climactic ending had me unable to put the book down until it was completed – for starters, I wasn’t sure exactly who was going to survive. I can now see why Himself has got hold of so many books by this author and I look forward to plunging back into this world very soon.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton

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This is the final book in this remarkable trilogy. Given the scope and ambition of these books – to explore Plato’s thoughts on what makes an ideal society in his book, The Republic – would Walton manage to conclude it satisfactorily?

necessityThe Cities, founded on the precepts laid down by in Plato’s The Republic by Pallas Athena, are flourishing. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Pytheas dies as a human, returning immediately as Apollo in his full glory. And there’s suddenly a ship approaching, wanting to make contact…

My first firm recommendation is DO NOT pick this one up without first at least reading one of the first two books, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, both of which I think you could read first without floundering too much. But not this one. For starters, there is a lot more discussion of what has gone before – as well as infilling the time-lag between The Philosopher Kings and Necessity and glancing allusions to events that mean a whole lot more if you know the now considerable backstory to all the main characters.

Walton mentions in the Acknowledgements that this is the hardest book she has written to date and I think it starts a little uncertainly – which is unusual, as her writing style normally has an easy fluidity I love. However once the narrative gets going, particularly after Sokrates bounces into the story the momentum picks up. There is a different feel to this one, though. For starters, there is a lot more discussion of the ideas thrown up by Plato – what makes a perfect society and how should people strive towards excellence; what makes gods so different from humans; how can society give justice to people, while recognising their different contributions to their community; what does equality for all mean. There is a particularly interesting discussion regarding slavery – Plato was very much against it, which these days may be regarded as a given, but when you consider that both Greek and Roman society only worked so smoothly because of the huge underclass of enslaved labour, this was regarded as a revolutionary, impractical and frankly dangerous idea at the time. Sadly, as I read the arguments reprised in the book, I was aware these now have a new relevance as this ugly form of exploitation seems to be resurfacing with renewed vigour in the 21st century.

I was intrigued to see how the huge plot twist at the end of The Philosopher Kings would work out in this book. I think the new environment works, along with visitors who decide to also adopt Plato’s precepts. I’m less convinced about the first contact with the approaching ship after the huge build-up in the first half of the book. But that isn’t a dealbreaker – after all, this isn’t a book about a clash of cultures, it’s a book exploring whether the ideals of an ancient philosopher have anything to say to us now.

As for the ending… I finished the book feeling enormously moved and excited. I can’t recall the last time I felt like that over any book. And all through the year, since reading The Just City I’ve found this series has stolen into my head and taken up thinking space, often when I should have been considering other things. That doesn’t happen all that often. It is the glory of reading – where marks on a page can transform, terrify or anger you. Or, in this case, have me pondering about why we are here, what is our purpose and what should we be striving for.
10/10

Review of League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

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League of Dragons is the final book in this remarkable series, set in Napoleonic times, where dragons are roaming the world in significant numbers, both in feral groups or domesticated. And in their gritted struggle, the English and French are using dragons to wage war on each other. The series starts with Temeraire when a very special egg Captain Laurence is transporting on his ship suddenly starts to hatch… And as the hatchling immediately bonds with Laurence, his naval career is abruptly over and he finds himself seconded to the less prestigious Dragon Corps. I’m not good at following long-running series, but I fell in love with Temeraire and have made a point of reading every book. The first four books predate my blog, so my reviews start with Victory of Eagles, the fifth book in the series.

leagueofdragonsThe deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

So does this final episode satisfactorily wrap up the story, tying up all the loose ends and give us a suitable conclusion to the adventures Temeraire and Laurence have endured? Oh yes. Inevitably over such a long-running series, the quality of the stories will vary. But League of Dragons is back in the original theatre of war that caused all the initial mayhem. And the book starts during the closing stages of the terrible defeat Napoleon’s army suffered at the hands of the Russians – only in this version there are brutalised, starving dragons in the mix…

I was immediately sucked into the story, enjoying the blend of fact and fiction Novik weaves around this grim chapter in European history – and enjoying the warm relationship between Laurence and Temeraire all over again. Novik is a highly accomplished writer, who manages to give us a strong sense of 19th century sensibilities and customs without lapsing too much into the flowery, highly descriptive writing style of the time. I also love the humour that runs through the book engendered by the draconic desire for a hoard and decoration. In some of the books, when the pair have been stranded on the other side of the world, fighting for their lives, that humour hasn’t been in such evidence. It was also lovely to meet up with some of the original supporting characters, again.

There are some wonderful battle scenes, alongside the ongoing drama as to whether Napoleon will prevail in his vision of dividing the world up into draconic territories to bribe the majority of the world’s dragonkind to support his campaign in Europe. I whipped through this book in just over two days, reluctant to put it down as I was engrossed in the story, really caring for the two of them – and genuinely concerned that Novik might just have them go out in a blaze of glory… As it happens, the ending is entirely satisfactory and while I’m sad to think I won’t again be pulled back into this vivid, engrossing world, I’m delighted it was so successfully concluded.

My firm recommendation is to go back to the beginning of this enjoyable, original series and start there – I really wish I could join you and do it all over again…
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Autonomy by Jude Houghton

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I was offered the opportunity to read this Autonomy by Grimbold Books, in return for an honest review should I enjoy it. I’m so grateful they did…

autonomyBalmoral 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.

And yes, folks, this really could be your future… In Houghton’s dystopian vision, our civilisation implodes in 2020 during a welter of environmental and political upheavals that sweeps away the old order. Autonomy emerges from the ruins after the death of millions, while the rest of the population are battling lawlessness and famine. And Autonomy’s solution is runaway capitalism to provide the bare necessities for the bulk of humanity and a far better standard of living for the chosen few. So, in essence, nothing really changes – I just love the ironic title…

I’m not sure if Houghton has ever studied the Industrial Revolution, or read The condition of the working class in England in 1844 by Friedrich Engels, but some of the details he produces about the wretched lives of Balmoral’s family were scarily reminiscent. However, this isn’t some polemic rant about how awful it’s going to be if we don’t get our act in gear and I wouldn’t have bothered reading it if it was. It’s a strong story crackling with narrative tension, vivid characters and a snaking plot that drew me in.

Structured as an epic, with a variety of third person viewpoints, Houghton isn’t afraid to kill off a number of his characters along the way – with some of them I saw their imminent demise coming, but there are several that pulled me up short. The plot spans the two worlds represented by Balmoral and Pasco. Initially, my sympathy was all with Balmoral and I rather despised Pasco – but as the book wore on, I found myself warming to Pasco despite the fact that he isn’t our classic lantern-jawed, action hero, which is a slot taken by his twin brother.

In amongst all the mayhem, Houghton raises some interesting questions – if you are enmeshed in a truly undemocratic, brutal regime, are you justified in inflicting violence on passing innocent bystanders in the struggle to overthrow said brutal regime? If by inflicting a brutal undemocratic regime you can keep millions alive on subsistence level, is it justified, given that without that skimped, grudging infra-structure they’ll all die anyhow?

However, in the end, it was all about the story. The climactic finale had to have plenty of action and drama, given the heightened tone throughout – I was wondering whether Houghton would be able to ramp this up another notch, and I pleased that he managed to pull it off, tying up and bringing together all the elements in the narrative in a satisfying ending. All in all, this is an entertaining near-future thriller with a thought-provoking message embedded amongst all the action. It’s what science fiction does best.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I generally have the memory of a goldfish regarding books I’ve read, though it has dramatically improved since I started reviewing/logging every book on completion. But there are a handful I recall with pinsharp detail years later. One of those is the first time I encountered Jemisin’s writing. I was sitting in Victoria Station, having just bought the book at Waterstones and waiting for the train home. Himself was seated next to me, also engrossed in a book, so Life was pretty much perfect. Especially as the opening passage of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms hit me with the force of a sledgehammer – see my review here.

thefifthseasonSo I’m still scratching my head as to why it took me quite so long to get around to reading The Fifth Season which has been patiently waiting on my Kindle. Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s nagging, I bumped it up my TBR queue and I’m very glad I did…

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

I’m conscious this sounds like yet another gritted struggle for survival in a land where civilisation has suddenly broken – an abiding staple of science fiction that has reached new heights of popularity, recently – but as with most really successful books, Jemisin has scooped up the basic concept and turned it into something uniquely her own. For starters, there’s the viewpoint. As a Creative Writing tutor, I spend a great deal of time telling new writers that addressing the reader in a magnificently detached authorial voice might have worked for Charles Dickens, but modern tastes dictate that it’s now a no-no. Unless you’re Jemisin, of course… She then launches her main protagonist at us in second person viewpoint, so we are experiencing Essun’s trauma as ‘you’. Frankly, my jaw was grazing the ground at this point and I did wonder if I’d manage to put this character voice on the backburner sufficiently to become engrossed enough that it simply didn’t matter, or better still – added to my enjoyment of the story.

And, along with almost everyone I’ve met, I can report that by the time I was a quarter of the way into the story, it simply didn’t matter. I was so caught up in the story and the unfolding situation, I would have persevered if Jemisin had taken it into her head to omit every sixth word. Furthermore, there is a solidly good technical reason why Essun’s story is relayed in second person pov which I’m not going to elaborate further, as it would also be a thumping great big Spoiler. Suffice to say, it isn’t just some idle whim but matters to the narrative structure of the book.

Along with Essun, there are a raft of vivid characters I really cared about – my favourite being the prickly, tormented Alabaster. The narrative arc of this story isn’t straightforward. There are regular flashbacks, that initially appear to be random interruptions to the ongoing storyline, as well as those omniscient intervals. It all comes together at the end in the shocking twist that still has me humming with pleasure at the symmetry of it all. And desperate to get my hands on The Obelisk Gate – which definitely won’t be hanging around for months on my TBR pile.
10/10