Category Archives: family relationships

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc Artemis by Andy Weir

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I loved The Martian and was delighted when I realised that Andy Weir had another book in the works and thrilled when I managed to obtain a Netgalley arc for it. Question is – does Artemis live up to Weir’s stunning debut?

Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent. Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

The short answer is yes. Oh yes – Artemis has yet another memorably enjoyable protagonist every bit as ingenious and determined as Mark Watney – Jazz is a street-wise moon-girl who plays the odds. She ekes out a precarious living by a series of shady deals under the cover of her lowly job as porter as she needs more money. Lots more money. And it is that need that drives her to make a deal against her better judgement… a deal that trips over into something a whole lot more serious. I’m aware some readers have had a problem with her lack of judgement and maturity, but I feel her poor impulse control is entirely realistic and when we learn the whole story of what went wrong between her and her father, there is also a valid explanation.

Like The Martian, we are charmed into really caring what happens to this lively, irreverent protagonist as she takes us into her confidence and tells us how the domes work, how the society is structured and about her tempestuous relationship with her father. So when it all goes really wrong, we are with her every step of the way, hoping she will prevail. As Weir steadily ups the stakes and increases the pressure – I found this one almost impossible to put down.

Despite the strong character-led nature of the story, there are still plenty of details about life on the Moon for hard science fiction fans. We learn about how the domes were constructed, who initially settled this first moon settlement and what currently powers the economy – all without compromising the pace or the narrative tension. It’s a neat trick to pull off and far harder to achieve than Weir makes it look. If all these geeky details tend to slide past you, my firm advice would be not to skim too much – because some of this stuff has a major impact on the story progression.

So after setting up a precarious situation where our plucky heroine finds herself on the sharp end of the trickiest conundrum – does Weir satisfactorily wrap up the story? Absolutely. We get a gripping conclusion to this plotline, while there are also some dangling tendrils that would give Weir the opportunity to revisit Artemis with the surviving characters. I would love to see him do so. Highly recommended.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

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I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the first part of the blurb – which is far too long
and chatty for my taste – so requested this one from Netgalley. I’m so glad I did.

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 wasn’t remotely what I was expecting. What I thought I was getting was an urban fantasy tale of a werewolf with something of a Jungle Book twist. What this book actually covers is the life of Weylyn Grey, mostly through the viewpoint of people who come into contact with him and whose lives he affects. From the time he is found roaming around the forests with a pack of wolves, he is clearly unusual. But other odd things continue to happen around him.

Given this is set in contemporary America, these unusual talents don’t encourage Weylyn to don a spandex suit featuring a cape and his underpants over his tights – instead they are a constant concern as they often put those around him in acute danger. There is a particularly poignant scene just over halfway through the book where we learn why he hates snow so much.

There are a number of viewpoint characters throughout this book – something I’m not normally a huge fan of. Some of them only feature for a single section, while others return more than once. But each one plays a role in Weylyn’s life as they come into contact with him and become aware of his strangeness. While it has been done before, building the characterisation of the main protagonist through the various viewpoints of a series of transitory characters is a risky strategy. This normal structure most often occurs in murder mysteries where we gradually learn about the victim through the eyes of those who knew her and the investigating team looking into her murder. If we don’t like the victim all that much, it doesn’t really matter – the issue powering the narrative drive in such stories is discovering who killed her. However, for this book to work on almost any level, we need to like and empathise with Weylyn and his plight, because if we don’t care then there’s no point in continuing to read on.

While this may be her debut novel, Lang clearly is an experienced, competent writer with a clean, unfussy writing style that quickly drew me into this book and kept me engrossed until the end. I was sufficiently invested that despite the fact that I could predict the probable ending some way off, I was perfectly happy to relax and go with the flow. And when the ending finally did come, I was left with a lump in my throat.

There is a warmth and gentleness about Weylyn that drew me to him. Lang doesn’t actually sugarcoat his life – some harsh things happen, but there is a steel core of optimism running through this book that swept me up and had me believing that in the end, the right folks would prevail. If you are looking for something a bit different with plenty of heart and adventure, along with a splash of magic realism, then this comes highly recommended.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 14th November, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:

A Plague of Giants – Book 1 of the Seven Kennings series by Kevin Hearn

72% The bard ends his completely miserable audience by saying he’ll stay at the Raelech embassy and then tosses out a wish for me to “be well,” which is more alarming than the news of my army’s destruction. People are beginning to notice. To question my health. My sanity! My fitness to rule.

BLURB: In the city of Pelemyn, Fintan the bard takes to the stage to tell what really happened the night the giants came . . .

From the east came the Bone Giants, from the south, the fire-wielding Hathrim – an invasion that sparked war across the six nations of Teldwen. The kingdom’s only hope is the discovery of a new form of magic that calls the world’s wondrous beasts to fight by the side of humankind.

This epic fantasy has an interesting structure – we learn about the unfolding drama as a volcanic eruption triggers a major and unwelcome migration of a people through a magically enhanced bard. He recites the story of what happens, complete with the resulting political fallout to a bulging city of refugees, taking on the persona of the various key characters through his magical gift, or ‘kenning’. I’m enjoying it – though having to really concentrate to keep track of the eleven protagonists that keep popping up. Himself has raved about this one, so I’m looking forward to a climactic ending…

Review of Whirligig: Keeping the Promise – Book 1 of Shire’s Union by Richard Buxton

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I do have to declare an interest – Richard was one of my Creative Writing students before he went on to take an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University and I did see one or two early extracts of this book. However I was not involved in editing it and have not read any other versions.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that pulls him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War. Lost in the bloody battlefields of the West, he discovers a second home for his loyalty. Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that creeps ever closer.

This is a story about two young people who didn’t fit the roles offered by their small village community in the heart of England. Clara leaves first, beguiled by the dashing young American who spends a summer visiting, ready to cross the ocean and start a new life as his bride. However, in the wake of a tragedy, Shire discovers a terrible secret that will embroil Clare in a scandal. So he sets off to cross the States and find her before it is too late – the complicating factor is that America is busy tearing itself apart fighting the Civil War and Shire gets involved in the fighting, while trying to work his way to Clara.

It’s a cracking premise – a young schoolmaster and part-time stable hand sets off, determined to save the reputation of the lively, high-spirited girl, who despite her noble birth and material advantages, has indifferent, somewhat neglectful parents. And it also takes a fair amount of writing chops to pull it off, too.

I loved it. Richard manages to depict the society of the time very effectively without holding up the pace with long explanations or too much description – it’s always a tricky line to negotiate which is why historic adventures are so demanding to write. However, for me, the highlight of the book are Shire’s experiences during the Civil War as he finds himself fighting for the Union. Going from being the scapegoat who can’t march, cannot shoot and is the butt of every prank going, he steadily gains in experience and aptitude, which is just as well. Civil wars are always savage affairs and this one was no exception. The amount of painstaking research is evident in the wealth of small details that add to the narrative and Richards’s own account in the Afterword. But at no time did I find myself skimming over the descriptions or action.

There is plenty of pace, strong characterisation and lots of action. The climax works wonderfully well and though I saw some of the elements coming – there were also plenty of twists to keep me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep. If you enjoy your historical adventures laced with the terror and excitement of battle, then this one comes very highly recommended.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th November, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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:

The Medusa’s Daughter by T.O. Munro
p. 558 “She were seen,” Flambard wailed. “I saw her. Old Mrs Gribbins saw her.”
“No you baint, not you, not Mrs Gribbins. You may have seen someone as looked like Persapha, but you baint seen her, not while she were here settling wee Josie. She’m a real treasure with the bairn, a natural.” Cora embellished the lie with an untruth so scandalous it left Persapha gasping. “So lessen you want to tell Colour Sergeant Stennal that you’m been calling his wife a liar in her own kitchen and afore his own daughter then I’d be seeing meself out sharpish and going out looking for that real murderer.”

BLURB: Haunted by very different pasts, three travellers journey together across a continent riven by clashes of faith and race. Odestus, the war criminal flees from justice. Persapha, new to all things human, yearns for a way and a place to belong. Marcus Fenwell, schooled in diverse talents, seeks a future beyond a wine bottle.

But past and future entwine to snare them all, for the Medusa has not been forgotten nor her daughter forgiven.

This epic fantasy adventure follows the fortunes of Persapha, whose origins mean that she finds dealing with humans something of a struggle. The characters are intriguing and the plot enjoyable, though the storytelling has a rather old-fashioned feel about it.

Sunday Post – 5th November 2017

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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.

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

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My mother is a solid fan of this prolific author and when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Emotionally hurt in the past, a job in a large country house seems to be Emma’s best option for staying single and safe…

When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son. Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?

I’ll be honest – when I first requested this one, for some reason that escapes me, I hadn’t appreciated it was a contemporary romance. You don’t have to spend much time on this blog to appreciate that isn’t one of my go-to genres – however, the mistake is entirely mine and there was a period, longer ago than I care to recall, when I regularly read and liked these books. So I summoned up the Ghost of Higbee Past to read this one with unjaundiced eyes – and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Fortunately, this novel isn’t just about the relationship between Emma and Gavin, or the obstacles that seem to loom between them in the way of miscommunication that tends to cause such havoc in romance novels. There is also a far more sinister aspect to this book and once that plotline kicks off, the whole book nocks up a gear. However even before all that, I found this book had won me over as Harrod-Eagles writes with verve and an enthusiasm for her protagonist that is catching. Emma is fun to be alongside with her dry, often funny observations on her own life and those around her.

This meant that when she is put in danger, I really cared. The head injury she suffered actually properly incapacitated her – a pleasant change in book-based adventures where severe concussion is often shrugged off after a couple of hours’ rest. Having looked after someone in that state, I can testify the effects can linger for weeks and months and no one is in a fit state to continue rampaging around just a day after being struck hard on the head.

The climax to this story had me staying up later than I should to find out what happens next – and although I won’t pretend it was a huge shock, this turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining, well written book that I recommend to fans of romance fans who like a twist of adventure. While I obtained the arc of The Hostage Heart from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Wolfsbane – Book 4 of the Silver series by Rhiannon Held

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I have really enjoyed the previous books in this superior werewolf series – see my reviews of SilverTarnished and Reflected – and was delighted to see this one on my Kindle, evidently bought as a gift from Himself.

When an envoy arrives from the secretive Russian werewolf pack, Roanoke alphas Silver and Andrew Dare are instantly suspicious. Tatiana claims she has been sent to locate an heirloom, lost by immigrants centuries ago, but she and the alphas both suspect that Russia fears the strength of the newly-united, continent-spanning Roanoke pack.

This is an interesting book. Andrew and Silver are absolutely correct to be concerned about this envoy as they fall prey to an unusual form of attack and while they lie comatose, fighting for their lives, they find themselves in vivid dreams or visions where an alternative timeline prevails.

It isn’t necessarily the same timeline and there is some confusion/crossover where Andrew, in particular, knows that he isn’t really a brutalised enforcer at the mercy of an inept alpha he actually took care of years ago. And that lands him in a shedload of trouble, just at a time when he doesn’t need it. However, it is Silver’s timeline which is probably the most heart-rending. In her alternate timeline, she has escaped the devastating effects of being injected with silver, so she no longer struggles with a paralysed arm or is unable to Change. So you’d think she would be capering for joy – except the consequences for her pack having not been the one hit is catastrophic. She is whole and her family are still alive, but the cost is terrible…

Meanwhile the Russian envoy, who incapacitated these two high-profile alphas, is having to cope with some hard truths of her own. Expecting to be torn to pieces for attacking Andrew and Silver, she is shaken at the response, having been raised so very differently. While I would recommend you read the series in order, this book would make a good entry point with the flashbacks and as we follow Tatiana as she copes with the difference in customs between the Russian and US packs, we learn a fair amount about the politics in this complex, intriguing world that Held has constructed. I was also pleased to meet up with John and Susan again – they are solid favourites of mine, particularly Susan. It’s refreshing to read an urban fantasy werewolf series where the strong characters aren’t necessarily the largest and shaggiest with the sharpest teeth.

Knowing how Held can take a story and produce unexpected twists, the pages flew by as I was engrossed in this story right up to the end. I don’t think this is her best book – the visions/dreams did slightly remove that edge of danger that generally permeates these adventures. However, there was more character development and it was lovely to get back to this enjoyable, complex world. I’m very much looking forward to reading more books in this quality series.
8/10

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 18th October, 2017

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 The Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

#epic fantasy #magic

The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world with world-building detail and an ingenious and disciplined magic system. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his longest and bestselling fantasy series with volume nineteen, which marks the beginning of a new story arc.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

I’m really looking forward to this one as I’m a real fan of Modesitt’s writing. It is due to be released by Tor Books on the 31st October and I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

ANNDDD…

 

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, I have posted my Top Ten List of favourite science fiction books set in space at Mel’s Shelves.

PUBLISHED TODAY!

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RUNNING OUT OF SPACE
SUNBLINDED: 1

by S.J. Higbee

 

Elizabeth Wright has yearned to serve on the space merchant ship Shooting Star for as long as she can remember – until one rash act changes everything…

I can’t recall whose idea it was. Just that me and my shipmates were sick of wading through yet another unjust punishment detail. So we decide to take ourselves off on a short jaunt to the lower reaches of Space Station Hawking to prove that fertile English girls can also deal with danger.
The consequences of that single expedition change the lives of all four of us, as well as that of the stranger who steps in to save us down in lawless Basement Level. Now I have more excitement and danger than I can handle, while confronting lethal shipboard politics, kidnapping, betrayal. And murder.

 

And Hywela at Romance That’s Out of This World is starting my blog tour with a guest post by yours truly.

Running Out of Space is available on Amazon.com 

and Amazon UK  for an introductory offer until the end of October only!

Here is the start of the book, where it all begins to go wrong…

CHAPTER ONE

Yeah, I know – Basement Level on Space Station Hawking – what were we thinking?  But penned up on punishment duty with only the prospect of one chaperoned shopping trip had driven us to it. Though the charms of Basement Level wore thin as soon as we set off from the lift. One light in four was working – and then only in Dim mode. The corridors were half the width of the upper levels; a big problem as I’ve seen sewage tanks more wholesome than those walls. You wouldn’t want to brush against them wearing anything other than shipwear throwaways, while keeping off the walls was harder than you’d think, because we were wading ankle-deep in… stuff.

Jessica punched my arm. “Must be homely for you, Lizzy. Floor looks like your cribicle after you done tidying.”

Alisha and Sonja started sniggering.

“’Cept the smell isn’t as vile as your boots,” I replied.

Our laughter bounced around the filthy corridor, easing the mood for a couple of minutes but did nothing about the putrid smell. We struggled on a bit longer, until a grimy woman scuttled past, forcing us far too close to the walls. She didn’t even look our way, let alone thank us for making sufficient room.

Sonja and Alisha stopped.

“Let’s turn round. Unblocking the heads is more fun than this.” Sonja wrinkled her nose at the empty tunnel ahead. “Even the natives got sense enough to be someplace else.”

“We’ve gone promming around for less than a nanosec. And you wanna run back cos the scenery isn’t the same as on board?” Jessica clicked her tongue in scorn. “Starting to sound like those old nannies.”

Sonja flinched at the derision in her voice, but – being Sonja – wouldn’t lock horns with Jessica.

Breathing through my mouth, I straightened up. Jessica is right. So what if this is a dank disappointment? We didn’t come down here for the view – we came to prove we could handle ourselves when off-limits.

But Alisha grabbed Jessica’s arm. “Sonja and me reckon this is a vile place. We vote to head back. Tramping through filth is a tragic waste of shore leave.”

All argument ceased when the floor crud rustled and heaved behind us. A cat-sized rat scuttered through the litter into the gloom beyond.

I shivered. “It’s gotta get better sometime, soon. We’re snagging the next lift we see back to Trader Level.”

We continued trudging onwards for another ten minutes. Just as I was beginning to think the scuzzy corridor was leading into infinity, we turned a corner into a small plaza. With a blast of relief, I spotted the lift in the far corner and relaxed. Now we were nearly out of here, we could do the tourist bit. Truth be told, the word ‘plaza’ probably gives the space more credit than it deserves. While the lighting was brighter and the floor litter had been trodden relatively flat, the buzz that normally goes with buying and selling wasn’t here. Under the stink of rotting rubbish was the sharper stench of desperation.

I passed a trader’s eye over the ratty stalls. Everything I could see on display would’ve gone straight into our ship’s recycler. The food canisters were filthy without the benefit of even the most basic steri-scrub. And the water on sale might have shown blue on the pacs’ purity scales, but the readings must have been blixed, because that cloudy stuff wasn’t fit to pass your lips. Even the powdered water looked like sweepings off a shower-stall floor.

If we hadn’t come down here, I’d never have known this place existed. How many on Shooting Star know about it? This is what I joined the ship for. My heart was thudding with a mixture of fear and excitement. This was a hundred times better than trailing around the overpriced shops on Trader Level with a grumbling chaperone.

Though the people were a shock. There were no shades of yellow, brown, black, or white here – everyone’s skin was grime-grey. All wearing rags pockmarked with holes which only showed more scabby tatters, or dirt-scurfed flesh. I’d tried to blend us in. We were all in scut-gear with worn overalls and battered workboots. But we stuck out like a supernova on a dark night. Mostly because we were clean and well fed, while everyone here was stick-thin. Even the kids

The Cap always says we English merchanters take care of our own better than anyone else. What if he’s right? Because I couldn’t recall seeing any children in this sorry state back in New London.

Sonja gave some creds to a pathetic, sunken-cheeked toddler sitting on the trash-covered floor and in no time flat we were mobbed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids. None of us could resist their pleading, so we handed out all our shore-leave cash. Of course, one of us should’ve kept an eye out for trouble. But we didn’t. And when the children scampered away, I looked up to see we were now ringed by another group. Far more grown-up and dangerous.

***

I can’t quite believe I’m here… It’s taken such a long time to get it all ready and on top of everything else, I’m still struggling with this flu. But I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the book on Amazon – I keep clicking on it just to have a look. I’ve crossed a line – gone from ‘going to’ and ‘want to’ through to ‘done that’. I am very aware in the scheme of things, this isn’t rocking anyone’s world except mine – that the average amount an author makes with their first book is less than the price of a meal for two in a halfway decent restaurant. But this feels huge and I want to thank everyone who has helped to make it possible.