Category Archives: fantasy

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCaseoftheDragon-BoneEnginebookreview

Standard

I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.

BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.

Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.

The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series.
9/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

Standard

Reason #1 why you shouldn’t boast about your own exploits – it generally bores the youngsters, who are too young and ignorant to appreciate just what you actually faced. Which means you have to go to the trouble of teaching them to pay attention…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMidnightBargainbookreview

Standard

I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.

BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.

She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.

That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

Standard

Keeping a mountain between yourself and a roaming ice giant ISN’T hiding – it’s protecting the wretch from the heat of your flame…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of The Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheTransylvaniaTwistbookreview

Standard

The sharp-eyed among you will have realised that I’ve posted (and read) Books 2 and 3 of this series the wrong way around – see my reviews of The Monster MASH and Werewolves of London. I had sufficient fun with Petra Robichaud that when I discovered this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved to read it. But would reading them out of order negatively impact my experience?

BLURB: Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank. He’s been fighting for the other side, which technically makes him my enemy, and now he needs me and the power I’ve kept secret for so long: I can see the dead. It’s a blessing and a curse. Literally. Because the gods will smite me in a second if they suspect.

But the other side is developing a terrible new weapon, and the only person who can stop the carnage was just murdered in a covert lab behind enemy lines. So I have no choice but to pull on my combat boots and go AWOL with my ex and a moody berserker to confront a ghost with a terrible secret.

REVIEW: I have to say – I’m quite glad that I read these books out of order, because I’m not sure I would have continued with the series if I hadn’t. It isn’t that this one is badly written, or lacking in tension – in fact, this particular storyline is probably the strongest of all the books. But the hard fact of the never-ending war, even with a truce, is grittily portrayed in this one. And while there are splashes of humour – I love the plotline where Medusa is pregnant and Petra is in charge of her ante-natal care – this time around, I was far more aware of the darker underbelly of this story.

There is also a love triangle. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this dynamic, as it mostly manages to make the protagonist look like a shallow-minded flirt for not being able to make up her mind between the two men cluttering up her life. However in this case, Petra gets a pass. Her relationship with a super-soldier, now suddenly no longer immortal, comes to an abrupt end as he is called back to the front with little or no prospect of their meeting up again. And then her former fiancé, who she believed was dead – makes a sudden appearance… As I once knew someone whose parents had gone through this harrowing scenario at the end of WWII, I’m quite happy for this plotline to unfurl. But while there are funny moments – it is also quite an emotional read, which isn’t a bad thing but I was looking for something a bit fluffier.

That said, I really like Petra and her bouncy look on life, while the world is vividly described. The action scenes work well with plenty of tension and drama and I blew through this one in a couple of sittings, still held by the story, even though I already knew the ultimate outcome – which is a strong testament to Fox’s writing. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like something quirky, with plenty of light-hearted moments. While I obtained an arc of The Transylvania Twist from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Don’t care how old I am – I still love cartoons… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffcartooncovers

Standard

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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with CARTOON images. I’ve selected Sourcery – Book 5 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.

Harper, April 2008

This edition was produced by Harper in April 2008, and while I think many of the cover designs they came up with for the Discworld novels are underwhelming – I actually like this one. It has the playfulness and slight sense of mayhem that should always feature on Discworld cover. But whoever thought it was then a good idea to slap a round red label across the design needs to be frogmarched to an optician for an eye test. It wrecks the balance of the whole cover, because of the way it pulls your attention across to it. Grrr!

Corgi, July 1989

Published in July 1989 by Corgi, very unusually, this original cover design isn’t my favourite. I normally love Josh Kirby’s covers, but I’m not a fan of his depiction of Conina in this one. A bit too much bosom and hips – and yes, I’m aware that it is probably a swipe at the tendency for fantasy heroines to be over-endowed and under-dressed on book covers. But given that Pratchett’s writing doesn’t ever cross a line into any sexiness, I think it is sending the wrong message about the book.

Gollancz, February 2014

This edition, published by Gollancz in February 2014, is part of a re-release of the series for collectors. Apparently. Why anyone would want to clutter up their bookshelves with a book so brimful of life and colourful characters encased in such a miserably monochrome effort is beyond me. But that’s because I loathe this cover.

New American Library, 1989

This edition, produced by the New American Library in 1989 is more like it! There is the Librarian and Rincewind both looking suitably befuddled at the exodus of various creatures from the Unseen University. The flavour of the book is nicely caught and the artwork is well done and eye-catching. And not a nasty sticker in sight😊. This one is so very nearly my favourite…

French edition, November 2010

This French edition, published by Pocket in November 2010, nails it as far as I’m concerned. I love that awesome explosion and the wonderful image of a wizard flying across the cover in mid-air. I have to say, that next to the originals which will always have a place in my heart as we own most of them, it’s the Pocket covers that I think manage to get the sense of barely contained chaos that tends to run through all the Discworld books. And they achieve this while still producing a visually appealing effort, which is a huge achievement, given what a tricky task that is. Which is your favourite?

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 7th April, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

Standard

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 Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk – release date 15th April, 2021

#historical fantasy #romance

BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar to cut off her powers. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged mage, but her family are in severe debt, and only her marriage can save them.

Beatrice finds a grimoire with the key to becoming a mage, but a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with the sorceress’s brother: the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

I recently read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and was looking around for something else similar. And when I came across this Netgalley arc, I was delighted to be approved for it. I love that cover for starters – and when I read the blurb, I was sold. I’m aware that it’s already been released in the States, but am looking forward to tucking into it. Has anyone else read this one?

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Caring for Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonGrandchildren #PickyEaters

Standard

Treats and bribes work better than flame and blame when enforcing discipline – after all, you’ll be handing them back at the end of the day…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book review of NETGALLEY arc The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheConductorsbookreview

Standard

I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?

BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.

REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.

Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.

I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.

This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 7th March, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…

The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.

Last week I read:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…

I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.

The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…

Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.

The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum…
I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…
Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.

The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.
This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.

They didn’t tell him about the pixies.
This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Akady Martine

Cover Share: An Orshaw Facelift by Indie author Phil Williams

Friday Face-off featuring The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 in the Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tuesday Treasures – 29

Two Sci Fi mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 28th January 2021

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x