Category Archives: feisty heroine

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 31st May, 2023 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW


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 Rowan by Davis Bunn – release date 4th July, 2023

#contemporary thriller #paranormal #feisty heroine

Pulitzer prize-winning investigative writer Valentina Garnier loves a good story, so when she learns that CIA director Agnes Pendalon wants her to travel to Kunashir Island in Russia’s easternmost province, she jumps at the chance. Top scientists, political aides, CIA agents and even the vice president’s daughter have all made mysterious trips to the island in recent weeks. Could it be coincidence, or is something more alarming at play?

When Val arrives in Kunashir, she’s mesmerized by a magical rowan tree and its leaves that turn to golden threads, encircling the visitors. Something incredible and transformational is happening in front of her . . . With the CIA determined to hunt down this unknown force and everyone affected by the rowan, is a new battle for the future of humanity about to commence?
I was first attracted by the cover – then thought the blurb looked enjoyably quirky. The idea of braiding a classic international thriller with a paranormal twist appeals, although I’m a tad concerned at the rather low ratings to date. However, I shall come to this one with an open mind and hope it fulfils its promise to be an unusual and satisfying read😊.

SUNDAY POST – 28th May, 2023 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost


This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.

It’s been another hectic week with Ethan working on his final assignment, which finally had to be handed in by midnight on Friday evening. He managed this – and then stayed up to talk and support his fellow students who were battling to get their projects submitted before the deadline. So was rather sleepy and subdued yesterday after weeks of worry and work… Oscar has also been attending school, though we ended up in A & E on Friday evening as he had a bad fall during a playground football game and came home with a very sore wrist. Luckily there were no broken bones or sprains, which was a relief as we are just starting half term week.

I’ve been banging on to anyone who’ll listen about what a fabulous year it’s being for spring flowers. And to prove it to you – I took a short walk, no more than 10 minutes from our house with my trusty camera. The pics below show the blossom on a horse chestnut tree, a photinia bush and the hawthorn bushes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen hawthorn blossom like it – every tree and bush is smothered. The pretty purple climber is wisteria.

I was thrilled to finish my story Casta and the Giggling Knight, which came out at around 22,500 words. I was able to take it to my writers’ group on Wednesday night and got really valuable feedback, so I’ll be tweaking it in between continuing with the line edit of Flame & Blame. It was a lovely sociable week – in addition to attending my writing group, I spent most of Friday catching up with one of my ex-students, who is having a collection of her poetry published. I just need to get more sleep!

Books I’ve read in the last week:-

Bang, Bang Bodhisattva by Aubrey Wood
It’s 2032 and we live in the worst cyberpunk future. Kiera is gigging her ass off to keep the lights on, but her polycule’s social score is so dismal they’re about to lose their crib. That’s why she’s out here chasing cheaters with Angel Herrera, a luddite P.I. who thinks this is The Big Sleep. Then the latest job cuts too deep—hired to locate Herrera’s ex-best friend (who’s also Kiera’s pro bono attorney), they find him murdered instead. Their only lead: a stick of Nag Champa incense dropped at the scene.

Next thing Kiera knows, her new crush turns up missing—sans a hand (the real one, not the cybernetic), and there’s the familiar stink of sandalwood across the apartment. Two crimes, two sticks of incense, Kiera framed for both. She told Herrera to lose her number, but now the old man might be her only way out of this bullshit…
This near-future, detective noir thriller is full of personality. It’s difficult to make near-future fiction convincing, but Wood pulls it off. Review to follow.

I, Julian by Claire Gilbert
From the author of Miles to Go before I Sleep comes I, Julian, the account of a medieval woman who dares to tell her own story, battling grief, plague, the church and societal expectations to do so. Compelled by the powerful visions she had when close to death, Julian finds a way to live a life of freedom – as an anchoress, bricked up in a small room on the side of a church – and to write of what she has seen. The result, passed from hand to hand, is the first book to be written by a woman in English.

Tender, luminous, meditative and powerful, Julian writes of her love for God, and God’s love for the whole of creation. ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’
Beautiful and ultimately uplifting, it was a special read. And also shows what a rough time the survivors of historical pandemics had. Not only grieving their dead, but being blamed for the plague by the Church… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK – Our Lady of the Mysterious Ailments – Book 2 of the Edinburgh Nights series by T.L. Huchu
When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. And her with bills to pay and a pet fox to feed.

Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialised hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. The first patient was a teenage boy, Max Wu, and his healers are baffled. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander.

Her sleuthing will lead her to a lost fortune, an avenging spirit and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past. But how are they connected? Lives are at stake and Ropa is running out of time.
This series started off as Library of the Dead. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Huchu’s lively prose as gutsy Ropa struggles to keep her small family afloat in post-apocalyptic Scotland. This book held me throughout as an initial investigation into what is slowly killing a teenage boy encompasses a far wider problem. And this time around, we learn a lot more about the Library of the Dead. I’m delighted that this proved to be such a cracking adventure, as I have the arc of the next book in the series. 9/10

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Musings on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Ukulele of Death – Book 1 of the Fran and Ken Stein mystery series by E.J. Copperman

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring In the Shadow of the Bull – Book 1 of An Ancient Crete Mystery series by Eleanor Kuhns

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Cursed Crowns – Book 2 of the Twin Crowns series by Catherine Doyle & Katherine Webber

Sunday Post – 21st May, 2023

Hope you, too, had some brilliant books to tuck into and wishing you all a happy, healthy week😊.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Ukulele of Death – Book 1 of the Fran and Ken Stein Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #UkuleleofDeathbookreview


I enjoy Copperman’s writing – see my reviews of And Justice of Mall, Inherit the Shoes and Witness for the Persecution. So I was keen to tuck into this one, looking forward to the same blend of action and humour I’ve come to expect.

BLURB: After losing their parents when they were just babies, private investigators Fran and Ken Stein now specialize in helping adoptees find their birth parents. So when a client asks them for help finding her father, with her only clue a rare ukulele, the case is a little weird, sure, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.

But soon Fran and her brother are plunged into a world where nothing makes sense – and not just the fact that a very short (but very cute) NYPD detective keeps trying to take eternal singleton Fran out on dates.

All Fran wants to do is find the ukulele and collect their fee, but it’s hard to keep your focus when you’re stumbling over corpses and receiving messages that suggest your (dead) parents are very much alive. Ukuleles aside, it’s becoming clear that someone knows something they shouldn’t – that Fran and Ken Stein weren’t so much born, as built . . .

REVIEW: I hadn’t read the blurb on this one, so didn’t appreciate that it was a new series until I opened it up. Not that I was initially all that concerned – after all, Copperman’s previous sure-footed writing style and deft handling of the humour alongside the action in the Sandy Moss series meant I was thoroughly looking forward to this one.

However, as the story wore on, I wasn’t bonding with the main protagonist, Fran. And that was something of a problem because the story is told in first-person viewpoint. While I really enjoyed Sandy’s asides and tendency to rush into things in the Jersey Girl Legal Series – Fran’s constant snark about her brother felt less like affectionate exasperation and more like an annoyed sister who wanted her brother out of her life. There was also a great deal of telling, rather than showing. The paranormal aspect of the story didn’t really convince me, either.

The murder mystery was initially well set up, but I felt the pace did drop somewhat two-thirds through the story, when random figures show up to attack the siblings. What should have nocked the pace and tension up several notches rather fell flat. I wasn’t sure about the romantic element, as I found Fran’s dithering about whether to go on a date or not with the long-suffering Mank annoying. She’s not a teenager and I wanted her to stop behaving like one. That said, Copperman’s experience and skill shows in the smooth prose, succession of likely suspects and the steady accretion of clues such that I wasn’t ever tempted to abandon this one. For starters, I was sufficiently hooked that I really wanted to know whodunit.

The final denouement did work well – and for the first time in the story I truly believed that Fran was in real danger. I will certainly get hold of the next book – it sometimes takes a couple of books for a series to hit its stride and I know Copperman is a talented, able author. While I obtained an arc of Ukulele of Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 24th May, 2023 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW


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 – In the Shadow of the Bull – Book 1 of An Ancient Crete Mystery series by Eleanor Kuhns – release date 4th July, 2023

#historical crime #Ancient Greece #murder mystery #feisty heroine

Ancient Crete, 1450 BC. In a world of Goddess worship, sacred snakes and sacrifice, human jealousy, resentment, and betrayal still run wild . . .

When her sister Arge drops to the floor in convulsions and then dies at her wedding, fifteen-year-old Martis, a young poet and bull leaper in training, is certain her sister was murdered. The prime suspect is the groom, Saurus, a barbarian from the Greek mainland, but when Arge’s Shade visits Martis, swearing Saurus is not her murderer, Martis vows to uncover the truth.

As Martis begins asking questions, she discovers that while her sweet sister Arge may have had no secrets, many of the people around Martis certainly do. but if the murderer is not Saurus, then who is it? The Egyptian lady who frequents the docks, one of Martis’s other sisters, her father, or someone entirely different?

Martis is in a battle against time to save her sister’s Shade from eternal unrest and uncover the killer before they strike again . . .
I love this era of history, having inhaled Mary Renault’s fabulous books back when Noah was knee-high to a hen. So when I saw this offering, I immediately requested it. Fingers crossed it proves as good as it looks!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NEGALLEY arc Cursed Crowns – Book 2 of the Twin Crowns series by Catherine Doyle & Katherine Webber #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #CursedCrownsbookreview


I listened to the first book in this series, Twin Crowns, and quite enjoyed it. Though I did feel that Wren, in particular, took crazy risks to spend quality time with the man in her life, almost at the expense of everything else. Like the future of the kingdom and the fate of all witches within it, including her family. It didn’t make me all that fond of her. So I was hoping there was less romance and more story in this slice of the adventure.

BLURB: Twin queens Wren and Rose have claimed their crowns . . . but not everyone is happy about witches sitting on Eana’s throne. Cool-headed Rose sets off on a Royal Tour to win over the doubters, but soon finds herself drawn to the Sunless Kingdom. Here secrets are revealed about those closest to her, and Rose finds her loyalties divided.

Meanwhile rebellious Wren steals away to the icy north to rescue their beloved grandmother, Banba. But when she accepts King Alarik’s deadly magical bargain in exchange for Banba’s freedom, the spell has unexpected – and far-reaching – consequences . . . As an ancient curse begins to arise from the darkness, the sisters must come together and unite the crown. Their lives – and the future of Eana – depend on it.

Break the ice to free the curse,
Kill one twin to save another . . .

REVIEW: I enjoyed the premise and the overall ideas driving the narrative in Twin Crowns, as well as the contrast between careful, responsible Rose and reckless, adrenaline-junkie Wren. What niggled me was the emphasis on the romantic thread within the story, which I felt took too much precedence in an adventure-packed plot where far more interesting things are going on. Twin Crowns finishes on a major cliff-hanger, so I was glad to have this offering.

Cursed Crowns is far more about the precarious situation both queens now find themselves in. Although they have now successfully claimed the throne for themselves, they are far from out of trouble. The rabid fear of witches and their magic hasn’t disappeared and there are those determined to take advantage of the situation.

Meanwhile, Wren is determined to go after her beloved grandmother. Despite everyone, including fierce Banba, warning her not to do so. This time around, as the next tranche of perilous escapades unfold, there is far less about smouldering looks being exchanged, which I appreciated. Particularly as both authors are capable of throwing sudden twists into this story that takes the danger up a notch. I certainly hadn’t expected some of the developments that took place. In amongst all the danger, what sets this one apart are the regular dollops of humour. And some of it proves to be very dark. Or perhaps I’m just a very bad person, but I did find the outcome of Wren’s spell to try and save her grandmother’s life both poignant and hilariously funny…

Rose’s storyline proves to be every bit as gripping as she desperately attempts to gain help for her troops against the incipient rebellion, where the population’s fear of magic is being manipulated in a bid for power. We’d heard a great deal about the Sunless Kingdom in the first book, so I was very happy to see this plotline explored – as well as the seers’ stronghold, which was another hilarious interlude. The comic relief stops this from becoming yet another grim scrabble for power within a fantasy setting – and instead turns it into something more quirky and unpredictable.

While I hadn’t been completely convinced by the rave reviews for Twin Crowns, I’m joining the chorus of approval for this second slice of the adventure. But whatever you do, don’t skip the first book. This one tips the reader straight into the middle of the action, where Twin Crowns leaves off – and while both authors are too deft to leave you floundering for too long, I think it would dent your enjoyment, which would be a shame. Highly recommended for fans of fantasy adventures featuring interesting magic with two contrasting protagonists. My only niggle is the inclusion of a possible love triangle – but hopefully that will be ironed out in the next instalment, which I’ll definitely be getting. While I obtained an arc of Cursed Crowns from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lords of Uncreation – Book 3 of The Final Architecture series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #LordsofUncreationbookreview


I’m a fan of Tchaikovsky’s writing, and his science fiction can take readers in all sorts of interesting places. See my reviews of Children of Time, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, The Doors of Eden, Firewalkers, Shards of Earth – Book 1 of the Architects of Earth series and Eyes of the Void – both final books in this list being the previous offerings in this series. So it was a no-brainer that I’d request this one and was delighted to have been granted a review copy.

BLURB: Idris Telemmier has uncovered a secret that changes everything – the Architects’ greatest weakness. A shadowy Cartel scrambles to turn his discovery into a weapon against these alien destroyers of worlds. But between them and victory stands self-interest. The galaxy’s great powers would rather pursue their own agendas than stand together against this shared terror.

Human and inhuman interests wrestle to control Idris’ discovery, as the galaxy erupts into a mutually destructive and self-defeating war. The other great obstacle to striking against their alien threat is Idris himself. He knows that the Architects, despite their power, are merely tools of a higher intelligence. Deep within unspace, where time moves differently, and reality isn’t quite what it seems, their masters are the true threat. Masters who are just becoming aware of humanity’s daring – and taking steps to exterminate this annoyance forever.

REVIEW: Let’s get one wrinkle immediately straightened out – this series initially was called Architects of Earth and at some stage between books one and two, became The Final Architecture. I didn’t mention it previously because I didn’t notice, but if you go back to read the first two books in the series, before picking up this one – and I highly recommend that you do – then I wanted to clear up any possible confusion.

While there is a convenient Story So Far at the start of this book, which I found very handy as a prompt, you’ll lose a great deal of story if you don’t take the time to go back to the first two books. This is a detailed world, full of cataclysmic events and ongoing consequences on a pan-galactic scale. As a result, there is quite a lot of telling throughout. It’s not my favourite mode of narration, as I far prefer being immersed in a story and learning what’s going on as the main characters deal with the situation. However, that simply wouldn’t have worked in this instance.

What had stuck with me from the previous two reads, is the disparate cast of characters. They are all by this point more than a bit broken by their ongoing ordeals. Each one is dealing with the fallout to the best of their ability. Solace, the gene-modified soldier, particularly snagged my sympathy as her world of command and obey suddenly became up-ended and she found herself having to question all that she’d previously utterly believed in. While this is an ongoing sci fi theme, Solace grappled with this without a lot of the usual hand-wringing and angst. And that’s what I loved about all these characters. Most are facing crazily dangerous situations, particularly poor old Idris, who I suppose is my favourite – but self pity isn’t on the agenda. Tchaikovsky is good at portraying grumpy, somewhat miserable and contrarian protagonists that we nonetheless end up really rooting for – and this time around is no exception.

I enjoyed the previous two books, but this one is definitely my favourite. And while there is plenty of action throughout, the pacing is manageable because Tchaikovsky takes the time to explain the wider implications throughout. Maybe readers with better memories than mine would have found it aggravating – I was just grateful, as the plethora of factions, politicking and characters, good, bad and grey would have otherwise overwhelmed me.

As for the ending – it was lump-in-the-throat moving and yet uplifting at the same time. Which isn’t easy to achieve. If you enjoy classic space opera adventure that spans worlds and a variety of interesting aliens – and a couple of truly horrible villains, then this series comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Lord of Uncreation from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

Review of KINDLE Ebook Gray Lady – Book 4 of the Madame Chalamet Ghost Mysteries series by Byrd Nash #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #GrayLadybookreview


I’m a fan of Nash’s writing – see my review of A Spell of Rowans, which was the book that introduced me to her work. Then I was lucky enough to encounter this fantasy Gaslamp series – see my reviews of Delicious Death and Spirit Guide, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

BLURB: When the ghostly Gray Lady walks, a lover dies. Can Elinor stop destiny?

The young Coralie Floquet desires to marry but the spectral appearance of a Gray Lady portends that her end might be soon. Called in to help by Tristan Fontain, the Duke de Archambeau, Elinor plans to chase spirits and rumors at a country estate in a seaside town.

But as soon as she arrives, ill-will seems to swirl around her, along with tittle-tattle about her relationship with Tristan that has gossips talking. Though Elinor doesn’t care much about stolen government documents, her heart might be lost when the duke finally reveals the truth about his past and why he took Elinor home when he first met her.

REVIEW: I really enjoy Elinor as a protagonist. She is an experienced, rather cool character who, after a family tragedy, joined the Morpheus Society and has extended her natural talent for seeing ghosts by means of rigorous training. We start this latest adventure with Elinor at a very low ebb. She is still struggling with an injury she sustained in a previous escapade and she has lost her apprentice. And while she complained vigorously and at length about said apprentice’s shortcomings – she is badly missing her young charge. Not least because she’s seriously worried about what she’s being asked to do on behalf of the Morpheus Society, as Elinor’s faith in the organisation has been seriously undermined.

So being invited to investigate a gray lady – a particularly dangerous and persistent form of ghost, who has appeared over the years to young females, all of whom have ended up dying within the year – makes a welcome break from her melancholia. We finally see some progression on the very slow burn romance between Elinor and Tristan. I’m not sure whether I’m completely convinced by Elinor’s behaviour regarding their relationship – it strikes me as rather modern. But that’s probably the only quibble I have regarding the whole adventure.

As usual, the handling of the ghost mystery is written with plenty of pace, a nice number of suspects and the solution to this one worked particularly well. I loved the rather gossipy nature of the house party and how we were included in the machinations within a number of complex relationships that aren’t anything like their initial appearance. I tore through this one as the pages whipped by far too fast – and all too soon I realised I’d devoured the complete book, despite this one being longer. Highly recommended for fans of historical whodunits with a twist of ghostliness about them – but whatever you do, don’t start with this one, go back to the first book, Ghost Talker. This delightful series deserves to be read in the correct order.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cleaving by Juliet E. McKenna #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheCleavingbookreview


I’ve always enjoyed McKenna’s writing – see my reviews of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Darkening Skies – Book 2 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Irons in the Fire – Book 1 of the Lescari Revolution, Blood in the Water – Book 2 of the Lescari Revolution, Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of the Lescari Revolution. And then there’s her fabulous Green Man series – see my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe, The Green Man’s Silence and The Green Man’s Challenge. But I reckon she’s absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one…

BLURB: The legendary epics of King Arthur and Camelot don’t tell the whole story. Chroniclers say Arthur’s mother Ygraine married the man that killed her husband. They say that Arthur’s half-sister Morgana turned to dark magic to defy him and Merlin. They say that the enchantress Nimue challenged Merlin and used her magic to outwit him. And that Arthur’s marriage to Guinevere ended in adultery, rebellion and bloodshed. So why did these women chose such dangerous paths?

As warfare and rivalries constantly challenge the king, Arthur and Merlin believe these women are destined to serve Camelot by doing as they are told. But men forget that women talk. Ygraine, Nimue, Morgana and Guinevere become friends and allies while the decisions that shape their lives are taken out of their hands. This is their untold story. Now these women have a voice.

Juliet McKenna is an expert on medieval history and warfare and brings this expertise as well as her skills as a fantasy writer to this epic standalone novel.

REVIEW: I’ve been loving the Greek myth retellings by the likes of Pat Barker and Madelaine Miller – so when this offering caught my eye, I was really excited at the prospect of this one. After all, one of my favourite childhood books was King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – I had a beautiful copy, complete with stunning pictures. But, as ever, the women in this story were simply there as ornamentation. Or those, like Morgana, were derided as evil and unnatural for taking a hand in their own destiny.

This version of Arthur’s story is told by Nimue, one of the Fair Folk, or fae. Unlike most of her kind, she has somehow ended up as part of Ygraine’s household, living alongside mortals and keeping her magical powers as small as she can. Where she encounters another of her kind, who isn’t remotely discrete – Merlin. Counsellor to the violent and ambitious Uther Pendragon, Merlin uses his powers to manoeuvre Pendragon into the position of High King, claiming that otherwise the country will be overwhelmed by wild magic of the worst sort. He’s seen it in a vision…

However, as Nimue already knows, actions have consequences – and Merlin’s meddling has a horrible outcome for poor Ygraine, who ends up bearing Uther a son. Nimue does the best she can to protect Ygraine and her youngest daughter, Morgana, from the fallout of Uther’s bid for power – and the beginnings of the legend of Arthur comes into being. What struck me this time around was the violence pervading the whole story. And just how much the women in it are utterly disregarded. McKenna’s vivid descriptions of the clothing, food and daily routine of high-born women of the time brings this medieval setting to life. I also loved her description of the battles. Her expertise in medieval weaponry shows in the brutal hand to hand fighting – and the terrible injuries sustained despite armour, and sometimes because of it.

I tore through this one, finding it difficult to put down. And if you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls or Circe – then grab a copy of this one. You’ll thank me if you do. While I obtained an arc of The Cleaving from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 10th May, 2023 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW


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 – Scarlet – Book 1 of the Scarlet series by Genevieve Cogman – release date 11th May, 2023

#historical fantasy adventure #feisty heroine #French Revolution setting #vampires

It is 1793 and the French Revolution is in full swing. Vampires—usually rich and aristocratic—have slaked the guillotine’s thirst in large numbers. The mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, a disguised British noble, and his League are heroically rescuing dozens of aristocrats from execution, both human and vampire. And soon they will have an ace up their Eleanor Dalton [sic].

Eleanor is working as a housemaid on the estate of a vampire Baroness. Her highest aspiration is to one day become a modiste. But when the Baroness hosts a mysterious noble and his wife, they tell Eleanor she is the spitting image of a French aristocrat, and they convince her to journey to France to aid them in a daring scheme. Soon, Eleanor finds herself in Paris, swept up in magic and intrigue—and chaos—beyond her wildest dreams. But there’s more to fear than ardent Revolutionaries. For Eleanor stumbles across a centuries-old war between vampires and their fiercest enemy. And they’re out for blood. . . .

Scarlet is the first book in a wildly engaging new series from Genevieve Cogman, which reinvents the beloved tale of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
This time around, it was the author’s name that snagged my attention. I loved The Invisible Library series – see my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, The Dark Archive, my mini-review of The Lost Plot and my review of the final book in the series – The Untold Story. So when I saw she’d just started a historical fantasy adventure, I jumped at the chance of getting hold of an arc. I am rather behind with my TBR pile, but there will be a review to follow in due course…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc Humanborn – Book 1 of the Shadows of Eireland series by Joanna Maciejewska #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #Humanbornbookreview


I am a fan of Joanna’s writing. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying her Sand and Sorcery series Pacts Arcane and Otherwise – see my reviews of By the Pact, Scars of Stone and Shadows of Kaighal. So when she contacted me with news that she was starting a new urban fantasy series and asked if I was interested in reading a review copy of Humanborn – I was delighted to do so.

BLURB: Less than a decade ago, the Magiclysm, a tear between Earth and another place, brought magic to Ireland—and worse, it brought back the mythborn. The war that followed left Dublin scarred, and cursed Kaja Modrzewska with chaotic magic that will eventually claim her life.

Struggling with wartime nightmares, Kaja seeks normalcy amongst the volatile peace working as an information broker when a series of explosions across Dublin threatens to reignite the war. Both sides are eager to blame the other, so Kaja reluctantly agrees to investigate.

But finding the terrorists responsible means working alongside the mythborn’s elite killers, and uncomfortable wartime secrets coming to light. Kaja, who had saved a mythborn’s life during the war, finds out she has a life debt of her own, and as she juggles her allegiances and obligations, she’ll have to decide where her loyalties lie, with her old human allies or the mythborn.

REVIEW: I don’t know Ireland at all. But I do know that Joanna has lived in Dublin for a while – and I love how she has woven her knowledge of the city into this adventure, and then given it an almighty twist. It’s also a clever move – because one of the snags about using a real setting when you no longer live there is that your knowledge rapidly becomes outdated, which is always a distraction for readers who know the place. And the way Joanna has stepped around this problem is having mythborn magic distorting and twisting the city during the terrible war.

This could have been an utterly grim, post-apocalyptic trudge through a shattered city with the embittered, battle-scarred survivors eking out a living that is a shadow of the richness and luxury they formerly enjoyed. And there are elements of that – certainly enough to keep the story believable. But Kaja’s dry humour and determination to take each day as it comes means the tone isn’t too bleak – which is something of a relief, as right now I’m reading for escape. So I mention it for those of you who might be in a similar situation.

Kaja is a great protagonist. It’s a relief to have a main character who knows exactly who they are, including their strengths and weaknesses. I grew very fond of her complete lack of self pity, even though she’s had a really tough time of it. And her knack for finding workarounds and ways of dealing with the mythborn without bitterness, even though she has personally suffered a terrible loss. Her courage and even her bone-headed stubbornness are endearing – especially as they help her cope with a terrible fate awaiting her. For Kaja is already being catastrophically changed by the magic she’s been exposed to and knows that once that change is complete, she’ll become a monster.

The use of magic in the story is a refreshing change. It comes with perils and huge disadvantages that make sense. I also like the dynamic between the humanborn and mythborn – overall, the leaders are hoping for the uneasy peace to prevail, along with the majority of the population. Which doesn’t prevent a significant number of embittered, angry folk on both sides wanting more retribution. This tension pervades the book and makes each journey across Dublin an exercise in self-preservation. As the story progresses and Kaja’s involvement with the mythborn grows – she finds herself marooned in the middle, as other humanborn increasingly look on her with distrust.

This is all done very well. The pacing isn’t foot-to-the-floor and there is a fair amount of description to set up the world. However, I didn’t mind as I was seeing the situation through Kaja’s eyes and I enjoyed her voice sufficiently that it didn’t feel like a trudge. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one – the pages flew past as I wanted to know what would happen next. All in all, there is a sense of difference with this urban fantasy adventure that makes it stand out from the crowd, partly to do with the unusual setting and premise – but also, Kaja’s character is both tough and likeable, which is harder to achieve than it looks. If you enjoy the genre, but feel a tad jaded – give this one a go. I received a review copy from the author, which has not influenced my honest opinion of the book.