Category Archives: godpunk

Sunday Post – 18th February, 2018

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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.

It’s been half term, so Life has been a tad less hectic as I caught up on some outstanding paperwork and finished an editing project in order to clear the decks to continue the rewrite on Miranda’s Tempest.

However I had a call to have the grandchildren a day early, so we went up on Wednesday to collect them. The weather was atrocious on Thursday – torrential rain and high winds, so we stayed indoors. Thank goodness on Friday, it stopped raining and the sun came out. It was absolutely beautiful for Frances to spend the morning drawing with my sister and then in the afternoon, Oscar and I had a round of crazy golf at the newly refurbished course, followed by a trip to the Harbour Lights café for a drink and a packet of crisps as we waited to pick up Frances, who was on a shopping trip with a friend. I had promised him a hot chocolate with soya milk, but sadly, the café only had cow’s milk on offer. He was a star and accepted a cold drink, instead.

Oscar has been enjoying the Winter Olympics – so watched with us. We all agreed the snowboard cross is our favourite event, closely followed by the half-pipe. Oscar is less impressed with curling, though I find the tactical aspect fascinating. We took the children home yesterday evening after a lovely few days with them – they are a delight.

Today I am hoping to make some headway on Miranda before I start back teaching tomorrow.

This week I have read:

Launch to Market: Easy Marketing for Authors by Chris Fox
Launch to Market provides a simple system to plan, track, and execute your book launch. It covers the basics of marketing in an easy to understand way, complete with exercises that will prepare you for your best launch ever. You’ll see real sales numbers from an author who just did exactly what you’re trying to do, with take aways that will show you exactly how I did it. Don’t leave the success of your novel up to chance. Launch your book to market.

Given I started my self publishing career at the end of last year, I thought it was high time I widened my focus from solely being all about the craft of writing to include the dark art of marketing. A really hands-on, nifty book full of practical ideas and tips.

 

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart
When Emmeline’s scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself heading for a safe house, where allies have pledged to protect her. But along the way, she is kidnapped by the villainous Doctor Siegfried Bauer

I thoroughly enjoyed this steampunk adventure. O’Hart’s rollicking adventure is packed full of vivid, engaging characters and action that had me turning the pages to discover what happens next – even though I am not the target audience.

 

Queen of Chaos – Book 3 of the Sequoyah trilogy by Sabrina Chase
The exciting conclusion to the Sequoyah trilogy.

Webspace pilot Moire Cameron is one of the best–but even she can’t fly her way out of a catastrophic drive failure that triggers a time-dilation bubble. Left suddenly eighty years out of date, she is on the run in a world she no longer knows, caught in the middle of a human-alien war while agents of Toren hunt her for the information only she has–the location of the pristine world of Sequoyah.

How’s that for a short and sweet blurb? That said, as this is the finale to Moire Cameron’s adventures, I have decided to add the blurb to the first book The Long Way Home to give you an idea of what this series is about, because if you are a fan of quality, character-led space opera then these books are well worth reading – and are ridiculously cheap…

 

Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks
“Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson in the glitz and grit of L.A….”

In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future. Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap. Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, being an unexpectedly gritty read exploring some of the old Celtic myths full of dark blood magic and sacrifice underneath the fluff.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 11th February 2018

New cover for Dying for Space – Book 2 of the Sunblinded trilogy by S.J. Higbee

Teaser Tuesday featuring Queen of Chaos – Book 2 of the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart

Friday Face-off – Groovy baby… featuring Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Review of Raven’s Children – Book 2 of the Sequoyah series by Sabrina Chase

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Not one of them was capable of lying… https://readlorigreer.com/2018/02/16/not-one-of-them-was-capable-of-lying/ I read this offering from W.H. Auden – one I didn’t know and since then the words have haunted me…

Chilean Open-Air Art https://charlesfrenchonwordsreadingandwriting.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/chilean-open-air-art/ These stunning examples are worth checking out…

How I Write Reviews http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2018/02/15/how-i-write-reviews/ This is a fascinating insight into the craft of review writing by one of my favourite reviewers.

10 of the Best Poems about Darkness https://interestingliterature.com/2018/02/14/10-of-the-best-poems-about-darkness/ This article includes two of my all-time favourites – ‘I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark’ and ‘The Darkling Thrush’.

Twas the Night Before Valentine’s… http://authorkristenlamb.com/2018/02/twas-the-night-before-valentines-2/ I loved this anti-Valentine’s poem by social media jedi, Kristen Lamb.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 14th February, 2018

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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 – Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series

#urban fantasy #YA #godpunk

“Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson in the glitz and grit of L.A….”

In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future.

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.

I liked the sound of this one – I don’t know much about Gossip Girl, but I really like what I’ve seen of the Percy Jackson series, since reading snippets of it to my granddaughter. Fire and Bone comes out later this month on 20th February, so I shan’t have too long to wait.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Age of Heroes Book 8 of the Pantheon series

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The first thing to say is – like all the other books in this entertaining godpunk series – Age of Heroes is entirely standalone. The only thing linking these books is they feature gods or, in this case, demigods. So there is nothing to prevent you plucking this one off the shelves and diving straight in.

ageofheroesCHILDREN OF THE GODS!
Born of the Gods, created to be their champions, their names echo in eternity: Theseus, Perseus, Hippolyta, Heracles, Helen of Troy and all their half-mortal ilk. But the Age of Heroes is long past, and no more epics are told of their deeds. Blessed – and cursed – with eternal life, they have walked the Earth for millennia, doing their best to fit in among ordinary humans, taking new names and living new lives. And one by one, the demigods are meeting terrible, bloody ends. Now it’s up to Theseus, comfortably ensconced in New York and making his living as a crime fiction writer, to investigate the deaths. His search for the culprit draws him back into the lives of his dysfunctional extended family, and into a world of tragedy and long-held grudges that he thought, and hoped, he’d put behind him.

The blurb gives a flavour of this mystery whodunit with a divine spin on it. These ancient demigods and goddesses have, more or less, managed to fit in with modern society and scattered across the globe. I haven’t read every book in the series, but Age of Aztec – see my review here – is one of my most memorable and enjoyable reads and Lovegrove is a favourite author anyhow. So this was a must-have book and I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request. Did it fulfil my expectations? Oh yes.

Lovegrove has a knack of writing enjoyable protagonists I care about, even when they shouldn’t be all that likeable. One of the main characters is a hired killer, but I found myself rooting for him. In contrast, the antagonists are suitably nasty and formidable, particularly the vile Holger Badenhorst, who I loathed as a racist, sexist pig. As for the demigods, once more I am impressed how Lovegrove manages to depict ancient beings who aren’t quite human, yet keep them sympathetic – it’s harder to pull off than he makes it look. Plenty of humour in the exchanges between the characters leavens the inevitable violence, while the action drives forward at a brisk clip, making this one hard to put down.

As for the denouement – I didn’t guess who the perpetrators were until the reveal and enjoyed the full-on action and the subsequent poignancy of the demigods’ existence revealed as the dust settled. While this adventure hasn’t achieved the heights of Age of Aztec – not many books do – it is an accomplished, satisfying read that made me chuckle in places and had me reading late into the night to discover what happens next. And I surfaced from the adventure wishing I could do it all over again… a familiar feeling when reading a book written by Lovegrove.
8/10

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

2016 Discovery Challenge – April Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. How have I done in April?

Cinders – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
cinderHumans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle.

I found the ways in which the story spun off from the original, playing against my expectations, added to my appreciation of the world – and I was hooked. Read the full review here.

 

Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
As a thief, I’m good at three things: hiding in the shadows, getting in and out unseen, and brightblazeofmagicuncovering secrets. I put these skills to work for the Sinclair Family, one of the magical mobs that run the tourist town of Cloudburst Falls. Everyone knows Victor Draconi wants to take over all the other Families – and kill every last Sinclair. What they don’t know is that I’m on to him, and no way will I let the man who murdered my mom get away with hurting all the other people I care about. Especially when I’ve got places to break into, stuff to steal, and Devon Sinclair fighting right by my side…

It wasn’t until I’d started the book that I realised I’d done it again… After all my best intentions – I’d crashed mid-way into a series as Bright Blaze of Magic is the third book in the Black Blades series. However, this wasn’t a problem as Estap is far too experienced and deft a writer to leave me adrift. Without going into long, involved explanations, I was provided with all the necessary backstory to be able to get up to speed for this slice of the narrative arc. The process was helped by the fact that our feisty heroine bounces off the page with loads of personality and charisma. This is an enjoyable, slick read from a writer clearly at the top of her game – read my full review here.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
thestartouchedqueenMaya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, has other plans for her.

And that is ALL I’m prepared to reveal of the blurb, which then immediately lurches into major Spoiler territory, as it happily provides most of the main plotpoints of the book. Please take my firm advice and avoid it until you have had a chance to read the book, first. The prose is rich and lyrical, spinning a beautiful world with a brutal undertow. It reminded me, in parts, of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Read my full review here.

 

Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts Saga by Colleen Oakes
The arresting black and white cover immediately snagged my attention and when I saw it was a queenofheartsdystopian take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, I immediately requested this NetGalley arc.
As Princess of Wonderland Palace and the future Queen of Hearts, Dinah’s days are an endless monotony of tea, tarts, and a stream of vicious humiliations at the hands of her father, the King of Hearts. The only highlight of her days is visiting Wardley, her childhood best friend, the future Knave of Hearts — and the love of her life. When an enchanting stranger arrives at the Palace, Dinah watches as everything she’s ever wanted threatens to crumble. As her coronation date approaches, a series of suspicious and bloody events suggests that something sinister stirs in the whimsical halls of Wonderland. It’s up to Dinah to unravel the mysteries that lurk both inside and under the Palace before she loses her own head to a clever and faceless foe.

This book is squarely in Dinah’s viewpoint throughout, which isn’t always completely comfortable. While there is much to sympathise with – she’s had a fairly wretched time of it, without a doubt – she is also spoiled, headstrong and bad tempered. I did spend a chunk of the book wishing I could shake some sense into her. However, what kept me caring is her undoubted courage and strong sense of loyalty to those she loves, as well as the fact that she is undoubtedly the underdog in the poisonous atmosphere of this palace. My review of this book is here.

Once more, I doubled my original target by reading four books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered. Becoming a NetGalley reviewer has certainly helped me widen my reading range and the Discovery Challenge has further encouraged me to go on seeking books by women authors I haven’t yet encountered. So far 2016 has been a bumper reading year and while it can’t be sustainable, I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 2

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I posted my first five Favourite Fantasy Worlds a few weeks ago, so here are the next group. All of these worlds are well developed, nicely complex and provide satisfying backdrops for the stories. It’s no accident they are all series. One of the reasons I really enjoy multi-book story arcs is the extra layers of detail that can be built into the worldbuilding.

The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
This original, remarkable series is set in the equivalent age of the Tudors, with horse-drawn conveyances Touchstoneand charts the fortunes of a magical travelling theatre company. In the first book, Touchstone, they form their group and the next three books in the series records their highs and lows as they steadily get more prosperous and successful. Though that brings its own pressures. The glass thorns of the series title, are the drugs the actors dose themselves with, in order to heighten their emotions – or help them relax after the excitement of performance. I eagerly await each book and so far, have not been disappointed at the unfolding drama of these enormously talented, difficult people battling to produce their best work in less than ideal circumstances.

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
This series of books covers the adventures of the state-appointed enchanter Chrestomanci, who is taskedCharmedLife with keeping law and order amongst the magical community. I have read most of these books to my granddaughter, after having devoured them myself several decades ago – my favourite is Charmed Life. And rereading them aloud has not only proved they can stand the test of time, but increased my respect at the quality of the writing, the crafting of the story arcs and the sheer quirky genius of Jones’ imagination. Yes – I know they are supposed to be for children, but give them a go if you appreciate magical mayhem. They are a joy for any age group.

The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
nohumansinvolvedThis world is extensively portrayed in the thirteen-book series, with a number of accompanying novellas and short stories. It all kicks off with Bitten, where werewolf Clay accidentally bites his girlfriend – and her life is never the same again. But don’t go away with the idea that the series is all about werewolves – it also encompasses witches, necromancers and vampires. In short, anyone who dabbles with the paranormal or magic. Read my review of No Humans Involved. The world is enjoyable – I love the way Armstrong manages to slide from everyday normality into something else.

Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna
Again, this extensive, detailed world has been produced over a long period of time through several series dangerous watersof books – there are five books within The Tales of Einarinn; four books in The Aldabreshin Compass; three books and a novella in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and her latest trilogy, still set within the same world – The Hadrumal Crisis. Juliet provides an excellent explanation of her world on her blog. They are all great reads – but my personal favourites are The Aldabreshin Compass series and The Hadrumal Crisis – see my review of Dangerous Waters.

The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
thehundredthousandkingdomsThis is an extraordinary series – particularly the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is set in the city Sky where gods and mortal co-exist. See my review here. The book is pervaded by the sense of threat and a feeling that a set of rules apply here that our protagonist needs to know, but doesn’t fully understand. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms had me in tears at the end – and that doesn’t happen all that often, these days. If you like remarkable fantasy on an epic scale focusing on gods, then give it a go.

And there you have it… a few of my favourite fantasy worlds to date. What are your favourite fantastic worlds?

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* KINDLE Ebook of Staked – Book 8 of The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

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It seems far too long since I was in the middle of this entertaining world of druids, food-obsessed hounds and a head-swivelling range of infuriated gods and fae, in Shattered. Would this latest slice of the adventure manage to sustain the fun and excitement?

stakedWhen a druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers – led by power-mad Theophilus – have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand. As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ill-tempered archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination – a quest that will bring her face to face with several Slavic nightmares.

This particular tale features Atticus, Owen and Granuaile, who each feature in their own chapters, so the story unfolds in multiple first person viewpoint. Hearne has also broken with modern trends and provided a Story So Far roundup of each book. I was very thankful to get a quick, well-told reminder of what had gone on before – and those who haven’t yet had the pleasure also have the option not to read it. I’d like to see authors of other long-running series, where the story progression relies on the books being read in order, also adopting this tactic. It certainly contributed to this reader’s enjoyment.

Those of you who have read any of The Iron Druid Chronicles will know there are slices of humour running through the adventures, so now that the stakes (no pun intended…) have inevitably been cranked up, has that sense of fun dissipated, as happened in both the Harry Dresden and Sookie Stackhouse series? No, it hasn’t. I’m delighted to report that Oberon, Atticus’ trusty hound, still brings most life and death topics back to sausages whenever he can, and archdruid Owen, who has only recently been reawakened after being in stasis for a looong time, also provides plenty of humour in his delightfully sour asides on modern life and customs.

However, there has to be a balance – this is a godpunk fantasy adventure, so do the characters convince? Is the supernatural aspect of the world suitably depicted with plenty of complexity and depth? Is the action exciting? This three-stranded approach worked really well – I like all three characters and Hearne has each one nailed, though these days, I suppose my favourite has to be Owen, who bounces off the page with his grumpy, individual take on the world. I also enjoyed watching Granuaile gain more confidence as she is off on a quest of her own – and making decisions she is aware won’t necessarily please Atticus. As for the Iron Druid himself – his talent for upsetting the wrong people is still getting him into more trouble than he knows what to do with. And I really liked watching him genuinely flail and agonise over some of the decisions he has to make.

In amongst the mayhem and humour, were also some darker moments and once more we lost a major character who has regularly helped Atticus out in the past , which was a shock. Although, it shouldn’t have been – Hearne has never been afraid to kill off a steady stream of major players throughout the series. It’s a trick that certainly keeps me paying attention during the battle scenes.

As for the climax of the book – a set piece battle in the heart of a European city that worked really well and provided plenty of thrills and spills. Oh yes, I really enjoyed this offering – all the more because it is the penultimate book in the series and I’m aware that this blast of pleasure will continue only once more. But if you haven’t yet followed Atticus through his various scrapes with other supernatural beings, then whatever you do – don’t go looking for Staked – instead, get hold of Hounded.
10/10

Review of The Shadow Pavilion – Book 4 of The Inspector Chen series by Liz Williams

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I first published this review back when a very select few were visiting my blog, so thought I’d recycle it as it has only been seen by a handful of visitors…

shadowpavilionA bit fed up with your urban fantasy detectives? Well, if you do fancy a change from the plethora of vampires and/or werewolves that frequent city streets righting wrongs – then look no further than the Inspector Chen books by Liz Williams.

Set in a near-futuristic city, Singapore Three, Inspector Chen is a Chinese police officer whose remit takes him into Heaven and Hell to investigate crimes. Having said that, the vivid characters surrounding him easily eclipse our self-effacing hero. Chen’s wife is a half-demon on the run from Hell and her pet protector is a badger whose lethal persistence are matched only by his bite and ability to turn himself into a teakettle. Williams even manages to make the Celestial Emperor, Mhara, an intriguing personality – which is a feat. Ineffable goodness, while very pleasant, is often rather boring, except in Williams’ hands…

Singapore Three, Heaven and Hell are described with panache in Williams’ vivid prose. This particular story follows the adventures of a Bollywood director who summons up a Tiger demoness to star in one of his films. However, when he tries to send her back, a trail of destruction is unleashed that pulls in Chen’s partner and the badger. And if that wasn’t enough, the fabled Shadow Pavilion houses a formidable assassin, Lord Lady Seijin, contracted to kill an extremely important personage. If Seijin succeeds, the fragile stability of Heaven, Hell and Earth will dissolve into chaos…

Williams’ lush prose whips this story along at a cracking pace. Now that I’ve read previous Inspector Chen novels, know the characters and fully appreciate the world she has created, I was able to relax and thoroughly enjoy the ride. But – and it’s a major But – I didn’t start this series with the first book and I nearly didn’t bother finishing it. This world is so very different with its richly textured Eastern origins, that I was frankly floundering until I read the first novel, Snake Agent. So do, please, read these books in order, or you won’t get the best out of Williams’ entertaining, sophisticated writing.
8/10

Review of The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

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I’ve been promising myself this treat for a while – though what with one thing and another, I simply didn’t get around to it. But based on the other offerings in this intriguing godpunk series – see my review of the Age of Aztec here, and my review of The Age of Ra here – I was in for a thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, this isn’t a series where you need to read these books in any particular order. The only common theme is that they are about a pantheon of gods – each story is set in a completely different world with unrelated, disparate protagonists.

ageofodinGideon Coxall was a good soldier but bad at everything else, until a roadside explosive device leaves him with one deaf ear and a British Army half-pension. So when he hears about the Valhalla Project, it’s like a dream come true. They’re recruiting former service personnel for excellent pay, no questions asked, to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gid expects is to find himself fighting alongside ancient Viking gods. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarők – the fabled final conflict of the Sagas – is looming.

Gideon bounces off the page right the start. His sarcastic commentary on the ashes of his life after his terrible accident pulled me in and had me fiercely on his side – which is just as well, because as the story progresses he does some unpleasant things. Of course he does – this is war. And Lovegrove isn’t going to provide us with all the military excitement through some prism that sanitises the bloody brutality of it all. Be warned – Lovegrove also isn’t afraid of killing off main characters.

However, I learnt several books ago, if you relax into the journey and trust this author, he doesn’t disappoint or let you down. And once more, he majorly delivered. This world of the Norse gods has Odin, haunted by past mistakes and grittedly determined not to let the forces ranged against this diminished version of Valhalla get the better of them. I loved that Odin’s pragmatic attitude means they now use mechanical means instead of some of the dire beasts of the past. So the Valkyries swoop across the snowscape on souped-up snowmobiles, and the fabled eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, is replaced by a huge helicopter. It doesn’t mean that all magical creatures are gone, though. The Jotun, the ice giants, are all too evident in this world, as are trolls and packs of ravenous wolves.

Lovegrove weaves a tale of desperate odds and savage encounters – not dissimilar to the flavour of the old Norse legends, themselves. And it is this echo of the original myths that makes Lovegrove’s godpunk such a joy. His style allows readers to easily access his stories on the level of joyous adventure – but there are also tongue-in-cheek allusions and humorous extras for those who know the gods and their stories well enough. As you may have gathered, I’m something of a fan – and this book has only increased my  appreciation of this author. In my opinion, he’s one of the sharpest, best writers in speculative fiction we have. Don’t take my word for it – go and track down one of his books and see for yourself…

10/10