A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.
However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight… 9/10
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard
BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….
Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wings – see my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.
I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series. 7/10
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 a very quiet week. Himself has been going off to work as usual, though he says the trains are nearly empty. And I’ve gone nowhere, other than shopping in town last Tuesday, while Himself whisked around the supermarket. It was cold earlier in the week and the pictures are of frost-covered plants from the garden taken one brisk morning.
I was a bit surprised when WordPress told me this week that I’d just reached my twelve-year blogging anniversary – where does the time go? Other than that, I’ve been working at home, catching up on the blog, working with my father-in-law on his memoirs and writing the opening act of Trouble With Dwarves. And reeling at the numbers of people falling sick…
Last week I read:
Haunted House Ghost – Book 5 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney
It’s Halloween, and excitement is brewing in Braxton to carve jack-o’-lanterns, go on haunted hayrides, and race through the spooky corn maze at the Fall Festival. Despite the former occupant’s warnings, Kellan renovates and moves into a mysterious old house. When a ruthless ghost promises retribution, our fearless professor turns to the eccentric town historian and an eerie psychic to communicate with the apparition. Meanwhile, construction workers discover a fifty-year-old skeleton after breaking ground on the new Memorial Library wing. While Kellan and April dance around the chemistry sparking between them, a suspicious accident occurs at the Fall Festival. Soon, Kellan discovers the true history and dastardly connections of the Grey family. But can he capture the elusive killer – and placate the revenge-seeking ghost. This was great fun, with lots of Halloween goodness – and goodies – in amongst the twisting plot that dear Kellan finds himself confronted with. We also have a ringside seat to his rather tangled personal life, which I keep hoping will get a bit happier and more settled… Review to follow.
Cruel as the Grave – Book 22 of the Bill Slider mysteries by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found dead in his west London flat, his head smashed by one of his own dumbbells. His heartlessly-dumped girlfriend, blood on her clothes and hands, is the prime suspect. She had means, opportunity, and motive.
But is the case as clear-cut as it seems? Handsome Erik Lingoss had clients in high places; and he seemed to engender powerful emotions. If it was a crime of passion, there was plenty of that to go round: love strong as death, jealousy cruel as the grave. Who did he let in to his flat that evening? Where is his missing mobile phone? Why is seven hundred pounds in cash stuffed under his pillow? The deeper Slider and his team dig, the clearer it becomes there’s far more to this case than meets the eye. I loved this gloriously plotted police procedural – Harrod-Eagles absolutely nails it in this classy whodunit, which was difficult to put down. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, as I particularly appreciated the lighter touches that meant it wasn’t too gloomy, yet still being mindful that someone had died. Nicely done! Review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
SPFBO Finalist Super Sale https://mlwangbooks.com/spfbo-finalist-super-sale/ For Fantasy fans of all types – this is a fantastic opportunity to pick up some marvellous reads for only $0.99 each. It lasts until 20th January, so nip across and take a look…
I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…
BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.
The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…
I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
A very Happy New Year to everyone! I’m conscious I’ve been AWOL over the Christmas break. We had planned to have a quiet Christmas with just Himself, my sister and me. But because of the introduction of the Tier system, my daughter and grandchildren were unable to spend the Christmas break with their other grandparents. And that meant we were buzzing around like blue-bottomed flies trying to organise a Christmas Day suitable for seven, with the youngest being two, instead of the low-key, relaxed affair we’d been expecting. We managed it and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, which is the important bit.
And we’ve also had the grandchildren to stay since then, this time around, it’s included little Eliza, who has never stayed overnight with us before. It is always full-on when there is a lively toddler in the house – but she is an absolute poppet, very even tempered and coped well without her mother.
Last week I read:
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones.
Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds… This multiverse adventure is great fun and while the narrative is fairly straightforward – what sets this apart is the sheer variety and originality of alll those worlds poor old Zax ends up visiting. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company. But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future… I’d seen a number of critical reviews for this one – but it turned out to be a delightful surprise, despite a couple of rather steamy sex scenes. However, I loved the character, the worldbuilding and the plotting. Review to follow.
Spirited by Julie Cohen Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her – and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye. . .
Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them – but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.
Faith. Courage. Love. What will they risk for freedom? This love story teeters on the edge of sentimentality – but there is an underlying core of grittiness that prevents it from descending into mush, thank goodness. That said, it is well written, the characters ping off the page and the ending worked well. Review to follow.
I Shall Wear Midnight – Book 4 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett It starts with whispers.
Then someone picks up a stone.
Finally, the fires begin.
When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .
Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.
But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her. This is an utter joy. I laughed and wept with this one, as I listened while rushing around getting the house toddler-proofed and cranking Christmas up several gears to give the grandchildren a worthwhile day to remember. Review to follow.
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, happy holiday – and whatever is going on in your life, let’s hope 2021 is MUCH better than 2020! Take care. x
Now I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’m a bit awed at the consistently high standard of the books I enjoyed throughout an otherwise catastrophic year. Thank goodness for reading! So who were my standout heroines of the year? In no particular order, here they are…
Emily Marshwic from Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky BLURB: The first casualty of war is truth . . . First, Denland’s revolutionaries assassinated their king, launching a wave of bloodshed after generations of peace. Next they clashed with Lascanne, their royalist neighbour, pitching war-machines against warlocks in a fiercely fought conflict. Genteel Emily Marshwic watched as the hostilities stole her family’s young men. But then came the call for yet more Lascanne soldiers in a ravaged kingdom with none left to give. Emily must join the ranks of conscripted women and march toward the front lines… I loved Emily’s gritted courage and gutsy attitude throughout. I really appreciated that she doesn’t come across as one of those Teflon-coated heroines who are simply too tough to really care about. This wonderful read had me rooting for her throughout – and I particularly loved the scene near the end of the adventure… Read my review.
Cassandra Tripp from You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce BLURB: Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now? This is one of my outstanding reads of the year – and though I read it relatively early in the year, it has haunted me ever since. Cassie both inspired me and broke my heart. This is a wrenching story on many levels, as it explores the very worst that family life has to offer – and yet it is also beautiful, full of magical, wonderful moments. Read my review.
Stella from Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still by Marilyn Messick BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.” It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences. This fabulous series has been one of my reading highlights of the year. In one review I announce that Stella is now my new best friend – and I mean it. I inhaled the trilogy, addicted to the terrifying adventures that she blunders into, both holding my breath and howling with laughter at the sharp, clever humour. The book hangover I suffered when I came to end of this reading delight was profound – and I still dream of her… Read my reviewof Relatively Strange.
Elma York from The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – Books 1 & 2 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal BLURB: On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This series has been another shining jewel that has shone out from the 184 books I read in 2020 – and I particularly loved Elma’s journey. She, amongst a group of highly talented female mathematicians, were part of the NASA team back in the day before they had computers to crunch the numbers. And Kowal has taken this historical fact and woven an alternate story featuring these women in a clever, moving way, as they battle against racism and sexism.Read my review of The Calculating Stars.
Charlotte Makepeace from Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer BLURB: It’s natural to feel a little out of place when you’re the new girl, but when Charlotte Makepeace wakes up after her first night at boarding school, she’s baffled: everyone thinks she’s a girl called Clare Mobley, and even more shockingly, it seems she has traveled forty years back in time to 1918. In the months to follow, Charlotte wakes alternately in her own time and in Clare’s. And instead of having only one new set of rules to learn, she also has to contend with the unprecedented strangeness of being an entirely new person in an era she knows nothing about. Her teachers think she’s slow, the other girls find her odd, and, as she spends more and more time in 1918, Charlotte starts to wonder if she remembers how to be Charlotte at all. If she doesn’t figure out some way to get back to the world she knows before the end of the term, she might never have another chance. This is one of those unique, amazing reads that crawls under your skin and lodges within your head and heart. It is supposed to be a children’s book – but is written with sophistication and a depth of characterisation that many adult books don’t get close to. I still find myself pondering that bittersweet ending… Read my review.
Mahit Dzmare from A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine BLURB: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court. Now, Mahit must discover the truth about her predecessor’s death, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.
I picked up this book when I heard comparisons to the mighty C.J. Cherryh and I wasn’t disappointed. From the opening lines, I was hooked into the story by the immersive, taut writing and Mahit’s dilemma. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel this year. Read my review.
BLURB: The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened. Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
REVIEW: The previous two books are in Elma’s viewpoint and are all about her struggle to get accepted as a woman astronaut in an alternate world where unfortunately sexism and racism are still prevalent. However, this slice of the adventure changes both the dynamic and viewpoint, so if you wanted to know what all the fuss is about, yet are reluctant to read the previous two books – you could pick this one up without struggling too much. That said, you would be missing out on two wonderful books, so my recommendation is that you then hunt them down, too. But I suspect once you’ve got to the end of this one – you’ll want to do that anyway…
I loved Elma and was a bit taken aback when I saw this one was in Nicole’s viewpoint – particularly as Elma isn’t always a huge fan of Nicole and believes – rightly – that her husband’s position guaranteed her slot on the space programme. However, I fell in love with her. Nicole is such a gutsy woman, who has overcome so much in her life – and continues to do so. There were times during this story when I was struggling not to cry – and yet at no stage is she portrayed as a helpless victim. Kowal writes powerful women so very well – along with their vulnerabilities, and I thought once again she absolutely nailed it.
But what had me reading throughout the night, unable to put this one down, is the fact that it turns into one of the most nail-biting thrillers set in space that I’ve ever read. The Moon colony is a fragile community and Nicole is put into the position of trying to ensure its survival. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, non-stop adventure, but a tense, high-stakes scenario, where those implacably opposed to any kind of solution that diverts money and effort from Earth, do their level best to scupper the whole project.
It’s very well done, with plenty of details that portray the struggles of living in space without overloading the story with too much techy stuff – yet make the environment wholly believable. Kowal’s ability to pull this off is far harder than she makes it look, and this one is right up there as one of my best reads of the year, so far. I’m just really sorry I’ve now reached the end of this exceptional series. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoyedThe Martian. 10/10
After following this entertaining series and Alisa Marchenko’s search for her daughter for over a year now, here I am at the last book. See my reviews of Star Normad, Honor’s Flight, Cleon Moon and Perilous Hunt. As with all enjoyable series, I reach this point with very mixed feelings, which is why I often put off reading the final book – I don’t want the adventure to end. But as I know there’s now a spinoff series available and I have far more new series stacking up than I can possibly read, it’s time to get practical…
BLURB: Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time. Unfortunately, Tymoteusz hasn’t left a trail of breadcrumbs. Finding him will be difficult, and even if they’re successful, facing him could be suicidal. To have a chance of surviving, Alisa will have to come up with her greatest scheme yet.
REVIEW: Whatever you do – don’t crash into this series here. By now far too much has happened, and as this book picks up pretty much where Perilous Hunt left off, you’ll be floundering in a welter of names and places, before you figure out who is doing what to whom. Besides, it would be a crying shame to so short-change such a funny, entertaining series by such a talented author.
I really liked how finding Jelena has switched Alisa’s priorities. Her burgeoning romance with hunky cyborg Leonidas pretty much slides to a halt, as they are both aware that Jelena’s telepathic abilities could read their frustrated longing for each other, and as Jelena is only eight and already afraid of Leonidas, that would prove to be… awkward. Not that is the only thing Alisa has to focus on. Once again, Star Nomad, her clunky little freighter, finds itself up to its star drives in more trouble than it can cope with – so ditto the crew. I love the way that in the middle of all the risk of imminent death and destruction, there are still laugh-aloud moments of humour. Mica, Alisa’s long-suffering engineer is particularly hilarious.
But given that this is the final book in the series, the burning issue has to be – does it satisfactorily bring all that angst, romantic longing, humour and page-turning adventure to a fitting conclusion? Absolutely. Buroker nails it. As I haven’t read her books before, I am so impressed at how she managed to tie everything up without making it seem too tidy, or unrealistically cosy – yet at the same time not leaving any stray strands waving in the wind to niggle at me. It takes skill and experience to achieve such an outcome – and means I’ll certainly be looking out for this author, again. It’s one thing to bring a single book to a satisfying ending – it takes another order of ability to do the same with an eight-book series. Highly recommended for fans of action-packed space opera with a splash of humour and romance thrown in for good measure. 9/10
I enjoy Elly Griffiths’ books, though I haven’t remotely kept up with her prolific output –see my reviews of The Crossing Places, The Janus Stoneand A Room Full of Bones , which all feature Ruth Galloway. I have also become a huge fan of her latest series, the Harbinger Kaur series, see my reviews of The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders. So I was intrigued to check out her other series, set in the 1950s featuring two very different men linked by their experiences in the war, Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto.
BLURB: Brighton, 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…
REVIEW: For me, part of the enjoyment is that I live reasonably close to Brighton and know of many of the landmarks that Griffiths describes in her book – that said, it would be a rather lame reason to tuck into any book, unless the plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding weren’t also spot on. Fortunately, Griffiths is a solidly good writer, so they are. I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding – the rather subdued atmosphere where everyone is still recovering from WWII is brilliantly done, along with a host of nicely added details, making this setting thoroughly believable.
The plotting is also excellent – as it should be, given that Griffiths is an experienced author of a best-selling murder mystery series. I quickly became caught up in the unfolding drama and flew through this book as the pages more or less turned themselves – always a sign that I am caught up in the world and its problems. But for me, Griffiths’ superpower is her characterisation. This book is mostly from the viewpoint of both Mephisto and Stephens, two very different people with a totally different world view. While I initially preferred Edgar, as the book wore on, I became increasingly intrigued by Max and what actually drives him.
The way both characters developed and expanded into complex, three-dimensional characters with occasional flashes of humour in amongst the serious business of tracking down a serial killer, worked very well. I have found myself thinking of this one since I finished reading and I’m delighted to discover that Himself has also bought the second book in the series – the man is a treasure! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys engrossing, well plotted whodunits set in an enjoyably detailed historical seaside town. 9/10
BLURB: At its heart, Lifelode is the story of a comfortable manor house family. The four adults of the household are happily polygamous, each fulfilling their ‘lifelode’ or life’s purpose: Ferrand is the lord of the manor, his sweetmate Taveth runs the household, his wife Chayra makes ceramics, and Taveth’s husband Ranal works the farm. Their children are a joyful bunch, running around in the sunshine days of the harvest and wondering what their own lifelodes will be. Their lives change with the arrival of two visitors to Applekirk: Jankin the scholar and Hanethe, Ferrand’s great grandmother and the former lord of the manor, who has been living for many generations in the East, a place where the gods walk and yeya (magic) is so powerful that those who wield it are not quite human.
REVIEW: I was wondering what one of my favourite authors was up to – so got a bit of a shock when I saw this offering had appeared when I wasn’t looking… Researching this one a bit more, it appears that this book won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2010) when it was published by a small press. And earlier this year, Walton self-published it so her fans could have the ebook available – yay! It’s an interesting premise. This is a flat-world where the further East you travel, the more magic there is, while the further West you go, the less there is. Applekirk appears to be situated about midway between the two extremes, so some of the family members who live in the manor are reasonably well endowed with yeya. Others, not so much. And reading this one, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t want to be one of those who were overly talented.
The manor is generally reasonably peaceful, where an agrarian lifestyle revolves around the harvests. Initially the main protagonist is Taveth, who is married to Ranal, but mistress to Ferrand, the current lord of the manor. Taveth sees people at various stages of their lives whenever she looks at them and is in charge of running the house, while the official Mistress of the Manor is a potter. Their contentment is abruptly shattered when two visitors appear – one is a travelling scholar, Jankin, a beautiful young man with an eye for the ladies and the other one is a long-lost relative – Ferrand’s great-grandmother who reappears from the East very suddenly and rather mysteriously…
Walton’s storytelling, as ever, packs a punch. Events take a much darker turn, as it turns out that spiky, sneering Hanethe hasn’t returned to Applekirk simply to make everyone’s life a misery – she’s on the run from a very, very powerful enemy. This one gripped me and held me far too late into the night, as Walton’s writing always does. And as usual with Walton’s writing, now it’s finished, I can’t get it out of my head. The nature of belief… how people can do a lot of damage by simply being careless… and being thoroughly obnoxious to those around you doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person… And that nothing hurts quite so much as lost love…
Once more – a tour de force. Walton is a towering talent, whose books make me glad I can read and provide me with lots of mental fodder, before I get the pleasure of reading her next offering. I don’t know what it will be – but I can guarantee that it will be nothing like this particular book. Needless to say – very highly recommended. 10/10
I cannot recall quite why this one turned up on my TBR pile, but the cover is rather gorgeous and I liked the sound of a PoC protagonist with a same-sex romance…
BLURB: In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
REVIEW: Do be aware – this book has an abduction, with the theme of non-consensual sex running through it and there is a rape scene, though it isn’t detailed.
The gripping opening scene, where Lei is snatched from her village immediately drew me in. It had lots of drama and I think that at point, the character jumps off the page and works well as a protagonist. However, although it is a gradual process, from the moment Lei arrives at the Palace, I began to have doubts about her characterisation. She seems to spend too much time making a point of being different. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the head of the first person pov, who is genuinely terrified of the consequences, despite those dire consequences being set out very clearly. She certainly creates a whole nest of problems for herself by behaving more like a bored schoolgirl, than a slave. And the trance scene, which is supposed to foreshadow Lei’s special role in coming events, felt as if it had been added to persuade the reader that she is, indeed, important.
It was a shame, because Ngan writes with passion and commitment. I thought the growing romance between the two girls was tender, but again – far too reckless and obvious, given the circumstances. And about two-thirds of the way into the story, I had the growing conviction that the wrong girl was the main protagonist – that should have been Wren, whose backstory was far more intriguing. And Ngan’s efforts to depict it via Lei grew increasingly clumsy.
That said, there is still a lot I enjoyed. At no point was I tempted to put the book down as the descriptions of the Court life and the beautiful costumes were well depicted and I liked the political undercurrents and sense of control slipping away. I also liked the fact that all the girls trapped as concubines had varying reactions to what was going on around them. But my overall enjoyment was hampered by my misgivings around the main character. 6/10