Category Archives: landscape

Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty #Brainfluffbookreview #TheCityofBrassbookreview

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I have already read The Kingdom of Copper, the second book in this classy sand and sorcery series, which is good enough that I wanted to backtrack and get hold of this one, before reading the final book, in order to do real justice to the series. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.


REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed Nahri as the main protagonist when I encountered her in The Kingdom of Copper, but discovering how she became that wary, stifled consort was a gripping journey that had me reading way into the early morning. I am a real sucker for this sub-genre, which tends to have a lethal set of magic around djinns and ghouls, a fast-paced story that often encompasses poetic descriptions of the desert and the fabulous cities that exist by life-giving rivers. Chakraborty hits every one of those necessary tropes and knocks them out of the field, by giving her own spin on the world, including a bloody backstory and long-lived demons with longer memories, who aren’t inclined to forgive and forget.

Who, or what, Nahri is becomes a major focus of the story. Yep – that trope, again… But there is nothing remotely clichéd or tired in Charkaborty’s treatment of this enjoyable, chippy character. I quickly bonded with her and found the ensuing adventure across the desert with Dara entertaining, though I did feel they should have arrived at the city just a bit sooner than they did. The steady growth of their relationship felt realistic and I was pleased the romantic thread wasn’t the driving force in this story.

I did find myself initially skimming some of the palace scenes with Ali, the conflicted younger brother, who is unhappy at having to witness the daily injustices inflicted on the half-human population in Daevabad. Idealistic and inexperienced, we realise that he is being manipulated by those around him, while still in his viewpoint, which is a tricky thing to pull off.

CONCLUSION: As I read on, I become more invested in the politics in Daevabad and once Nahri arrived, the pace picked up again and so did the momentum of the story. I didn’t see that ending though… And am now rereading The Kingdom of Copper, before I pick up The Empire of Gold – highly recommended for those who enjoy their epic fantasy gritty with sand and suffused with djinn magic.
9/10



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #Firewalkersbookreview

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I am a fan of this author – see my reviews of Children of Time, Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Time series, The Tiger and the Wolf – Book 1 of the Echoes of the Fall series, The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series, The Hyena and the Hawk – Book 3 of the Echoes of the Fall series, Redemption’s Blade: After the War, The Expert System’s Brother, Ironclads, Dogs of War, and Spiderlight. So I was delighted to have the chance to read and review this offering.

BLURB: Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable.
The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power? Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below. Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope. The Firewalkers.

I won’t deny that initially I struggled a bit with this one. This setting is brilliantly portrayed and therefore rather on the bleak side. Tchaikovsky’s depiction of a parched, dying world where not even heat-adapted animals and vegetation can any longer survive is very well done. As ever, he manages to weave in Mao’s back story in with the ongoing action so that I quickly bonded with this gutsy, capable youngster, struggling to keep himself and his family fed and watered in this harsh environment. The science is well done, again, without holding up the pace with chunks of indigestible information. And soon enough, I was caught up in the adventure as the three youngsters set off into the heat discover why the power from the solar panels isn’t getting back to Anchor.

I couldn’t see how this was going to end in anything other than a rather downbeat, grim message about what we were doing to the planet – and though I won’t deny that is wrapped up within the story – Tchaikovsky also manages to deliver an ending with plenty of hope, after a tale packed full of incident and well executed story twists. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and it comes highly recommended for fans of clif fi and coming-of-age stories in challenging settings. The ebook arc copy of Firewalkers was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater, narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham #Brainfluffaudiobookreview #TheScorpioRacesbookreview

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I was browsing through the Audible catalogue, when I came across this book on special offer and as I’d heard good things about the author, I decided to give it a go…

BLURB: It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

As you may have gathered by the blurb, this book is structured as a dual narrative. The main protagonists are Sean Kendrick and Park Connelly. When done well, this structure is one of my favourites, but the risk is that one character calls to me more than the other, so I end up skimming one of the main sections of the book. When listening as an audiobook, this isn’t an option, and I’m glad I didn’t have that choice because Sean’s voice was so much sharper and his storyline just that bit more gripping. I think I may have been tempted to do so. And if I had, I would have missed some important nuances about life on Thisby, which could only be accessed through Puck’s viewpoint.

The world building and atmosphere that Steifvater manages to achieve in this story is outstanding. The description of the island, the water horses, the sea and the hardship experienced when living on such a place was brilliantly depicted without any loss of pace or tension. Likewise, the characterisation was also exceptional. Sean in particular leapt off the page and although it took me a little while longer to properly bond with her, in the end I was able to get through Puck’s irritability and sharp edges to properly care about her too. However, there is a price to pay when an author produces such a fabulous world peopled by such outstanding characters – and that is the plotting and storyline have to be able to match it and I don’t think this particular story quite lived up to the awesomeness of the place. That said, I am aware that Steifvater is a victim of her own success. If she had not produced such a strong response in me to her marvellous setting and those magical horses which I could smell and touch, then this wouldn’t be a grizzle.

There was a slight anomaly for me and it will be difficult to address in this review without lurching into spoiler land, but I’ll do my best. Sean works for a highly manipulative and successful man and his son happens to be the main antagonist in this story. There is a particularly nasty incident that occurs in his yard with his full knowledge that was both shocking and barbaric. All the staff must have known about it – and yet, the perpetrator apparently gets off completely unscathed. Given that love of horses permeates the whole island and the culture, I cannot believe this incident would have been allowed to go by, unregarded in the way that it appears to have been. This jarred sufficiently to yank me out of the story and make me question the power dynamic within the book. I also wasn’t totally convinced by the ending, which I felt was just a little bit to tidy for such a gritty read.

However, you will see by my final mark that this one got right under my skin. I wandered around in something of daze, a bit emotional and strung out after I’d finished the book. I’ll definitely be hunting down more books by this author, because while maybe this story didn’t tick all my boxes, that amazing setting, those fabulous water horses and tough, sturdy Sean Kendrick stole my heart when I wasn’t looking. Highly recommended for fans of powerfully written fantasy worlds.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc War of the Maps by Paul McAuley #Brainfluffbookreview #WaroftheMapsbookreview

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I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, as Paul McAuley is always worth reading – I thoroughly enjoyed his cli-fi thriller Austral and the first book in his sci fi series The Quiet War.

BLURB: On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The worldbuilding, as ever with McAuley, was both detailed and plausible. But what I liked most of all about this story was that we mostly stayed in the viewpoint of the lawman, known as a lucidor, who is determined to track down a truly horrible antagonist – a murderer who casually commits atrocities, and enjoying watching his victims suffer. Unfortunately, he is also one of the foremost scientific thinkers on the planet who is able to help fight the influx of mutated creatures engulfing villages, countryside and towns, slaughtering humanity, domestic animals and wildlife alike. There are some gripping passages of the ruined landscape where no birds or insects break the silence…

So, who is right – the dogged lucidor who is convinced that Remfrey He should account for the lives he has torn apart? Or the authorities who feel that, in this extremely unusual case, Remfrey He should be allowed to atone for his misdeeds by travelling to the site of the suffering land to assist in beating back the alter women? These grotesque mutations have a social structure resembling ants and gather everything in their path to tear up and reuse it for their own purposes – including people.

Remfrey He is one of the most satisfyingly nasty characters I’ve encountered in a while, and by contrast, I grew to love the lucidor, whose name we hardly ever see. He has adopted his birth name, Thorn, after he retired from his profession of tracking down lawbreakers, when he was known as Lucidor Kyl. He is elderly, tough, resourceful and trusts no one and we’re in his head for a large chunk of the narrative. This story starts off as one man tracking another through an increasingly dangerous landscape, and broadens out as the lucidor is sucked into some of the upheavals caused by the dangerous mutations.

One of the intriguing details is that some people are gifted with particular talents, such as scrying. As well as being brilliant and resourceful, Remfrey He is a silvertongue, with the gift of persuading most people to become his disciples. And the reason why the lucidor was sent after him, is that his gift nullifies the talents of those in close proximity. I liked how that played out, because the consequence is that other people who might be able to successfully apprehend Remfrey He don’t want to work with the lucidor, as he sucks their gift dry.

This isn’t a fast-paced book. McAuley’s habit of writing dense description about every step of the way ensures that we see the world through the lucidor’s eyes and his days of plunging headlong into adventures are well and truly over. But I not only could see the world, I could taste and hear it, as this book swallowed me up and had me engrossed until right up to the end. It’s a gem that deserves to be far better known than it is. Highly recommended by fans of well-written intelligent colony world adventures and epic fantasy. The ebook arc copy of War of the Maps was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The grass is always greener over the septic tank…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring grass, so I’ve gone with The Long Earth – Book 1 of The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins in June 2012, is the version I read. As a result, I have a real soft spot for it. I love the worlds lined up in the sky, which give a strong sense of the content and the world depicted looks very unspoilt and free from mankind – until now, that is. My one grizzle is that the author names, along with the title do tend to sprawl across the image rather intrusively.

 

This French edition was produced by L’Atalante in June 2013. Again, sweeping grassland features, although this is a world where humanity has already got a foothold with tracks, fencing and an airship. Again, those other worlds are lined up in the sky. I like the fact that the title and author is clumped neatly in one corner, which gives a far better sense of the immensity of the landscape.

 

Published in April 2016 by Nemira, this Romanian cover is my favourite. I love the solitude of the figure on the outcrop, staring up at the other worlds lined up in the sky. As well as the lovely landscape, there is also that stunning spacescape – this one has it all, in my opinion.

 

Produced in 2013 by Prószyński i S-ka, this is another effective cover. While I prefer the figure just standing, a little stunned, in the previous cover, the running man in this one is also striking and once again, the sky full of different versions of Earth is beautiful. It is very close contender for the favourite.

 

This Turkish offering, published in February 2014 by İthaki Yayınları, is another lovely cover with those wide vistas and multi worlds, but what spoils this one is the writing sprawling across the whole image, which is the same peeve I have with that first cover. However, all in all, I think Terry and Stephen were very lucky to have such a lovely lot of different covers. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Dichronauts by Greg Egan

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I always enjoy Greg Egan’s writing. Coupled with his scientific background and fertile imagination, he manages to come up with places and aliens unlike any others – read my review of his amazing The Clockwork Rocket, the first book in the Orthogonal series.

Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive.

In the universe containing Seth’s world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light. Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead. But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat…

In order to be better able to visualise this world, my firm advice is to visit Greg Egan’s site at the link:
http://www.gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/DICHRONAUTS.html
where you can discover how he came up with this intriguing creation and the inhabitants. Alongside all the maths, the world is also more fully explained before you plunge into this one. Inevitably, I discovered the site after I had completed the book and although I had picked up the gist of what was going on, it would have been helpful to have understood more of the complexities of the world and this remarkable indigenous species as I was reading it. However, if this story was simply about an enjoyably weird world and creature with little story or dry-as-dust descriptions bulking up the book – while I would doubtless have something enthusiastic and polite to say about Egan’s extraordinary imagination, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about this one as I am.

For not only does Egan offer a unique world and alien race – he also provides a cracking adventure story full of tension and excitement right from the start through to the climactic ending. I quickly bonded with Seth and his parasitic companion Theo and enjoyed the tensions and teamwork evident in their linked partnership. What happens if the Walker host has a major quarrel with his Sider? This premise is also explored within the story. I stayed up far later than I should to find out what happens to this embattled species as Seth and Theo struggle to discover a river big enough to support the large city where he was born and bred.

I love this one. Brilliant and inventive, this book reminds me all over again just why I love science fiction so much…
10/10

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

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?

Review of The City’s Son – Book 1 of The Skyscraper Throne by Tom Pollock

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I had the pleasure of hearing Tom Pollock talk about worldbuilding in one of the best talks I’ve attended at any con – and I am something of a nerd when it comes to attending all those panels… It was a workshop with him and the marvellous Kate Elliott, another favourite author of mine, and the two of them were awesome. They both spoke fluently and passionately on a subject they both knew well. Just as importantly, they clearly liked and respected each other. I came away buzzing with excitement and ideas – and a promise to myself to get hold of his books. Well, it’s way later than it should have been, but I’ve finally got around to reading The City’s Son – was it worth the wait?

thecity'ssonHidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets. When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles in the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most. An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love.

Oh yes. This book is beautifully written, full of remarkable creatures, sights and smells. Though to be honest, I’m truly glad many of those smells and sights are consigned to the page and I did put it down while eating my breakfast, when Filius was talking to the litter monster who’d raised him. Pollock’s sensual writing had me imagining all too clearly the sour milk, eggshell eyes and rats scampering over the decomposing takeaway meals…

It’s all very well being able to write beautifully, though – is there also a strong story and wonderful characters? Oh yes. The narrative buckets along at a cracking pace and while the story deal with some hefty issues – loss and grief, betrayal, sacrifice and destruction – this isn’t a downbeat, grim read. Pollock’s cast of characters have to endure knee-buckling problems and he doesn’t slice them any free air just because they happen to be his protagonists. But behind the sharp awareness that it doesn’t end happily ever after, there is also a gritted joy in living and plenty of sly humour that had me quietly chuckling. It is shelved in the YA section, but to be honest, though the protagonists are teens, this book didn’t have a YA feel for me any more than Gaiman’s offerings do. The ending was certainly unexpected and has me wanting to get the next in the series to find out what happens next.

The blurb on the back of the book compares Pollock to Neil Gaiman and China Miéville – and for once, it is absolutely right. As well as being a delightful speaker, the man can write. In a year that so far has treated me to a slew of stormingly good books, this is yet another gem.
10/10

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.