Category Archives: mages

Friday Faceoff – Zip it, lock it and throw away the key

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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. This week the theme is keys, so I’ve chosen Keeper of the Keys – Book 2 of The Cycle of Fire series by Janny Wurts.

 

This cover, produced by Grafton in 1990 is really eye-catching with the limited colour palette of blues. The glowing key illuminating the face from below gives an otherworld, ethereal cast to the character and while I don’t much like chatter on the front cover – at least the endorsement isn’t too intrusive. This is my favourite.

 

This edition was produced by Ace in August 1988 and is far more dramatic. The protagonist is clearly in a desperate situation. I really like the unfolding drama with the sinister figure looming over the hapless lad. My problem with this cover is that the beautifully painted eagle somehow gets lost amongst the large golden lettering. Why on earth didn’t they choose another colour for the title font?

 

Published in October 1995 by HarperPrism, this is another beautiful detailed, action-packed cover. This time, the protagonist (he does get about, doesn’t he?) is hanging off the hull of a boat, moodily clutching the key around his neck as he gazes out across the seascape. I also thoroughly enjoy this one – but the eerily lit face just edges it. Which one is your favourite?

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Mongrel Mage Book 19 in The Saga of Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt Jr

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The Saga of Recluce is a classic fantasy series often quoted for the masterly attention to detail to the worldbuilding and fine magical system – but the thought of ploughing through eighteen books is enough to make your knees buckle. You simply don’t have the time – or the stamina. What to do? Well, The Mongrel Mage not only will delight fans of this cracking series but also makes an excellent entry point into this world.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic – the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

Regular visitors to this site will know that I am a fan of Modesitt. At his best, his writing is amazing – see my review of Ghosts of Columbia. But I haven’t read all the Recluce novels and when I was reading them, back in the Dawn of Time, it was way before I was writing reviews. So I was interested to see this one on Netgalley and give it whirl. I’m so glad I did.

Modesitt is a master at crafting a solid world. While there is mayhem and chaos unleashed in abundance, we generally also spend a fair amount of time alongside his protagonist as he goes about his daily life. We learn what he wears, who he chats to and his impressions about them and above all – we learn what he eats. Modesitt always tells you in some detail about what his character is eating. It’s a neat trick. Because you immediately learn how wealthy the food provider is, how effective they are at food preparation and at what level technically and culturally they are operating at.

Though none of this would matter if I didn’t care about Beltur. However, I do. His careful, wary attitude speaks of early loss and pain – and the fact he doesn’t take anything for granted. It doesn’t help that he is something of a failure and despite his uncle’s painstaking training, his mastery of white magic is rather poor, leading his uncle’s official apprentice, Sydon, to look down on him and bully him when his uncle isn’t there.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sortie into the countryside, when we learn a lot about the politics as the Prefect sends out Kaerylt with his two young charges to look into the matter of women fleeing from local towns and villages and making their way to Westwind. If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor constant action, then this isn’t the story for you. But it does mean that when the action suddenly roars in – it matters and is a shock. This pacing is particularly effective if said action comes out of apparently nowhere when treachery is involved – and my jaw dropped at a specific incident and I couldn’t then put the book down to save my life.

All in all, this is Modesitt doing what he does best – painstakingly constructing a world through the eyes of a sympathetic, slightly distanced protagonist and letting him loose in a politically complex world where a huge power struggle is going on. I loved it – it’s a worthy addition to the Saga of Recluce series and a very nifty introductory book for those who haven’t yet had the pleasure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy.
9/10

Sunday Post – 22nd October 2017

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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.

Life has been slowly getting back to normal after being laid low by flu. I resumed teaching my Creative Writing classes this week – it was lovely to see my students again. Though I didn’t make my Pilates and Fitstep classes on Wednesday because I was too wiped out – I’m still running out of energy far too quickly. On Friday, I was also teaching Tim and it was great to catch up on how the filming has been going of his comedy Robin Hood script. In the afternoon, we picked up the grandchildren, who will be staying until Tuesday evening as it is half term. Yesterday morning (Saturday) we took them shopping to spend their pocket money and in the afternoon, while J and Oscar stayed at home to play Bloodbowl together, I took Frances and Tim to the climbing walls at the Out of Bounds centre in Rustington. Both of them thoroughly enjoyed themselves while Storm Brian raged outside with gale-force winds and torrential downpours. There was a magnificent double rainbow stretching across the River Arun as we drove back into Littlehampton.

This afternoon we’re going to have a family readathon – I wasn’t able to take part in the Dewey 24-hour occasion on Saturday, so thought it would be lovely to run a mini-version for all of us to have a go… Wish us luck!

This week I have read:

The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 of The Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr
In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.
I was thrilled to discover this on the Netgalley boards and immediately requested it – I love his writing and this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

And that’s it… only one book. I’m currently a third of the way through a 700+ page beastie that is a dense demanding read – and I don’t want to rush it as it’s also a joy. Thank goodness it’s on the Kindle because if I was trying to hold up the physical version, I’d probably sprain something…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 15th October 2017

Review of Empire of the Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Teaser Tuesday featuring Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 of The Sage of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Reblog of Running Out of Space blog tour including Top Ten Character Names from Running Out of Space and how the author came up with them

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Austrel by Paul McAuley

Reblog of Running Out of Space blog tour including my article ‘It’s All About the Words…’

Friday Face-off – Me and My Shadow featuring A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Review of Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell

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

Yellow https://richardankers.com/2017/10/21/yellow/ On Monday – apparently due to Ophelia causing a major disturbance – the UK was bathed in a sickly yellow light that caused the street lights to come on during the afternoon. This is Richard’s take on it…

Little Robin of Marlfield Lake https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/10/20/little-robin-of-marlfield-lake/ These lovely photos feature a cheeky little chap clearly not at his best – which makes him even more endearing…

…the most wonderful moment of my writing career… and it’s not what you may think… https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/10/20/the-most-wonderful-moment-of-my-writing-career-and-its-not-what-you-may-think/ Seumas always writes great blog articles and this is another classic.

Reading Goal Pressure http://chucklesbookcave.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/chuckles-chat-39-reading-goal-pressure.html?spref=tw This is well-written post is about an ongoing problem for many book bloggers.

Conflict of Interest https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/10/19/conflict-of-interest/ Family life is so rarely the honeyed version we see portrayed all too often in adverts – and Jean’s honest and thought-provoking article depicts a situation every working mother has had to confront at one time or another…

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

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 18th October, 2017

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t Wait offering – The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 The Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

#epic fantasy #magic

The Saga of Recluce chronicles the history of this world with world-building detail and an ingenious and disciplined magic system. L. E. Modesitt, Jr. returns to his longest and bestselling fantasy series with volume nineteen, which marks the beginning of a new story arc.

In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

I’m really looking forward to this one as I’m a real fan of Modesitt’s writing. It is due to be released by Tor Books on the 31st October and I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

 

ANNDDD…

 

As part of the blog tour for Running Out of Space, I have posted my Top Ten List of favourite science fiction books set in space at Mel’s Shelves.

Sunday Post – 27th August 2017

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

The news with my sister continues to be good. By some miracle she has managed to avoid any eye injury as last week the eye clinic gave her the thumbs up. Now we just have to get the allclear with the heart clinic… The bruising continues to fade and she continues to recover. Thank you everyone who wished her well and/or prayed for her – you clearly made a difference!

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I was busy grannying as the children returned from their trip to Disneyland Paris, full of enthusiasm and excitement about their wonderful holiday. As ever, they were a joy – I just wish the weather had been less uncertain. Typically, from the moment they returned home, it brightened up! Thursday I spent lazing around after having painfully pulled a muscle in my shoulder – I was also quite tired so gave myself permission to read and sleep throughout the morning, though I did get up later to do some writing and answer emails.

On Friday, my sister and I went shopping for wool – I have to knit a Dr Who scarf for Tim’s film and rehearsals will be resuming at the start of September, which is closing at the speed of an oncoming train. I went online and found a really good knitting pattern produced by the BBC for Tom Baker’s first Dr Who scarf. However, as well as wool, we got a bit sidetracked and I found myself returning home from an ad hoc shopping spree with a couple of storage jars, two sets of lovely towels and a very nice jacket. We only went out for some balls of wool and a row counter! We’ve agreed that we need to ration our shopping habit as we are clearly a bad influence on each other. Though it was huge fun.

This week I have read:
The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world? The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…
This wonderful series just keeps on delivering. I thought I was on one kind of adventure – and turned around twice to find it was something completely different. I love it when that happens! Utterly engrossing, this third book in the series is a joy.

 

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones
When Andrew Hope’s magician grandfather dies, he leaves his house and field-of-care to his grandson who spent much of his childhood at the house. Into this mix comes young Aidan Cain, who turns up from the orphanage asking for safety. Who he is and why he’s there is unclear, but a strong connection between the two becomes apparent.
I spotted this one in the library – and it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it off the shelves. Once more this wonderful writer has woven a fantasy tale that drew me in with her magical mix of mayhem, humour, darkness and magic… I didn’t want to put this YA offering down until I reached the last page.

 

Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb … Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world’s largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan’s latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy. When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy’s curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them … and why?
This is the class country house murder – right down to the Egyptian curse surrounding some unique ancient artefacts. However, this isn’t set back in the 1920s when these affairs were all the rage – Green has set this one here and now with a paranormal twist and lots of gritty action. Great fun!

 

Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper
Barely recovered from her brush with necromancy, Ivy is flung once more into a world of intrigue, adventure and potential death and disaster. It’s not her fault – it just so turns out that she’s now the only person in the entire world who can communicate with the dead. And they’re a chatty bunch with a list of demands. When the ghosts offer information about a witch-hating mass murderer in return for Ivy’s help, she has no choice but to get involved. She might be getting herself into more trouble than she realises though – and that’s even before she’s dragged to Sunday dinner so she can meet Winter’s family…
Another wonderful offering that helped to continue this year’s marvellous string of thoroughly enjoyable reads – there has never been a better time to be a book-lover! This is the latest and supposedly last in this hilarious urban fantasy series – but I’m hoping that Helen Harper will listen to the pleas from her fans to consider at least one more helping of Ivy, Rafe and Brutus, the talking cat. Pretty please with sprinkles on the top!

 

The Heir to the North – Book 1 of Malessar’s Curse series by Steven Poore
“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North. Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle.
The North will rise again.
I got hold of this book by fellow Grimbold author, Steven Poore, with the firm intention of reading it – and somehow it got trapped in a holding pattern on my TBR pile. Until I decided I wanted some epic fantasy in my life… I’m so glad I did! I really loved this one.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 20th August

Review of Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice – Book 4 of The Austen Project by Curtis Sittenfeld

Teaser Tuesday featuring Death Shall Come – Book 4 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

Review of One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Real-Town Murders – Book 1 of The Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts

Friday Face-off – If I be waspish, best beware my sting… featuring Lord of the Flies by William Golding

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Spirit Witch – Book 3 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic by Helen Harper

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

Lola’s Ramblings: Birthday Party Book Tag http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-ramblings-birthday-party-book-tag/ This was great fun and particularly appropriate as it happened to turn up on Lola’s blog near her birthday… Happy Birthday, Lola😊

Brief Memories of Brian Aldiss http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=2741 Fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna has written a lovely tribute to Brian Aldiss, who I had the honour to meet at my very first Fantasycon back in 2011. I grew up reading his amazing worlds and to have the chance to talk to him was magical. While it was only a passing conversation, I can echo Juliet’s comments on just what a generous man he was. He will be missed…

Good venues for microfiction http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/08/24/good-venues-microfiction/ Once again, Steph has provided a really useful article for those of us who write short shorts…

Finding and Losing Time https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/finding-and-loosing-time/ I loved this one. It sums up the dilemma of parenthood – and I happen to think Anne has made the right choice…

#WhenDreamsComeTrue with author Alice Castle @ DDsDiary https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2017/08/20/whendreamscometrue-with-author-alice-castle-ddsdiary/ I really enjoy reading how various authors come to write and publish their books, so wanted to share my love for this series.

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

Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

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This is the second book in this excellent series – read my review of The Steerswoman here – and it takes the stakes ever higher and in a fascinating plot twist, this series then acquires a science fiction dimension. I’m not the only one who thinks this author is special – awesome book blogger the Captain over at Captain’s Quarters recently highlighted Rosemary Kirstein in her Broadside series.

Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.

I love this book – Kirstein’s adventurous, intelligent protagonist pings off the page. Steerswomen are constantly on the road, mapping and enquiring about anything that takes their interest – they wear a livery that lets everyone know who they are and the deal is they are bound to honestly answer any question that is put to them. However, if someone refuses to answer one of their questions, they are then entitled to ignore any of their subsequent questions. Rowan has become intrigued by rare blue gems she has noticed – and that interest has put her on a dangerous path.

The Outskirts are known to be hazardous and Rowen is accompanied by Bel, who was born there – which is just as well. The area is full of life-ending traps for the unwary and becomes almost another character, given the detail of this imaginary lethal landscape Kirstein portrays, as Rowan and Bel try to track down where they think the fallen Guidestar may have fallen. We get a ringside seat as the intrepid duo tangle with the insects, fight off demons and goblins and attempt to navigate their way through these hostile grasslands. They also encounter the nomadic tribes that cris-cross the vast terrain and end up travelling with them, sharing their triumphs and their catastrophes as they make their way towards the crash site of the Guidestar.

I’m not in the business of providing spoilers, so I won’t be mentioning more about the story arc – but I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I completed it. The progression and consequences of what happens left me with my jaw dragging on the ground. I’d already worked out that one of the main supporting characters wasn’t all he seemed – but the climactic conclusion to this leg of Rowan’s travels was so coolly apt, I am raring to get hold of the next book in this superb series.

While this one could easily be read as a standalone, I do recommend you go back and get hold of The Steerswoman – this series is simply too good to skimp. As for me – I’ve got some books I need to read first, but as soon as I’m able, I’m going to revisit this world with The Lost Steersman.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton

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I’ve loved this series – to the extent that after reading the third book in the series Spellbreaker, one of my favourite reads last year, I tracked down this second instalment for more Spellwright goodness.

Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.

This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive and have so many unthinkable and frightening consequences. Charlton’s febrile mind has worked out a system where words and will create spells – but what if different spellcasters regard others from different systems with suspicion and fear? What if there is a constant tension between those systems that teeters on the brink of open warfare? And what if in the middle of this tense political landscape come several powerful entities that threaten to overturn the status quo?

Inevitably there is quite a lot of explanation and passages of description throughout the book, but this doesn’t stop Francesca pinging off the page. I love her character – and the scenes where she is fighting to save the life of an injured patient are both exciting and highly plausible, which isn’t surprising given that Charlton is a fellow of Cardiology at the University of California. Nico is a spellcaster whose power undoes and subverts the spells of those who try casting spells against him, as he is unable to accurately spell his spells, thus echoing the pain and confusion Charlton must have endured as a child struggling with severe dyslexia. I can relate all too clearly, watching my granddaughter’s battle with this miserable condition.

While I knew one or two of the shock outcomes near the end of the book, given I had already read the final book in this trilogy, it didn’t prevent me really enjoying the journey which had its own share of surprises. Francesca’s character is a revelation and the way we discover who she is and how she got here is masterly and highly original.

This world is so cleverly devised and smart, it deserves to be far better known and Spellbound, along with Spellwright and Spellbreaker, comes highly recommended.
10/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – How Did I Do?

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After reading Jo Hall’s post here, I decided to join this challenge and set myself the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women authors I’ve not previously encountered. For a variety of reasons, 2016 proved to be my best reading year, ever. So I actually read and reviewed 45 books by women I haven’t read before. There were so many great authors in that group and my top five are included in my outstanding books of 2016 – see here. So I want to feature my top five very near misses in no particular order:-

Radiance by Cathrynne M. Valente
radianceI enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own. Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. Therefore you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

 

Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the machinationsendless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I also read and reviewed the second book, Counterpart in this intriguing series. There are indications that Stone is still feeling her way – this is, after all, her debut novel and the machines weren’t particularly vividly drawn – but I have never read a book where the issue of cloning has been so thoroughly and emotionally examined. Despite its flaws, this one has stayed with me.

 

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals. The Fettered Flame is the second instalment in the Shkode trilogy: a quirky and modern take on dragons and wizards, exploring themes of identity, prejudice, violence, compassion, and the ways we are all connected.

I was sufficiently impressed to seek out the first book, The Banished Craft, in this science fiction/fantasy mashup. The blurb may sound a bit gushy, but it is spot on. This is epic fantasy with a sci fi twist and I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment when it is released as I love the characters and Bell’s quirky, insightful take on the world she has created.

 

Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. rosemaryandrueAfter getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

I loved McGuire’s writing and went on to read her wonderful novella Every Heart a Doorway. One of my promises to myself is to continue reading more of the Toby Daye series in 2017.

 

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsMortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk, but things don’t go according to plan…

Hamilton’s punchy, accomplished writing grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until the end of this adrenaline-fuelled ride. Amani is a feisty heroine who attracts trouble like iron filings to a magnet and I found this one really hard to put down until it was finished and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

Given I nearly doubled the target number of women authors I read and reviewed, should I increase my goal for 2017? I’ve decided against doing so. One of the reasons why 2016 was such a bumper reading year was because I wasn’t writing. Editing and rewriting, yes – but I wrote nothing new. So reading became a refuge that I don’t normally crave so intensely as diving into a new world of my own for the first time tends to thoroughly tick that box. Therefore, I shall launch my 2017 Discovery Challenge with the target of reading and reviewing at least two books a month by women writers previously unknown to me. And if I have half as much joy in the coming year as I’ve had reading this year’s offerings, I shall be very happy, indeed.

What about you? Did you set yourself any reading challenges in 2016 – and if so, how have you got on? Do you intend to continue them into 2017?

Discovery Challenge Books I Read in 2016
1. The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
2. Truthwitch – Book 1 of the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard
3. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
5. Heart of Obsidian – Book 12 of the Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
6. Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
7. Rosemary and Rue – Book 1 of the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire
8. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
9. The Sector – Book 1 of the Non-Compliance series by Paige Daniels
10. Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell – Prequel to the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
11. The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
12. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
13. Cinder – Book 1 of the Luna Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
14. Bright Blaze of Magic – Book 3 of the Black Blade series by Jennifer Estep
15. A Rural Affair by Catherine Alliott
16. Queen of Hearts – Book 1 of the Queen of Hearts saga by Colleen Oakes
17. The Outliers – Book 1 of The Outliers trilogy by Kimberley McCreight
18. The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
19. Banished – Book 1 of the Blackhart trilogy by Liz de Jager
20. The Nothing Girl by Jodi Taylor
21. Change of Life – Book 2 of a Menopausal Superhero by Samantha Bryant
22. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
23. Speak by Louisa Hall
24. Inborn – Book 1 of The Birthright series by Amy Saunders
25. Machinations – Book 1 of The Machinations series by Hayley Stone
26. Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell
27. Shift by Em Bailey
28. An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
29. Across the Universe – Book 1 of the Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
30. The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
31. The Changeling by Christina Soontornvat
32. The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
33. Aveline – Book 1 of The Lost Vegas series by Lizzy Ford
34. Escapology by Ren Warom
35. So Many Boots, So Little Time – Book 3 of the MisAdventures of Miss Lilly series by Kalan Chapman Lloyd
36. The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery
37. Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb
38. A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab
39. Synners by Pat Cadigan
40. Renting Silence – A Roaring Twenties Mystery by Mary Miley
41. Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the Stars duology by Tessa Elwood
42. Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alwyn Hamilton
43. Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of the Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
44. The City of Ice – Book 2 of the Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
45. Graveyard Shift – Book 10 of the Pepper Martin series by Casey Daniels

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

thejustcity

This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

manyselvesofkatherine

This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

thestartouchedqueen

The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

theannihiliationscore

Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

thehousewithnorooms1

I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyou

This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

anaccidentofstars

This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

thefifthseason

I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

spiderlight

This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

spellbreaker

This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

thesummergoddess

I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

songsofseraphine

This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

anaturalhistoryofdragons

What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

jsutonedamnedthing

This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.