Category Archives: magic

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeadManinaDitchbookreview

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I enjoyed the first book in this series, Last Smile in Sunder Citysee my review, so when I saw the second book was coming up, I was delighted to be approved to read it. Would I enjoy it as much as the first book?

BLURB: The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back. Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world.

But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.

REVIEW: It starts well – I very quickly felt right back at home in this grim, noirish city where everything is a bleaker, more tattered version of itself because Magic has now disappeared. I settled into the first two adventures well enough. Though wincing somewhat as Fetch seems to take far more than his fair share of beatings, and I felt suitably sympathetic at his angst and guilt. But…

It’s a longish book at well over 400 pages, and generally that sort of length doesn’t bother me – but just about the halfway mark, I was conscious of this one starting to drag. Fetch’s constant misery became irritating and the fact that the plot seemed to cycle round in ever-widening circles, so that what initially seemed like a progression just became more of the same – Fetch investigating a case… feeling miserable… getting beaten up… Rinse and repeat. It didn’t help that there was precious little light and shade – it was basically all shades of dark.

I’m aware that right now I’m not really in the right place for lots of bleakness. But the quirky cover and the strapline comparing this book to Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series had me thinking that maybe this book would be a whole lot lighter, as by the end of the first book, Fetch seemed to have found some closure. The world is well described, and Arnold’s vivid descriptions of the once-magical characters are both imaginative and original – I love the premise. But Fetch’s constant angst was also annoying the other characters in the story – it comes to something when I find myself nodding in agreement as a major antagonist verbally shreds the hero.

If you are looking for a fantasy crime series with a real difference and enjoy your world on the grimy, grimdark side, then you may well find this one suits you. While I obtained an arc of Dead Man in a Ditch from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
6/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE Ebook Kept From Cages – Book 1 of the Ikiri duology by Phil Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #KeptFromCagesbookreview

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Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series – see my reviews of Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel and The Violent Fae – so when he contacted me and asked if I’d like the opportunity to read and review his latest book, I jumped at the chance.

BLURB: Reece’s gang of criminal jazz musicians have taken shelter in the wrong house. There’s a girl with red eyes bound to a chair. The locals call her a devil – but Reece sees a kid that needs protecting. He’s more right than he knows. Chased by a shadowy swordsman and an unnatural beast, the gang flee across the Deep South with the kid in tow. She won’t say where she’s from or who exactly her scary father is, but she’s got powers they can’t understand. How much will Reece risk to save her?

On the other side of the world, Agent Sean Tasker’s asking similar questions. With an entire village massacred and no trace of the killers, he’s convinced Duvcorp’s esoteric experiments are responsible. His only ally is an unstable female assassin, and their only lead is Ikiri – a black-site in the Congo, which no one leaves alive. How far is Tasker prepared to go for answers?

REVIEW: While this book is a spinoff from the Ordshaw series and set in the same world – it deals with a separate threat. So you don’t have to have read any of Phil’s previous books to enjoy this one. There are two main narrative threads – those of the Cutjaw gang, who encounter Zip while on the run from successfully pulling off a heist; and the exploits of Sean Tasker, who teams up with unhinged desperado Katryzna while trying to find answers to a series of horrible and mysterious killings taking place across the globe. While I enjoyed Phil’s Ordshaw series, this one impressed me with the sheer intensity and skill of the writing.

It starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Normally action-led adventures tend to be a tad lighter on scene setting and characterisation, which is fair enough, given that a narrative that powers forward at full tilt simply cannot hang around for too much description or nuanced, complex characters. Not so in this case. Reece, Leigh-Anne and Zip ping off the page, full of personality. As for Sean and Katryzna – those of us who have had the pleasure of reading the Ordshaw series can see definite similarities between Katryzna and the psychotic fairy Lettie… Phil writes damaged characters with tenderness and passion so that folks whose behaviour would normally repel me, instead pull me in and make me care. It’s harder to achieve than Phil makes it look. The same dynamic applies to the scene setting – it was a pleasure to be taken across the US, or a certain village in Norway and then into the swamps of Louisiana and the jungle of the Congo.

But what really impressed me was the gothic slant that Phil gave to a mill in the heart of the English countryside. It should have been a quaint, cosy setting – and proved to be nothing of the sort. While this story isn’t full-on horror, it is definitely on the dark side of urban fantasy and once again, Williams gives it his particular spin. I’m delighted there is more to come with these characters – they get under the skin and won’t let go. Recommended for fans of high-octane, contemporary fantasy with strong characters and a swift-moving story.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been a quiet week. I had a minor sniffle and sore throat. Nothing remotely COVID, but it still seems very anti-social to start spreading whatever-it-is around, so I stayed at home. My youngest grandson, after three days at school, has had to quarantine for a fortnight as a child in his yeargroup cluster was discovered to have COVID-19. I’ve been busy catching up with my blog, and harvesting my fennel seeds, while still slightly buzzy about last week’s holiday.

The photos are from last week’s visit to Batemans, home of Rudyard Kipling for the last years of his life. Although the house was closed, we had a lovely time wandering through the gardens and along the small river running along the end of the property. The weather was absolutely fantastic, though it has continued to be dry and warm throughout this week, too. Long may it continue, if it keeps Winter at bay.


Last week I read:

Attack Surface – Book 3 of the Little Brother series by Cory Doctorow
Most days, Masha Maximow was sure she’d chosen the winning side. In her day job as a counterterrorism wizard for an transnational cybersecurity firm, she made the hacks that allowed repressive regimes to spy on dissidents, and manipulate their every move. The perks were fantastic, and the pay was obscene.

Just for fun, and to piss off her masters, Masha sometimes used her mad skills to help those same troublemakers evade detection, if their cause was just. It was a dangerous game and a hell of a rush. But seriously self-destructive. And unsustainable.

When her targets were strangers in faraway police states, it was easy to compartmentalize, to ignore the collateral damage of murder, rape, and torture. But when it hits close to home, and the hacks and exploits she’s devised are directed at her friends and family–including boy wonder Marcus Yallow, her old crush and archrival, and his entourage of naïve idealists–Masha realizes she has to choose. And whatever choice she makes, someone is going to get hurt.
I was blissfully unaware that this is a spinoff from a series – but it really doesn’t matter. Although another of the main characters features in the previous stories, this is essentially a standalone, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Review to follow.


Dead Man in a Ditch – Book 2 of the Fetch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold
The name’s Fetch Phillips — what do you need? Cover a Gnome with a crossbow while he does a dodgy deal? Sure.

Find out who killed Lance Niles, the big-shot businessman who just arrived in town? I’ll give it shot.

Help an old-lady Elf track down her husband’s murderer? That’s right up my alley.

What I don’t do, because it’s impossible, is search for a way to bring the goddamn magic back.

Rumors got out about what happened with the Professor, so now people keep asking me to fix the world. But there’s no magic in this story. Just dead friends, twisted miracles, and a secret machine made to deliver a single shot of murder.
I’d enjoyed the first book, but I had a few issues with this one. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Finder – Book 1 of the Finder Chronicles by Suzanne Palmer
Fergus Ferguson has been called a lot of names: thief, con artist, repo man. He prefers the term finder.

His latest job should be simple. Find the spacecraft Venetia’s Sword and steal it back from Arum Gilger, ex-nobleman turned power-hungry trade boss. He’ll slip in, decode the ship’s compromised AI security, and get out of town, Sword in hand.

Fergus locates both Gilger and the ship in the farthest corner of human-inhabited space, a gas-giant-harvesting colony called Cernee. But Fergus’ arrival at the colony is anything but simple. A cable car explosion launches Cernee into civil war, and Fergus must ally with Gilger’s enemies to navigate a field of space mines and a small army of hostile mercenaries. What was supposed to be a routine job evolves into negotiating a power struggle between factions. Even worse, Fergus has become increasingly–and inconveniently–invested in the lives of the locals.
Well, this is fun! Lots of mayhem, well narrated and plenty of surprises and plot twists until the climax – and the good news is that it is the beginning of a series. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Tips on Childcare

Review of The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Déjà vu review of Earth Girl – Book 1 of the Earth Girl series by Janet Edwards

Friday Faceoff featuring The Hound of the Baskervilles – Book 5 of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle

Cover Love featuring the covers of Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Reblog of interview with S.J. Higbee by Jean Lee

Tuesday Treasures – 13

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Earth Prime – Book 1 of The Earth Girl Aftermath stories by Janet Edwards

Sunday Post – 13th September 2020

To my shame, I haven’t visited many blogs or interacted on Twitter all that much this week – so I don’t have anything to share ☹.

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips #Looking After Grandchildren #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonChildcare #PickyEaters

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If your young charges aren’t paying proper attention – flap your wings. It generally knocks them off their feet.


Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

August 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffAugust2020Roundup

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Life is steadily settling into some kind of normal – though not the one we were used to before Lockdown. My shopping expeditions are still infrequent and stressful and though we have been out for a few meals and cups of tea, it still feels odd. The big bonus continues to be that we can see family – although we have to be mindful of those who are shielding as Himself is a key worker.

Reading
I read sixteen books in August with again, no DNF’s. It’s turning into an outstanding reading year for SFF generally, which is just as well as 2020 is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, otherwise. My Outstanding Book of the Month is A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixicalaan series by Arkady Martine and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month is Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer. My reads during August were:

The Mother Code by Carol Stiverssee my review

AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes. Review to follow

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington. Review to follow

Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison – see my review

The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths – mini-review to follow

Chasing the Shadows – Book 2 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy series by Maria V. Snyder. Review to follow

Grave Secrets – Book 1 of the Lavington Windsor Mysteries by Alice James – see my review

NOVELLA Silver in the Wood – Book 1 of The Greenhollow Duology by Emily Tesh. Mini-review to follow

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine – OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE MONTH Review to follow

Afterland by Lauren Beukes – see my review

Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis. Mini-review to follow

AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey. Review to follow

Every Sky a Grave – Book 1 of The Ascendance series by Jay Posey – see my review

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer – OUTSTANDING AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH. Review to follow

Fearless by Allen Stroud – see my review

Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne – see my review


Writing and Editing
Mantivore Warrior was released at the end of August, as planned and overall I was pleased with the way it went. I worked on Picky Eater 2, between editing and preparing Warrior, editing my Creative Writing textbook How To Write Authentic Characters, and making a start on the series of short, instructional videos I shall be releasing alongside the book. So it won’t come as a surprise to learn that I haven’t made all that much progress on the second Picky Eaters book. And as I need to get the videos filmed during September, when the light levels are still good, I don’t foresee that much progress is going to be made in the coming month, either.

Overall, I wrote just under 38,000 words in August, with just over 20,000 on the blog, and 12,500 on my writing projects, which is fairly dire. No point in beating myself up about it, though – unless I can produce a writing clone, there are always going to be months when my productivity goes down. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just over 321,500 words.

Blogging
I have spent more time on my blog, and I’m pleased with the new Cover Love feature and the ongoing Tuesday Treasures. It’s worth it, because during this year, I’ve found the blog a source of great comfort. Take care and stay safe.x






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffbookreview #GreenMansSilencebookreview

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I’m a fan of McKenna’s work – see my reviews of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Darkening Skies – Book 2 of the Hadrumal Crisis, Irons in the Fire – Book 1 of the Lescari Revolution, Blood in the Water – Book 2 of the Lescari Revolution, Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of the Lescari Revolution, The Green Man’s Heir – Book 1 of the Green Man series, The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of the Green Man series and the Cover Love feature I did of her canon of work to date. So I was extremely excited to get my hands on The Green Man’s Silence the latest book in this delightfully original series.

BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny. But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?

A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.

REVIEW: This further set of adventures takes Dan right out of his comfort zone – not much in the way of forests and trees out on the Fens. And he’s staying over with Fin’s family – people he doesn’t want to let down, particularly as he isn’t completely sure about where his ongoing relationship with her is going. To complicate things further, the Green Man isn’t saying much about the emerging crisis, either.

McKenna has been clever in moving Dan away from his usual haunts, where we already know he has a certain amount of power. Now, both personally and as half-Fae, he is out of his depth. It was enjoyable to learn more about Fin and her background – seeing her within her own family and contrasting her sense of belonging, in comparison to Dan’s sense of isolation, brought home why he is quite so wary. It also nicely raised the stakes when recalling his criminal record, so that when problems get sufficiently out of hand to come to the attention of the police, Dan is at an immediate, major disadvantage. This further compromises him, as he deals with an entitled, arrogant character very sure of his own place in the scheme of things.

Once again, the fae characters ping off the page with their sense of otherness and evident threat – the hobs and their unnerving powers, and those sylphs… Who knew that creatures of the air could be so lethal? McKenna further flexes her skill in writing action with a particularly dramatic fight scene in the middle of a storm that had me holding my breath when Dan and his landrover take a beating. It makes a doozy of a climax.

While The Green Man’s Silence can be read as a standalone, I recommend you get hold of at least one of the other books in the series first, in order to get the best out of this outstanding book. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who are looking for well-written fae adventures with a difference.
10/10


Sunday Post – 6th September, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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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.

Most of the first half of the week was dominated by the launch of Mantivore Warrior on Monday, which went really well. Thank you to everyone who retweeted and mentioned that Warrior is now live and let loose on the world.

The weather was a lot better – though not good enough for our Writing Group to get together on Wednesday evening, which was a real shame. It had been bright and warm all day, until the evening when it started raining, so we were Zooming once more. Though it was a really productive meeting, where several of us shared our work and I got some valuable feedback on the beginning of Picky Eaters 2.

Unfortunately, I am now struggling with a very sore back and my usual strategies for dealing with it aren’t working, so I’ve a physio appointment on Tuesday. I was supposed to travel down to Ringwood yesterday to see my in-laws with my husband – but I woke up feeling too sore and car journeys are never my friend, anyway. I’d travelled to Brighton on Thursday to see my daughter and the children and brought back the boys to stay overnight – a last sleepover before they go back to school. It was lovely to see them and their stay was rounded off by going out for a meal together at a local pub restaurant with a vegan menu, where my daughter and little Eliza joined us on Friday afternoon. Today is my husband’s birthday, and today’s photos are from the big wheel which was recently installed on Littlehampton foreshore. We are planning to have a lazy day together and go out for a meal with my sister tonight.


Last week I read an astonishingly strong selection of books:

Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne
Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae. But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It was so refreshing to read of a sixty-something protagonist, who isn’t magically enhanced or rejuvenated and Hearne’s trademark humour is evident in this series, too. Recommended, particularly for fans of the Iron Druid series.


AUDIOBOOK – The Delirium Brief – Book 8 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
Bob Howard’s career in the Laundry, the secret British government agency dedicated to protecting the world from unspeakable horrors from beyond spacetime, has entailed high combat, brilliant hacking, ancient magic, and combat with indescribably repellent creatures of pure evil. It has also involved a wearying amount of paperwork and office politics, and his expense reports are still a mess.
Now, following the invasion of Yorkshire by the Host of Air and Darkness, the Laundry’s existence has become public, and Bob is being trotted out on TV to answer pointed questions about elven asylum seekers. What neither Bob nor his managers have foreseen is that their organization has earned the attention of a horror far more terrifying than any demon: a British government looking for public services to privatize.
This was huge fun to listen to – and has made me determined to get hold of the next one in the series sooner, rather than later as this one ended on something of a cliffhanger. I’d forgotten just how smart and darkly funny Charles Stross’s writing can be. Review to follow.


The Trials of Koli – Book 2 of the Rampart Trilogy by M.R. Carey
Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.
Carey keeps the tension up and expands the story by giving us an insight into what is going on in the village that exiled Koli in the first place, as well as taking Koli’s adventures further. The world is brilliantly depicted and I enjoyed the characters.

The Green Man’s Silence – Book 3 of the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna
Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.

But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago? A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s latest adventure, which takes place in a corner of England that is rich with history and folklore. I loved that Finele was once again part of the story and found this one impossible to put down. Review to follow.



My posts last week:

A Déjà vu Review of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of the Hadrumal Crisis series by Juliet E. McKenna

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison

Friday Face-off featuring Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne

Cover Love #3 featuring the covers of Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Grave Secrets – Book 1 of the Lavington Windsor mysteries by Alice James

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Kept from Cages – Book 1 of The Ikiri duology by Phil Williams

Two Sci Fi Mini-Reviews: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers and Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Tuesday Treasures – 11

MANTIVORE WARRIOR is published today!

Sunday Post – 30th August 2020


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

Everyday Items We’ve Been Using Wrong the Whole Time https://brain-sharper.com/social/everyday-items-using-wrong-tw/?utm_campaign=Everyday%20Items%20Elena%20V1%20VV%3E1%20En%20-%20Desktop%20WW%20TW&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=WC&psl=i_5486fa There are all sorts of tips and tricks here that I will be using in future! The pasta spoon tip is a revelation – and how to open a keyring without breaking nails…

What Counts as Speculative? https://specpo.wordpress.com/2020/09/03/what-counts-as-speculative/ This infographic is going to divide many SFF readers, I think…

Fantasy and Sci Fi to review for free 1-30 September https://storyoriginapp.com/bundles/09afb25c-d13e-11ea-bc51-0f1a41c9edf0?bundleLinkId=G1i79S8 If you’re looking for more SFF reads and enjoy helping authors out by leaving a review – then this might be just what you’re looking for…

Sci Fi Month 2020: the future is calling https://onemore.org/2020/09/01/announcing-scifimonth-2020/ I LOVE Sci Fi Month! If you also enjoy it and want to get in on the ground floor – here’s how to do it…

On Boundaries and Doors to Magical Realms https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/09/01/a-writers-thoughts-on-boundaries-in-magic-plus-a-coverreveal-and-arc-access-to-my-new-ya-fantasy-novel/ Jean Lee’s articles are always worth reading – and as she is shortly to release a new book – yippee! – she is considering this intriguing aspect of many fantasy tropes…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Déjà vu Review of Dangerous Waters – Book 1 of The Hadrumal Crisis by Juliet E. McKenna #Brainfluffdejavureview #ReviewofDangerousWaters

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This week’s deja vu review is one from 2013, featuring one of Juliet E. McKenna’s earlier books…

Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I have a particular fondness for politically nuanced Fantasy written by intelligent, talented writers. Her canon of work to date firmly puts McKenna in this category – in fact, I’m frustrated that she isn’t a lot better known. So – would I find this first offering in her latest trilogy up to the mark? After all, this will be her thirteenth book set in this world – can McKenna sustain the originality and range of different situations necessary to keep and extend her readership?

BLURB: The Archmage rules the island of wizards and has banned the use of magecraft in warfare, but there are corsairs raiding the Caladhrian Coast, enslaving villagers and devastating trade. Barons and merchants beg for magical aid, but all help has been refused so far. Lady Zurenne’s husband has been murdered by the corsairs. Now a man she doesn’t even know stands as guardian over her and her daughters. Corrain, former captain and now slave, knows that the man is a rogue wizard, illegally selling his skills to the corsairs. If Corrain can escape, he’ll see justice done. Unless the Archmage’s magewoman, Jilseth, can catch the renegade first, before his disobedience is revealed and the scandal shatters the ruler’s hold on power…

REVIEW: The three main protagonists who tell the story are Corrain, the enslaved Caladhrian captain; Lady Zurenne, recently widowed and suffering the depredations of an insolent steward on behalf of the hated and powerful Minelas; and Jilseth, who is Archmage Planir’s favourite fixer. They all face difficult odds – arguably, Jilseth has the hardest, if not the most desperate task. For it falls to her to try and keep the exploits of the outlaw mage from reaching the ears of the Caladhrian nobility – for the Archmage and his Council are only too aware that for all their power, mages are vulnerable to infuriated mobs with pitchforks.

I loved this book, which grabbed me from the moment I read the first page and held me right up until the end. It’s a long book, but at no point did I feel the action sagged – because this book has it all… slavery, magic, political plotting, overbearing nobility and desperate widows… The contrast of characters is perfect – Corrain’s vengeful fury battling with his need to remain suitably submissive as a slave is deftly portrayed. What I like about McKenna, is that she doesn’t see the need to paint her heroes and heroines as faultless or completely likeable. So Corrain makes some significant mistakes – but given the circumstances and his background, it is entirely realistic that he would underestimate anyone physically weaker.

Jilseth is the most capable of the protagonists – and yet, she cannot sustain her stance of disinterestedness, despite her best efforts. I particularly enjoyed the friction between the magewoman and Lady Zurenne, when Jilseth is trying to discover exactly what is going on. I’ve read a couple of reviewers who were frustrated that Lady Zurenne seemed unable to break free of the rules stifling her ability to act as a free agent. Apparently, they were waiting for her to arm her feisty eldest daughter with a sword and turn her into some female warrior… McKenna has managed to resist the modern trend in historical fantasy of abruptly emancipating her female characters, thank goodness.

It is a trend that intensely annoys me. It suggests that our female forebears merely needed to pull themselves together, learn a few defensive moves, grab a handy weapon and they would be able to operate just fine alongside their menfolk. But as Lady Zurenne’s reactions and instincts clearly demonstrate – no matter how outrageously unfair the law may be to women, it is a far harder business to defy legal and social conventions. If it wasn’t, millions of women wouldn’t be still struggling across the planet in the face of daily injustice and discrimination. I think she rises to the challenge of keeping herself and her daughters safe magnificently and one of the reasons why Jilseth can no longer remain completely impartial, is witnessing Lady Zurenne’s plight – and her gritted courage in coping with it.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book. McKenna’s nuanced, smart writing presents her world as every bit as messy and complicated as ours – and though this book and series is nested within a very well established setting, at no time does the author rely on a reader’s prior knowledge of her previous output in order to make sense of this one. Which is a harder trick to pull off than you might think – or maybe not, given how few writers really manage to do it.

So, though I would recommend that you dive into McKenna’s world if you are looking for intelligently written, three-dimensional fantasy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t start with this particular series. I strongly recommend it – you’ll be thanking me if you do.
9/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Food and Drink #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFoodandDrink #PickyEaters

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If you’ve eaten a bad goat, a good long drink of seawater should fix your problems.


Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #Brainfluffbookreview #Ink&Sigilbookreview

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We don’t do it all that often – we can’t afford it – but we pre-ordered this one as soon as we heard it was coming out. We are both solid fans of Kevin Hearne’s writing – see my review of Hounded – Book 1 of the Iron Druid series, which I read all the way through and have been quietly mourning its loss since it ended. Life has just been a tad emptier since Atticus and his hound Oberon stopped their adventures. Though I also thoroughly enjoyed the clever and ambitious Seven Kennings series – see my review of A Plague of Giants. So would I also enjoy this spinoff from the Iron Druid series?

BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.

REVIEW: Let’s get one issue out the way – you don’t have to know anything at all about the Iron Druid series, or have first read the books to enjoy this one. It’s an essentially a standalone, with a specific scene added for those of us pining for Atticus and Oberon. So don’t let that consideration get in the way of you acquiring this one.

It’s a packet of fun. I loved the fact that Al is in his mid-sixties and a widower. I am aware that the average hero and heroine are fit young things, full of vim and vigour – but I hadn’t realised just how much that affected their worldview, until I plunged into this adventure alongside dear old Al. He is thoroughly likeable protagonist with plenty of quirks and eccentricities, but the amount of fun between him and a certain naughty hobgoblin is great and helps to leaven the rather sombre subject of kidnapping and trafficking. Humour is always a hit and miss affair, and mostly I chuckled my way through this book – though for some reason, I got a bit fed up with Al’s hacker friend insisting on being called Saxon Codpiece…

Overall, I really enjoyed the story which was well paced, full of action and yet not too full-on to skimp on effectively establishing the main characters – a balance that is harder to achieve than Hearne makes it look. I also loved the magic system, where human Al is given leave to help the Fae by use of magical sigils that are achieved by the spells being sealed through specific inks. It worked well – and this being Hearne, there was also some humour to be had with some of those inks, too. Overall, this was a solid delight and I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al and his adventures – particularly that curse he’s afflicted with… Highly recommended for fans of quirky urban fantasy adventures featuring eccentric characters.
8/10