Category Archives: netgalley

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Black Sun – Book 1 of the Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BlackSunbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed Trail of Lightningsee my review – so was delighted to see this pop up and even more delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy this epic fantasy?

BLURB: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy adventure treads very familiar ground. There is a Chosen, whose destiny weighs heavily upon his young shoulders and who has had to endure much in the long, arduous training for his Task. There is another Chosen, whose appointment was rather an unwelcome surprise to those who find themselves serving her. And there is an ominous prophesy. So far, so good and reasonably predictable. I never have a problem with that – after all, if I wanted something completely different from the main genre conventions, I wouldn’t be reading Fantasy.

But what does make this one stand out is the setting. Because it isn’t set within a late medieval/Early Modern European historical backdrop, like so many epic Fantasy adventures – this one is nested within the pre-Columbian American civilisation, which gives everything a fresh spin. As Roanhorse is an experienced writer, whose characters ping off the page and whose narratives produce plenty of twists and adventures, that difference works really well. I particularly liked that the currency is cacao beans, for instance, while the religion, the clothing and general customs give an enjoyable sense of originality and freshness.

My favourite character is Xiala, a Teek sea captain. Her particular sea-calming magic means she is tolerated by an all-male crew, even though they generally don’t like women aboard ships. I love her robust attitude to life, and her very straightforward view of things, which contrasts well with Serapio, whose whole outlook has been skewed by the fact he has been prepared for a particular day and a particular time since his birth. Overall, the pacing works well, although there were times when I felt it could have moved a little faster in the earlier stages of the story. But as we approached the Big Day, the action and pacing picked up nicely. I’m not a fan of being left with a cliff-hanger ending, so I very much hope that Roanhorse has the second book well on the way, because I certainly want to know what happens next.

Recommended for fans of epic fantasy adventures, especially with a fresh setting. While I obtained an arc of Black Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #ShadowintheEmpireofLightbookreview

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I was drawn to the appealing cover and rather quirky blurb – would this one provide the upbeat, engrossing escapist read I was looking for?

BLURB: Shine’s life is usually dull: an orphan without magic in a family of powerful mages, she’s left to run the family estate with only an eccentric aunt and telepathic cat for company.

But when the family descend on the house for the annual Fertility Festival, Shine is plunged into intrigue; stolen letters, a fugitive spy and family drama mix with an unexpected murder, and Shine is forced to decide both her loyalties and future…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I’ve been a bit bemused by the negative reviews for this entertaining and really different fantasy adventure. But I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of reviewers picked it up because of the allusion to the telepathic cat – and most fantasy adventures with a telepathic pet don’t generally come with steamy sex scenes. So I think this is more of a case of readers opening up this book thinking they were getting one type of story – and instead were confronted with something quite different. While that cover certainly didn’t help, given that it also doesn’t give any clue of the erotic charge running through this adventure.

As for me – I found Shine beguiling and enjoyed the rather claustrophobic, dangerous edge to this adventure as the Family, both mundanes and mages, gather for the annual fertility festival, where consenting adults get together for the purpose of creating more children. Routley’s worldbuilding is impressive as she creates a large family, riven with factions and infighting as the most powerful, entitled mages jockey for the prime positions. Shine is well down the pecking order, as she watches the man she has given her heart to flirt with other girls – and tries to keep away from her more unpleasant, bullying cousins. I kept waiting for her to discover that she had unexpected magical powers… And no, I’m not going to reveal if she does – but this one has lodged in my head and despite the fact that I’ve subsequently completed two other books, it won’t leave me alone.

As for the sex – yes, there are a couple of uncharacteristically raunchy scenes, but I didn’t find them unduly gratuitous. This is a society with a very relaxed attitude towards sex, especially at this time of the Festival, for it is important that there be more female children within the family, as it is female mages with most power. And the fact that Shine is a mundane with an unfortunate bloodline means she is regarded with contempt by many family members – there is nothing cosy about this bunch. But despite the fact it deals with some quite dark subjects, there is a bouncy energy and a lot of snarky humour that stopped it being a bleak read.

I will be reading more from this intriguing author – and if there is a sequel to this book, which feels as if there should be – then I’ll be hunting it down. While I obtained an arc of Shadow in the Empire of Light from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Doors of Sleep – Journals of Zaxony Delatree series by Tim Pratt

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I haven’t read anything by this author, but the cover caught my eye and I really liked the premise. I’m also a fan of Angry Robot, whose output is invariably interesting and well written, so I was delighted to be approved for this arc.

BLURB: Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones. Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds…

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining portal adventure, which has a pleasingly old-fashioned feel. The overarching narrative is very straightforward. For reasons that poor Zaxony doesn’t fully understand, every time he falls asleep or unconscious – he jumps worlds. Initially, he spends his time in a horrified daze as he tries to come to terms with his new normal. For the worlds that Zax encounters are mind-bogglingly various, ranging from idyllic to nightmarish and everything in between. He can take someone with him, as long as he is holding them when he falls asleep – but he is haunted by an upsetting incident where a lovely woman he fell in love with stayed awake during their journey between worlds and arrived in the new world raving – her mind broken by the experience. So he is very careful who he takes along.

We join Zax in the middle of his adventures, after a couple of the companions he has taken with him haven’t turned out to be ideal – and just as he starting a relationship with another kindly soul. There is a generally upbeat, positive vibe running through the series of adventures that I thoroughly welcomed and while the main plot isn’t overly complicated, or particularly original – what made this book really stand out is the sheer inventiveness and variety of alll those worlds Zax visits. There is a building sense of frustration that we only ever see the thinnest slice of their dynamic – because as soon as Zax falls asleep, off we go to somewhere entirely new, again. But I really liked that niggling sense of annoyance, as it helped me bond with dear old Zax, who is generally a well-meaning, honest chap – in sharp contrast to a nicely satisfyingly nasty antagonist in the form of the Lector, an archetypal evil scientist.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and note with satisfaction that it looks as though this is the first in a series. Highly recommended of fans of science fiction adventures with an upbeat tone. While I obtained an arc of Doors of Sleep from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BearHeadbookreview

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I loved the first book in this series – see my review of Dogs of War – which I thought was masterful in producing a really entertaining story and raising an interestingly gnarly moral point. So I was extremely excited to get hold of this addition to the series…

BLURB: Mars. The red planet. A new frontier for humanity, a civilization where humans can live in peace, lord and master of all they survey. But this isn’t Space City from those old science-fiction books. We live in Hell City, built into and from a huge subcontinent-sized crater. There’s a big silk canopy over it, feeding out atmosphere as we generate it, little by little, until we can breathe the air.

It’s a perfect place to live, if you actually want to live on Mars. I guess at some point I had actually wanted to live on Mars, because here I am. The money was supposed to be good, and how else was a working Joe like me supposed to get off-planet exactly? But I remember the videos they showed us – guys, not even in suits, watching robots and bees and Bioforms doing all the work – and they didn’t quite get it right…

REVIEW: It took me a while to get into this one, as I didn’t immediately bond with Jimmy, the grunt labourer who is working on Mars. I also loathed Thompson, who has to be one of the most satisfyingly nasty antagonists I’ve encountered so far this year and found his poor put-upon assistant rather difficult company.

I was hoping that dear old Rex, who featured so movingly in Dogs of War, would put in an appearance. However, I don’t think I’m introducing anything of a Spoiler when I disclose that at the start of this story, Rex has long gone. Indeed, while it was enjoyable to know where some of the politics started, I think this is one a reader could pick up without having read Dogs of War and happily enjoy it without struggling overmuch as Honey and Bees are fully explained and have undergone major changes since the first story.

Once I got about a third into the story and settled down with the characters and the action and pace began to pick up, I was fully invested in the story and once more enjoying Tchaikovsky’s world. Mars was interestingly portrayed and I really liked the exploration of the scenario whereby someone’s personality can be uploaded elsewhere. Because immediately the question has to be – where? After all, who wants to spend their lives sitting in a jar, or machine? Inevitably, if you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of uploading your consciousness – you’ll want it in a body, won’t you? So whose body gets to act as passenger?

The other interesting issue Tchaikovsky explores in this book is how a narcissistic personality like Thompson manages to become such a powerful leader. In the wake of Trump’s presidency, I think this is a question that is being examined quite a lot… And Thompson definitely has some Trump-like attributes. I loved the sudden twist, whereby the action on Mars becomes gripping and very dangerous. Poor old Jimmy finds himself right at the heart of the action and I found myself reading this and thinking that it would make a cracking good mini-series on TV. Highly recommended for fans of colony adventures. While I obtained an arc of Bear Head from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of a Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreviw #InherittheShoesbookreview

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Real life only goes on getting grimmer, so I was in dire need of some reasonably light-hearted escapist reading – and came upon this cheerful cover and breezy blurb. So I went for it – would I regret my off-the-cuff decision?

BLURB: New Jersey prosecutor Sandy Moss is tired of petty criminals, and a new job at a glitzy Los Angeles law firm seems the perfect career move. Putting 3,000 miles between her and her ex-boyfriend is just an added bonus. But on Sandy’s first morning as a family attorney, she inadvertently kills her new career stone dead when she offends her boss during a meeting with the firm’s top celebrity client, charismatic TV star Patrick McNabb. But that’s not as dead as Patrick’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Patsy, is that evening, when she’s discovered shot by an arrow, her husband standing over her. Did Patrick really kill his wife in a dispute over a pair of shoes? All signs point to yes. But Patrick is determined to clear his name, using all the legal skills he’s learned from playing a lawyer on TV, and to Sandy’s deep dismay, she’s the only person he’ll allow to help . . .

REVIEW: It was very soon apparent that Copperman is no novice – the slick introduction that had me rooting for gutsy Sandy within a handful of pages, and the perfect pacing indicated a writer with experience and talent. I enjoyed the initial twist that got Sandy emboiled in the business of trying to defend a client who is deluded into thinking he can get himself out of the unholy mess he finds himself in, because he’s an actor.

Inevitably, while strong characterisation and a well described backdrop are always important, the vital ingredient in a well-told murder mystery is the plotting. It has to be nicely twisty, with several enjoyable surprises along the way, and the final denouement giving one final revelation that neatly ties up the case, leaving the reader satisfied with the ending. That’s the ideal, anyway. Often enough, I’ll happily settle with a cast of intriguing characters, or interesting setting and give the author a pass on the rather ordinary, straightforward murder mystery. However I didn’t have to rein in any expectations regarding Inherit the Shoes – there were all sorts of surprises along the way. And one, in particular, still gives me a buzz of pleasure whenever I think about it.

In the middle of a rather harrowing court case where Sandy has been thrown in at the deep end, she is also struggling to find her feet as a new arrival to the area. I enjoyed her sense of disorientation as she tries to grapple with a different road network and far more traffic, making even the drive to work more of a challenge. All in all, I came away from this story with a real sense of enjoyment at a really well-crafted murder mystery peopled with strong and memorable characters. This classy start to a very promising series is highly recommended for fans of the genre, who like their murder mysteries with plenty of entertaining twists. While I obtained an arc of Inherit the Shoes from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Forgedbookreview

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I have recently got back into reading this smart, cleverly written, Brit-based urban fantasy, featuring divination mage Alex Verus, after enjoying this series over a number of years – read my reviews of Fated, Veiled, Burned, Bound and Fallen. So I was delighted to be approved to read the new release of the penultimate adventure planned for this series – Forged.

BLURB: To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

REVIEW: I only recently finished reading Fallen, so had no problem picking up the action which continues straight on from the previous book. Alex, after being subjected to an intolerable choice in the previous book, took a fateful decision which has very much altered his view on things.

There is a lot of action in this book – as The Council goes on hunting for him, Alex ends up in a series of confrontations. The battles are done very well – Jacka writes the action and Alex’s reaction to it throughout without any loss of pace, the fight scenes between battling mages grippingly portrayed. But this book is, necessarily, quite a lot darker and I missed some of the characters who used to provide some light relief. They are much less in evidence as the pace is more relentless and the stakes go on rising.

However, I’m glad that despite all the killing, there is no sense that people’s lives don’t matter. We end up being a bit appalled at the violence, because we are alongside Verus, who is also affected by the trail of destruction left in his wake. There is a defining battle near the end of the book that I found particularly poignant, in amongst all the chaos and mayhem. Especially if you compare the main antagonist with a version of themselves only a couple of books earlier… As ever, Jacka wraps up the ongoing problem within this story so I wasn’t left feeling unsatisfied with the ending. Though there are a couple of massive plotpoints still waving in the wind…

I am looking forward to the next, final book, where all these issues will be satisfactorily concluded. And I’m crossing my fingers – and toes – that at least a couple of the main characters, as well as Verus, will emerge relatively unscathed. Which surely tells you how invested I’ve become in the narrative arcs of the protagonist and his followers while following their fortunes throughout this tumultuous and well-crafted series. While I obtained an arc of Forged from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheDarkArchivebookreview

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I was absolutely delighted to be approved for this next adventure in this entertaining, original series, as I’ve grown really fond of Irene. See my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. But when a series continues over a period of time, the ongoing challenge is to make each story fresh and exciting.

BLURB: Librarian spy Irene thought her to-do list would be her undoing. She’s on missions for both the Library and a dear friend – the detective Vale. And she’s also training her new Fae apprentice, who’s more interested in the stacks than sleuthing. But now someone is trying to kidnap her and kill her friends. As Irene, Kai and Vale try to track down the would-be assassin, they uncover a plot. It’s even more insidious than usual and could threaten Irene’s headquarters, Vale’s home and the Library itself. Someone is creating links between high-chaos worlds and Vale’s world. Someone who wants Irene well out of the way – and will do anything to make this happen. When the allies’ investigation takes a wrong turn, they find themselves trapped deep underground. And while they wander among long-abandoned archives, Irene’s old enemies are closing in.

REVIEW: I really appreciated diving back into this clever portal fantasy, featuring a magical library with a cool, well trained protagonist who performs well when in danger. Given her magical ability is words of command that can change and affect the world around her, it makes Irene very powerful. But Cogman is also good at finding antagonists that are equally formidable, so that she genuinely has to struggle to prevail.

Much about this story worked really well. Having a new, Fae student who tends to be impetuous and rather rash, means that Irene has her work cut out to keep her safe. Especially as the young woman has the survival instincts of a bunny in the headlights, particularly at the beginning of the book. I enjoyed watching Catherine’s character develop and gain confidence throughout the story. I also liked seeing Kai’s relationship with his elder brother – it’s always diverting to get a bit of sibling rivalry going to upset a usually smooth team dynamic.

And the major plot twist was nicely effective – I was pleased to see the re-emergence of an old enemy who I loved to hate – and though I had an inkling about the reveal, it was gripping to see just how much it undermined Irene and her sense of self belief. This is definitely going to influence her actions in the next book, I think.

What was less successful, was the depiction of the ongoing relationship between Irene and Kai. In the past, I have very much felt the connection between them, but although we were told about it – I didn’t feel that strong emotional vibe this time around. While I’m aware this isn’t principally a romance, if the element is there and apparently they still care deeply for each other, I would have liked to have been more convinced by it. My other concern is that Epilogue… I very sincerely hope that isn’t a major misstep – only time will tell!

Having said that, you’ll see by the score that these issues weren’t major impediments to a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable portal fantasy adventures and those featuring magical libraries – though whatever you do, start with The Invisible Library, or you simply won’t get the best from this engrossing series. While I obtained an arc of The Dark Archive from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Nophek Gloss – Book 1 of The Graven series by Essa Hansen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #NophekGlossbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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It was the cover of this one that caught my eye – it looked intriguing and the premise was great. So I was delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy it – I’ve been a bit disappointed with some of the space opera I’ve been reading, recently. And I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans. He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

REVIEW: Well this one started with a bang! The book starts with the terrifying experience in young Caiden’s life that defines most of the resultant action within the story – I liked that. It meant that I knew exactly what had driven him.

While there are the usual tropes that occur within the genre, Hansen takes them and gives them an interesting spin. I liked the idea of the various universes – and an alien race whose relationship with them is quite different. I also liked the fact that rampant capitalism, which is a staple of this genre, is more nuanced and complicated within this world. In fact the worldbuilding works really well, which isn’t always the case in a book where the character development is so well done. I loved the crew of the ship that rescues Caiden. Each one of them has dark backstories of their own and were either able to use their own experiences to help the boy – or found interacting with him simply too painful.
Hansen’s layered characterisation, so that none of the protagonists are completely good or bad, shone through. As for Threi – Caiden’s initial antagonist – he has to be one of the standout villains of the year, for me.

One of the major themes in this book is how to cope with a terrible trauma. How do you avoid being twisted into a ball of vengeful fury? How do you overcome the pain and anger of injustice so you don’t go on reproducing that on others you interact with? And no… Hansen doesn’t fall back on Pollyanna-ish truisms to help Caiden fight his inner demons.

The plotting in this one is also spot on. I always love it when you are introduced to a person or creature at the beginning of the book as one thing, to find that actually, it is something quite different. Hansen uses this throughout the story to continue producing fresh plot twists throughout. In short, this is one of my favourite space opera adventures of the year – accomplished, well-crafted and packed full of action. It held me throughout and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series. Highly recommended for fans of well written, character-led space opera set in a strong world.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Angel Six Echo by Robert Appleton #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AngelSixEchobookreview #SciFiMonth2020

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I loved the sound of this one – a former black ops fighter rescuing a spouse, who has joined a vicious war without realising exactly what they’re getting into. Given that the wife is the black ops fighter and the husband is the spouse – throw in the alien combat suit, how could I resist? I am linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Armed with a fabled combat suit left to her by a dying warrior race, Gabby Rojas enters the deadliest standoff of the war as a rogue sniper with one goal: to keep her husband alive at all costs. Dalton is a high school teacher, not a soldier, but he’s volunteered to fight for the good of the colonies, against her advice. Gabby, on the other hand, is a black-ops prodigy who turned her back on the military years ago. The consequences of re-entering the fray alone like this, wielding the power of her extraordinary armoured suit, could tip the balance of power in the galaxy…

REVIEW: This was a thoroughly entertaining read. Gabby is a super-soldier, trained from childhood to become part of an infamous black ops unit. Until she broke – both physically and mentally. And Dalton, kind, non-judgemental and caring helped put her back together again – and in the process of doing so, they fell in love… The relationship between them is touchingly portrayed – they are clearly passionate about each other. And I liked them both very much. Dalton is rather goofy, easy-going and with a charm that is attractive. Not innate super-soldier material, so it’s just as well that he’s a coms specialist, tasked with keeping in touch with those out on the front line, trying to stave off the increasingly bleak odds they are facing. Gabby is driven, single-minded and ruthless. She doesn’t kill needlessly, but will do so without a qualm if it becomes necessary.

The supporting characters worked well and I thought the battle scenes were well written. Appleton manages to balance the necessary explanation and the full-on action without losing the reader or holding up the pace, which is harder to do than he makes it look. I liked the fact that things often went wrong – plans didn’t work out, and those in the front line paid the price. There are deaths of characters I’d grown to like, but nothing that felt manipulative or careless. Gabby’s relationship with the suit was well handled – inevitably there was stuff that wasn’t explained, because neither Gabby nor the suit really knew what was going on. But I felt that was okay.

What, for me, was never really tackled adequately, was why Dalton – kind, caring husband who knew his wife was emotionally very reliant on him – suddenly ups and leaves for the front line. He always talks of her with great fondness, evidently missing her. And yet, even though he knew she was desperate for him to stay – he left. I would have been a lot happier if he’d been randomly picked in some sort of lottery system, for example.

But other than that one niggle, I found this to be an engrossing and at times, really poignant story of love, loss and hard decisions made in the heat of battle. Oh, and some really nasty aliens! The ending wasn’t what I was expecting, but it did work. Recommended for fans of character-led military sci fi adventure.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThiefontheWingedHorsebookreview

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I was very impressed by the quality of writing in Mascarenhas’s novel The Psychology of Time Travel see my review. So when I saw this one and realised it was by the same author, I requested it.

BLURB: The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop. Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

REVIEW: This book may be fantasy, rather than science fiction, but there were a couple of aspects of the writing that I recognised in common with The Psychology of Time Travel. The main protagonists were women and they weren’t innately likeable. However, that didn’t stop me bonding with both Hazel and, in particular, Persephone. Mostly because she has had a very raw deal.

Ironically, although the founders of the Kendricks famous doll-making business were all women, these days it is the men who get to be Sorcerers and take the key roles for themselves. Persephone is convinced that she is destined to become a doll-maker – including adding the vital magical ingredient that is denied all the women now working within the business, no matter how talented they are. However, she is only permitted to work in the shop and when she isn’t, it is taken for granted by the rest of the Family that she will, somehow, keep her embittered and drunken father, Briar, in check. The gamechanger is the sudden appearance of a handsome stranger, who claims to be the long-lost descendant of the sister who was thought to have died in childbirth.

Larkin is taken on, though treated with great suspicion by the current CEO of Kendricks, and is expected to work on more mundane tasks while he proves his worth. I love the accumulation of incidents and details – until a certain event crashes across this small, close-knit community with the force of a grenade. I was thoroughly caught up by the fallout and stayed up far too late to discover what happened next – and no… Whatever else this book is, it isn’t remotely predictable.

I loved the passion and ambition exhibited by the two main female protagonists. Persephone is socially awkward – the last person you’d want to be the face of Kendricks – but she is tenacious, clever and doggedly persistent. All the characters in this intriguing, different story ping off the page with their almost Dickensian vividness. I’m going to remember this one for a very long time – an accomplished story which went in an unexpected direction and took me to a surprising ending, that nonetheless was very satisfying. Highly recommended for fans of unusual fantasy tales in a contemporary setting. While I obtained an arc of The Thief on the Winged Horse from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10