Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The First Time Lauren Pailing Died by Alyson Rudd #Brainfluffbookreview #TheFirstTimeLaurenPailingDiedbookreview

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I requested this one as I am always a sucker for any book that mucks about with time – and was delighted when I was approved…

Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too. But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.

Strictly speaking this is historical, as the story starts back in the late 1960s, but like many others reading this one, the period covered also deals with my past. So the first question – does Rudd convincingly portray the recent past without holding up the narrative? Yes – she manages to slip in all sorts of little details that I had forgotten, yet were immediately recognised as I encountered them. I didn’t spot any anomalies, either – which, along with the accomplished writing and strong characterisation, helped to pull me completely into the story.

Lauren was well depicted as a small child, which isn’t as easy as Rudd makes it look, which is important, given her age when the first jolt out of time occurs. I was shaken at how Rudd tackles this – Lauren resurfaces into another timestrand where things are slightly different but largely the same. It would have been so easy to make this tediously slow-paced, or not quite convincing – showing slight differences is always harder to achieve than large, dramatic flourishes. But Rudd handles all this with ease, giving us a ringside seat into Lauren’s struggles to come to terms with what is happening to her, as well as allowing us to see how her death has affected her close relatives. As time goes by, we continue to track everyone most hurt by Lauren’s untimely death in a way that had me unable to put down the book.

Meanwhile, I also really liked how the two personalities are merged as Lauren copes in her new timestrand and learns not to mention what went before. However, the question of Peter Stanning and his sudden disappearance slowly emerges throughout all the timelines – and once Lauren realises this, she clings to the mystery of his absence, determined to try to hunt him down…

I’ll be honest – I’m not convinced that this particular plotline is wholly successful. While I liked the idea of Peter’s disappearance running through all the timelines, I felt this was built into a major mystery that was at odds with the final denouement. However, this could well have been deliberate, as the circumstances surrounding what happened to Peter and how that affected both his wife and sons, also added to the poignancy of his death.

While I had been expecting an entertaining read, I was unprepared for the elegance of the writing and plotting, or the excellent characterisation. Highly recommended for fans of timeslip adventures of the sliding doors variety. The ebook arc copy of The First Time Lauren Pailing Died was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Outside by Ada Hoffmann #Brainfluffbookreview #TheOutsidebookreview

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The cover of this one caught my eye – and the fact that it is an Angry Robot book by a female author unknown to me. So I was delighted when I was approved to read it…

The Pride of Jai was supposed to be humanity’s greatest accomplishment—a space station made entirely by humans and their primitive computers, without “divine” cyber-technology provided by the sentient quantum supercomputers worshipped as Gods. And it was supposed to be a personal triumph for its young lead scientist, physicist Yasira Shien, whose innovative mathematics was key to the reactor powering it. But something goes wrong—placing Yasira in the sights of angry Angels, the cyborg servants of the Gods…

I’ve tweaked and streamlined the very chatty blurb, but this original, dystopian science fiction adventure features brilliant Yasira Shien, who happens to be on the autistic spectrum and gay. I liked the main protagonist, whose autism was convincingly depicted throughout, especially when she was in difficult situations – which happened a lot, especially when everything went to hell in a handcart on The Pride of Jai. Her emotions around Tiv, her lover, are clearly strong but curiously limited in the manner in which she thinks of her and describes her – but that also chimes with her being autistic. Her mentor, Dr Talirr, also one of the main characters, is also autistic but more profoundly affected than Yasira in that she struggles to connect with anyone – except Yasira, and even then she finds it very difficult, except in a time of ultimate crisis, to reach out to her. I thought it heartening to have two major characters so atypical and I think Hoffmann has brilliantly depicted them.

In contrast to the two main human protagonists is the main antagonist, Akavi. He/It is a cyborg angel charged with preventing the Outside – a fractured quantum-like reality that twists and warps our own space-time continuum and anyone unfortunate to get caught up in it – from breaking through. And when the Outside does manifest, Akavi has the task of hushing up the whole incursion. This cyborg has been designed to interact effectively with humans, persuading them to trust and rely on him, all the while well aware that if he doesn’t sort out the problem, he is likely to be effectively killed. As he is immortal, this is a very big deal – and in comparison, human lives are of little consequence, so he doesn’t mind if a number of them are killed in the process. Although no one wants to provoke mortals into rebelling again as the last time that happened, the war was messy and killed far too many of them. Besides, the cyborg angels need humanity.

If you’re thinking this is an intriguing set-up, you’re right. Overall, I really enjoyed the twists and turns of this ambitious sci fi adventure, which effectively raised questions such as – what is it that makes us human? What is the nature of reality and how do we define it when it starts fraying at the edges? And how do we ultimately define ourselves? Highly recommended for fans of intelligent science fiction adventure featuring atypical protagonists. While I obtained an arc of The Outside from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Liar in the Library – Book 18 of The Fethering mysteries by Simon Brett #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLiarintheLibrarybookreview

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When an author event at the local library ends in murder, Jude finds herself a suspect in the waspishly witty Fethering mystery. Having been booked to give a talk at Fethering Library, successful author Burton St Clair invites his old friend Jude to come along. Although they haven’t met for twenty years, Jude is not surprised to find that St Clair hasn’t changed, with his towering ego and somewhat shaky relationship with the truth. What Jude hadn’t been suspecting however was that the evening would end in sudden, violent death. More worrying, from Jude’s point of view, is the fact that the investigating police officers seem to be convinced that she herself was responsible for the crime. With the evidence stacking up against her, Jude enlists the help of her neighbour Carole not just to solve the murder but to prevent herself from being arrested for committing it.

Set in a small village literally a stone’s throw from where we live in Littlehampton, which is mentioned several times in the book, I’ll freely admit that one of the attractions with this entertaining whodunit is the fact that I recognise the towns they visit. It is rather fun to so clearly visualise the setting during the investigation, even if the village of Fethering is a construct. Of course, the book would be a downright trudge if that was the only thing going for it, so the fact that I really like Jude and her relationship with her rather prickly neighbour, Carole. It’s a bonus they are both retired and of a certain age – while I haven’t yet retired, I’m also well into middle age and it’s a solid pleasure to read a book with two female protagonists who reflect my own age-group. It doesn’t happen all that often…

Jude is a thoroughly likeable protagonist, who during the story becomes the chief suspect in the murder. These days, with our overloaded justice system, it’s all too believable to see a scenario where she could be imprisoned for perpetrating a crime she didn’t commit, so the stakes in this case are far higher than terminal boredom. What turns this readable adventure into pure delight, however, are the acidic observations Jude and Carole both have on the world and the characters around them. Brett doesn’t hold back from having a pop at the state of the publishing industry and the struggles rural libraries are having to keep going, amongst other aspects of life in modern England – as well as the protagonists’ observations about the other characters they come into contact while on the case. Several times I giggled aloud at a nicely pithy phrase.

I found the ending not only satisfying, but unexpectedly poignant. If you are looking for an entertaining cosy mystery with a thoroughly modern take on the genre, then go looking for this offering – it reminded me all over again why I enjoy Brett’s writing so much. While I obtained an arc of The Liar in the Library from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race by Lara Prior-Palmer #Brainfluffbookreview #RoughMagicbookreview

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I have to come clean – I requested this book because I was under the impression that it was a fantasy adventure, due to the title. For once, my trick of not reading the blurb tripped me up…

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. An outrageous feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the army of Genghis Khan, the Derby sees competitors ride 25 horses across 1000km, and it’s rare that more than half of the riders make it to the finish line. In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, wildly underprepared and in search of the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Finding on the wild Mongolian steppe strength and self-knowledge she didn’t know she possessed, even whilst caught in biblical storms and lost in the mountains, Lara tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. She didn’t just complete the race: in one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she won, becoming the youngest-ever competitor to conquer the course.

Lara makes an intriguing protagonist – in this painfully honest memoir of a tricky time in her life when she signed up for this most testing adventure on a fairly random whim, I get a sense of a very strong determined personality who is a work-in-progress. I liked the messiness of the characterisation. She is clearly someone not comfortable in her own skin – literally, as it happens. This gawky nineteen-year-old has been suffering with chronic stomach pains that no one has been able to successfully diagnose – and as the race wore on and many of the other competitors dropped away, it did occur to me that the reason why she managed to stick it out when so many others couldn’t, is simply that she’s used to being in constant physical discomfort and pain.

I say ‘simply’, but of course real life isn’t that simple. This book isn’t just about Lara’s gritted determination to complete – and ultimately win – a particularly gruelling horse race, it’s also about her take on the stunning scenery, the people in her life – and how comfortable she feels within herself. It’s striking that when in amongst other people, what falls out of her mouth is often crass and/or simply embarrassing. She mentions near the start of the book that she hasn’t many filters and at school she was in the habit of coming out with whatever was floating through her head at the time.

There’s a sense of her not really fitting in – not at home, or in her daily life and certainly not at the start of the race. By the end, however, it’s a different matter. The vets and race organisers begin to look upon her as a contender and there’s an implicit sense that there’s growing respect for her. Not that she mentions it – I’m not sure even now that she’s aware of how awed they were at her toughness and horsemanship. It’s striking that her main competitor pushed her horses really hard throughout, which eventually cost her the race. Mostly, Lara didn’t.

I’m conscious that I’ve written a great deal about the protagonist and not a whole lot about the race – it’s partly because I don’t want to stray into Spoiler territory, but also because I love the fact that while one thing is going on – the race – Lara is also busy growing up…

Her descriptions of her various horses, the varying weather and stunning scenery, along with her immediate reaction to it is masterfully done. This book pulled me in and held me throughout – I found it a fascinating, layered read that told me about so much more than a very challenging horse race. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading about true adventures.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Across the Void by S.K. Vaughn #Brainfluffbookreview #AcrosstheVoidbookreview

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I was so excited about this one – the premise looked amazing and the opening scene absolutely hooked me. What a fabulous beginning…

Commander Maryam “May” Knox awakes from a medically induced coma alone, adrift in space on a rapidly failing ship, with little to no memory of who she is or why she’s there. Slowly, she pieces together that she’s the captain of the ship, Hawking II; that she was bound for Europa—one of Jupiter’s moons—on a research mission; and that she’s the only survivor of either an accident—or worse, a deliberate massacre—that has decimated her entire crew. With resources running low, and her physical strength severely compromised, May must rely on someone back home to help her. The problem is: everyone thinks she’s dead.

First, the good news. The first half of the book is riveting – that opening sequence where May surfaces on a failing ship, struggling to work out what is going on with a badly glitched AI and memory issues, worked extremely well. The science aspect was entirely believable and the character development and backstory were effective and well written. I was drawn into her life, despite not liking her very much.

I also liked the fact that May was black, with a successful black mother who had helped and supported her. So it was a real shame that I never really warmed to May – in fact as the story wore on, I found myself disliking her selfish behaviour more and more. For me, the dealbreaker was the disgraceful manner in which she neglected her mother as she became old and ill – and then made a huge scene on her death, where we’re all supposed to feel very sorry for her grief. Hm – not me. By this point, I was sick and tired of May’s self absorbed behaviour, just hoping that poor old Stephen would see the light and run away in the opposite direction from her as fast as possible.

Because if you’re sensing a BUT, you’re right… this is a book of two halves. The first half drew me in and absolutely had me hooked, but about the halfway stage, I had a ‘Whoa!’ moment. The storyline lurched into the utterly unbelievable – setting up camp in Fantasyland, where it firmly stayed. I continued reading, hoping that somehow, at some stage, this would stop reading like the script of a really silly sci fi movie, and dial back to what started out as a thoroughly engrossing, strong story. It didn’t. The silliness wore on into the outright ridiculous.

It’s a shame. The characters were well depicted, so that even if I hated the main protagonist, it didn’t stop her being well portrayed, warts and all. The story could so easily have continued to be a gripping, well written thriller with plenty of heft, instead of lapsing into lazy Hollywoodesque clichés that I saw coming on encountering the opening sequences. Frequent comparisons with The Martian demean both the film (which did get a tad daft at the end) and certainly the book, which is far better crafted and more realistic than this effort.

Apparently, the tortured romantic element is being touted as sci-cry – and it’s certainly a crying shame that a better editor didn’t rein in the author(s) in this promising, yet horribly flawed effort. Not recommended for anyone who enjoys believable sci fi.

While I obtained an arc of Across the Void from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
4/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of NETGALLEY arc The Art of Noticing: Rediscover What Really Matters To You by Rob Walker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheArtofNoticingbookreview

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I have been struggling with stress and mild depression throughout this year. It’s badly affected my ability to sustain the relationships around me that matter, my physical health, my teaching and my writing. One of the more miserable aspects of this malaise is that I’m finding it very difficult to put in place anything that might help me out of this hole. I’ve fallen into patterns of behaviour that while initially helping me to flick into escape-mode, now over the longer term, are aggravating the situation – and through a sense of hopelessness, I am finding it difficult to wean myself away from them. So when I saw this book, I thought it might provide me with some ways to help myself at a practical, concrete level.

Distracted? Overwhelmed? Feel like your attention is constantly being pulled in different directions? Learn how to steal it back. Accessible and inspiring, this book features 131 surprising and innovative exercises to help you tune out white noise, get unstuck from your screen and manage daily distractions. Make small yet impactful changes and bring focus to the things and people that are most important to you.

And there’s the blurb – so the question is, are those 131 exercises really surprising and innovative? Can I envisage myself taking part in any of them, or a close alternative that would be a better fit for my own lifestyle and personality?

The answer to the first question is – yes. All the exercises are slightly off the wall and unusual, requiring a shift from everyday thinking – to the extent that some of them are used to help art students hone an alternative, original view of the world. Some of my favourites include the one inspired by writer Paul Lukas, who likes to discover the backstory of everyday objects in an activity he calls ‘inconspicuous consumption’, by asking ‘how did it get that way?’. I also like the exercise Brian Rea uses of making lists of immaterial things – such as the things he is worried about, memorable moments during a dinner party, the bars he visited when living in Stockholm. None of the above remotely appeal, but I’m attracted to the idea of making a list of the flowers blooming in my garden, along with the date when they first appeared, for instance. Another exercise I particularly like is making a glossary of unfamiliar vocabulary that exist within a specific expertise, by asking people for terms within their work life that don’t regularly come up in everyday usage.

There were a number of exercises that left me cold – one was to record a couple of minutes of activity on your smartphone and write a poem, or description of it, after viewing it repeatedly to ensure you absorb all the minutest details. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with it, it just didn’t appeal.

What I appreciate is that Walker has taken pains to spread these exercises across the widest spectrum of interests and sensory input. There are exercises that appeal to our visual senses – like the above, for instance. There are exercises involving sound-mapping the surrounding environment, with some ingenious variations; exercises involving drawing or painting; and using modern technology to make short films of the day objects you touch every day. In short, whoever you are and whatever your particular strengths and inclination, I think you’ll find something in this book that you could use or adapt. And that was something else I really like – there is no sense in which Walker is at all dogmatic about any of the suggested exercises. He frequently suggests variations and at the end of the book actively encourages his readers to find different ways to put this approach in place.

These exercises are all designed to help us reset ourselves within our environment, so that we focus on the immediacy of existing in the way we’ve done for millennia – the way we’re designed to do. I will be campaigning for the hard copy edition of this book for my upcoming birthday, as the ebook isn’t a particularly friendly medium for browsing and flipping back and forth. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to reconnect with their surroundings in any way.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Tim series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenofRuinbookreview

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I absolutely loved the Children of Time – it’s one of my all-time favourite science fiction books. So was thrilled to hear that there was a sequel on its way and even more thrilled when I was approved to read and review it.

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time. Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth. But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed. And it’s been waiting for them.

Once more, this is an ambitious, well-written epic adventure featuring humans, spiders and octopuses all as intelligent, sentient beings. Not only does this book encompass three species and convincingly depict their struggles to communicate with each other and amongst themselves, it sprawls across a brain-achingly long timespan. Furthermore, it does so whilst fracturing the timespan, so that some of it is told out of sequence…

I am a solid fan of Tchaikovsky’s work and familiar with the recurrent themes in his writing. I particularly love his knack of giving us unintended consequences, which is exactly what happens when a bored, rather lonely terraforming scientist decides to uplift a species of octopus to act as maintenance crews to the underwater equipment altering the planet for human use. No one writes non-human species better, in my opinion. I was completely convinced by what drove the spiders and the octopus societies, while the humans caught up in the middle of the crisis were also convincingly portrayed.

You might be sensing a but – and yes… there is one. For all that, I found the first half of this book rather a trudge. It might well be me – right now I’m tired and extremely stressed, although that doesn’t usually impact upon my reading. But while I was enjoying the slices of the adventure, I found the scrambled timeline really frustrating and at times, difficult to follow.

Once the stakes were clear and the action lined up for the desperate denouement, which was entirely gripping and held me throughout, the book rolled forward to a triumphant conclusion that will leave me pondering what happened for weeks and months to come. Tchaikovsky’s books tend to do that to me – it’s why I love reading them so much.

However, this one was a struggle and while it probably is more me than the book, I have to be honest about my reading experience. However, don’t be put off – especially if you loved Children of Time. Recommended for fans of well-written, first contact adventures with big, thought-provoking themes. The ebook arc copy of Children of Ruin was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePoisonSongbookreview

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I have thoroughly enjoyed the ongoing adventure in this excellent trilogy – read my reviews of The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins. The progression of this story, taking it from a straight epic fantasy adventure into a science fiction mash-up was masterfully handled, as are the steady revelations of new twists about aspects that we previously understood to be facts…

The very nature of the way Williams crafts her books makes it unlikely that you will be able to fully enjoy what is going on unless you read them in order – and as those of you who are regular visitors to my site know, I habitually crash midway into series without turning a hair. However, I wouldn’t want to make such a move with this series and strongly recommend that you don’t attempt it.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last installment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

And that’s the blurb. It won’t make much sense if you haven’t already read the previous books… I had thought that this final episode wouldn’t be able to deliver yet more surprises about the key figures in this full-on adventure – but I was wrong. We learn a lot more about the winnowing flame through Noon, the rebellious young fell-witch whose actions deeply affect those similarly cursed or gifted, depending on your viewpoint… And once more, Hestillion and the Queen of the Jure’lia manage to shock and repel me by their actions. I’ve grown very fond of all the characters in this adventure over the duration of this series – but for me, it’s Vintage who is my absolute favourite.

So… given that the first two books were so very good – has this finale lived up to expectations? Oh yes. Once more, we are immediately whisked right up into the middle of the action, so I’d also recommend that if you read The Bitter Twins a while ago and can’t quite recall exactly what is going on – flit back and remind yourself of who is doing what to whom – Williams doesn’t give you much breathing space before plunging you back into the thick of the plot.

In amongst all the mayhem, the recurring theme is about identity. Are we who we are because of what befalls us, or because of our genetic heritage? I was interested to note that Williams answers this question quite firmly by the end – and I was also interested to see which side of that discussion she favours. Not that the plot drifts off as this is discussed in any way – there simply isn’t room in amongst all the world-changing battles and soul-searing adventures.

As I don’t want to give away any spoilers, my comments regarding the unfolding story are necessarily vague, but I can report that the handling of the pacing, the conclusion of all the main character arcs and the climactic final battle is brilliantly done. I loved the bittersweet nature of the ending, though I was a tad devastated by the outcome regarding one of the main characters. And finished this one feeling a bit shattered, uplifted and with a lump in my throat. That doesn’t happen to me all that often, these days. But despite the fact that I have over half of 2019 still to run – I know I have just completed reading one of my outstanding reads of the year. While I obtained an arc of The Poison Song from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Porpoise by Mark Haddon #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePorpoisebookreview

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Like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Haddon’s best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and when I had the opportunity of reading his latest book, I jumped at it…

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

Be warned – if you pick this one looking for more of the same regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, then you’ll be disappointed. This is nothing like it, particularly the immersive first-person viewpoint that made Christopher sing off the page. This book is told throughout in omniscient viewpoint – the storyteller’s point of view. While we do spend short periods in the head of various characters, they are not what powers this story – and we are regularly given information that they are not privy to. I’ll be honest, if the story hadn’t been very well told and one that I hadn’t known, then I don’t think I’d have got through it. This is my least favourite viewpoint and it is a tribute to Haddon’s skill that once I relaxed into the rhythm of the writing and the cadences of the story, not dissimilar to those ancient Greek legends upon which aspects of this is based, I enjoyed it.

This story is a dual narrative, covering two timelines separated by thousands of years. We start with a plane crash that leaves a motherless newborn baby to be brought up by her very wealthy, doting father. And here comes my next warning – this book covers incest and child abuse, and though there are no graphic scenes, Angelica’s plight would certainly be a trigger for anyone affected. As her initial chance for escape disappears and her would-be rescuer flees for his life, the story abruptly jumps back in time.

Is this Angelica’s imaginings taking her to a different place? Or a mirroring of the same plight through the prism of time? We are never told and it’s left for the reader to make up her mind. But the blurb nails it in the second paragraph – the rest of the book plunges us into an adventure full of lost love, storms, pirates and perilous escape, in sharp contrast to the slow passing of time for Angelica as she tries to escape her father’s attentions.

That ending is both shattering and unexpected and has had me musing on this one long after I finished reading it. I’ve come away from this book with mixed feelings – I found it a gripping, unexpected adventure, but also quite disturbing. It has certainly wormed itself inside my head – recommended for readers who enjoy unusual, challenging stories where the ending doesn’t necessarily leave everything neatly tied up.

The ebook arc copy of The Porpoise was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Middlegame by Seanan McGuire #Brainfluffbookreview #Middlegamebookreview

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I was intrigued by the Hand of Glory featured on the cover and I also liked the premise, so requested this one and was delighted when I was approved.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story. Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet. Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And that’s the blurb. Reed is definitely the villain you love to hate – he is completely amoral and fully focused on attaining the highest power that all alchemists are seeking. He has created several sets of twins, who are designed to perfectly complement each other’s strengths. Some are brought up together in the laboratory where they were created, while others are split and brought up separately until they grow into their powers. Roger and Dodger fall into the second tranche.

However, they manage to find each other, even though they are both very young and living hundreds of miles apart. Once their connection is discovered, they are split up again – causing anger and trauma to both… Initially, the viewpoint jumps around a bit as McGuire establishes the stakes and demonstrates just what the hapless twins are up against. But once the action centres on Roger and Dodger and we follow their highs and lows as they grow up, I was pulled into the story and became engrossed in the unfolding action.

I liked both of them – Dodger is the more sensitive and brittle personality, who grows up holding people at arm’s length, while Roger is more comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed watching their development – and the various twists as first they are separated and then get together.
Meanwhile Reed is always lurking in the background, monitoring their progress and comparing it with his other experiments… And yes, the Hand of Glory features throughout the book. Because we get to know the characters well, I really cared and found this one difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I’m not sure that opening section is necessary as I found it distracting while waiting for that particular shoe to drop, which I think interfered with my enjoyment somewhat.

However, the climax was suitably convincing and brought this epic story to a strong conclusion – although there is potential for another book in this world. While I obtained an arc of Middlegame from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10