Category Archives: New Weird movement

Friday Faceoff – I’m so dizzy… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffdizzycovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with dizzying images. I’ve selected Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer.

Fourth Estate, December 2019

This edition was produced by Fourth Estate in December 2019 and it’s certainly eye-catching. And has the sense of surrealism and power that runs through VanderMeer’s writing. I love the swirling colour and glorious difference – I just wish the title and author fonts were less wussy and more visible.

MCD, December 2019

Published in December 2019 by MCD, someone must have heard my grizzle about the previous cover. Because this time around, we get the psychedelic colours AND the emphatic title and text – in eye-blurring detail, actually. But you certainly can’t miss them… And I take my hat off in tribute to the cover art designers – this book pushes all sorts of boundaries in regards to narrative, use of language and story conventions. New Weird aptly sums it up. And it’s a testament to the skill and imagination of the designers that this offering and the previous cover gives the potential reader a very strong clue as to what they’re getting into.

Subterranean, 2020

This edition was published in 2020 by Subterranean. It couldn’t be more different to the other offerings for this book – but is still beautiful, for all that. My main reservation is that I’m not sure it adequately conveys the sheer oddness of the book.

Turkish edition, March 2021

This Turkish edition, produced by Alfa Yayınları in March 2021, is my favourite. I love the Mandelbrot fractal designs – a strong clue to the challenging nature of the book, as well as being beautiful and very easy on the eye. And the addition of the fox outline introduces another main character who features in the book, which is always a plus for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

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I loved the cover for this fantasy offering when I saw it on NetGalley, so jumped at the chance to review it. Would I enjoy it?

magicbitterMaire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. However, when she is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being, she finds herself beginning to change…

I have drastically shortened and edited the very revealing blurb and recommend you avoid it, as it reveals far too many major plotpoints in the first quarter of the narrative. Fortunately, I have a policy of not reading blurbs so didn’t find my reading experience compromised – which I’m glad about, because it would have been a real shame. Told in first person viewpoint, Maire is an appealing protagonist who enjoys her job of baking positive emotions and feelings into her cakes. The writing is sensuous and effective, giving a real sense of the process of baking and I completely believed in Maire’s pleasure as she cooks magical treats for the people around her.

Once she is overtaken by catastrophe, though, the nagging sense of her lost past turns into a burning issue as it is clear the ghostly winged being, who continues visiting her, is desperate for her to regain her memory. The catch is, although he knows who she is, he is unable to tell her – she has to find out for herself. The premise certainly gripped me, as she also finds herself having to cope with a wilful, obstinate being who demands she perform a number of tasks. Shades of familiar fairy tales pervade this tale of loss and longing, as Maire struggles to discover who she used to be – and how that knowledge can save her.
Holmberg weaves an intricate tale with echoes of Hansel and Gretel, the Gingerbread Boy and Frankenstein providing a rich backdrop to Maire’s struggles to discover who she is. I really loved the atmosphere she creates – a slightly heightened tone to the writing that doesn’t quite tip into Gothic, but certainly reflects the style of Grimm’s tales. The character of Allemas, the main antagonist, is beautifully done and when it becomes clear exactly who he is and his role in Maire’s life, I was left with a lump in my throat.

One one level, this is a pleasing fantasy tale spun from the lingering wisps of familiar childhood stories, on another – the themes of loss, yearning and identity twine throughout this thought-provoking book that has been sliding into my head since I’ve finished reading it. I haven’t read anything else Holmberg has written, but after reading Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet I shall definitely be tracking down her other work. A copy of Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
9/10

Review of Above the Snowline by Steph Swainston – Book 4 of The Fourlands series

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Swainston’s book The Modern World blew me away. The sheer quality and originality of her world-building, characterisation and story arc was impressive and memorable. I loved Jant, the immortal, drug-taking Messenger and the New Weird mash-up of aspects of modern life in a medieval setting. So, when I came across this offering, I scooped it off the shelf with joy in my heart. But would it fulfil my expectations?

Awian exiles are building a settlement in the Darkling mountains, where the Rhydanne hunt. Their clash of interests soon leads to bloodshed in the snows and Shira Dellin, a Rhydanne huntress, appeals to the immortal Circle for justice. The Emperor sends Jant, half-Rhydanne, half Awain, and all-confidence to mediate…

Above the Snowline is a prequel to the previous three books, and here we see a far younger, more callow Jant sent out on his first above the snowlinevital mission. A Jant before the drug-taking and his marriage – and before he has faced up to his difficult heritage. The other major difference is that though the gritted struggle with the Insects is occasionally mentioned, it isn’t at the forefront of the story. The engine that drives this narrative is the collision of cultures between the solitary Rhydanne hunters that occupy an apparently empty territory – and the sudden influx of Raven and his followers after their attempt to dislodge the Awain King – Raven’s brother – fails. As they struggle to survive on the forested uplands, their trapping, tree-felling and building frightens away the native wildlife – and the Rhydanne hunting pairs find themselves facing starvation.

While we get a sense of Jant, his voice is far more muted in this book, as the exploration of the worsening situation is told through multiple first person viewpoints – so we learn of Dellin’s essential wildness, courage and conviction, along with Raven’s bitter sense of injustice that he is cheated of the throne by being the brother born a few moments later than his twin.

Swainston’s strong storytelling gives us insights into all the major protagonists – so as the situation tips into spiralling violence, we find ourselves sympathising with both the Rhydanne and Raven, who has been banished to the bleak mountains for the rest of his life. Unlike so much Fantasy, Swainston won’t allow us the easy option of thoroughly hating the baaad villain, as the heroine, Dellin, commits a terrible crime. While we learn that Raven is a cultured, highly intelligent man, who has a vision for the Awain nation – and would probably make a better king than his less thoughtful brother. His work ethic and concern for the welfare of his followers is certainly admirable, if disastrous for the ecology of the area.

As ever with Swainston, the story moves along at a fair clip without being unduly slowed by her superb descriptions. The bleak landscape is wonderfully portrayed and Raven’s fort is depicted with cinematic precision – as is the local hostelry and trading post ‘The Frozen Hound’ and its remarkable host Ouzel, one of my favourite characters.

The ending is suitably dramatic and satisfactorily brings the plot to a conclusion, which is important, given that this slice of the Fourlands is not going to feature again. As you may have gathered, I enjoyed this book every bit as much as Swainston’s earlier offering. Though this is despite another truly dreary cover that doesn’t begin to reflect the sparkling freshness of Swainston’s writing – or the very unfriendly font that had my poor middle-aged eyes aching. Those caveats aside, I recommend that you track down Swainston’s wonderful series – she really is in a class of her own.
10/10

Review of The Modern World – Book 3 of The Castle series by Steph Swainston

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I picked up this book (known in America as Dangerous Offspring) because I’d heard some interesting things about Swainston as an author – people either seemed to love or loathe her – and I decided it was time I made up my own mind. At the very least, she would be an interesting read and as she is part of the ‘New Weird’ movement – apparently – it would give me a better idea of exactly constitutes the New Weird…

Written in first person viewpoint, it gives a slice of the adventures of Jant, a flying immortal messenger. Jant’s role is vital as the Empire is engulfed in a stalemated war with an aggressive insect race. The gripping and disturbing Prologue is a flashback when Jant was involved in an ambush many years earlier. If action scenes in grisly detail tick your boxes, then this book is certainly worth consideration. However, it’s so much more than that.

If I understand it correctly, the New Weird movement is trying to break away from fantasy worlds stuck in Tolkein-like landscapes, where people move around on horseback and battle elves, dwarves and suchlike. They are supposed to include aspects of our modern existence, like drug-taking, fairly explicit sex with characters not classically heroic, but far more nuanced. Hm. Ok. Somewhere between classical and urban fantasy, then… Why couldn’t they say that? In fairness to Swainston, I’ve read her protests about sub-dividing the genre up too much and it seems that she regards herself as a straightforward fantasy writer.  What is undeniable is modernworldthat she is an outstanding writer. I didn’t start this book with joy in my heart. Being the shallow sort, I’m unduly influenced by book covers – and the UK cover of this one has to qualify as one of the dreariest offerings, ever. Once I opened it, the tiny font didn’t enthuse me, either. However, I persevered – and I’m very glad I did. Because this is one of the best written fantasy books I’ve ever read.

She isn’t particularly original in her world-building. There is an Empire, ruled by a rather scary, unpredictable character who is utterly authoritarian. There is a viciously effective insect race who have been waging war on the Empire, which isn’t going very well. Fantasy fans won’t be boggling in amazement at either of these storylines – or at the notion that an elite band of immortals who report directly to the Emperor are at the heart of the battle. Immortality is staple fare in both science fiction and fantasy. What makes Swainston stand out from the crowd is her very effective, powerful character depiction. By the end of the novel, I found myself genuinely moved when one of Jant’s immortal colleagues loses their ability to live forever. After reading literally dozens of books portraying characters with extended lifespans, this is the book that gave me the greatest insight into what that might entail.

I’ve also read plenty of books with an airborne protagonist. But Jant’s vivid description of the landscape beneath him as he flew long-distance to deliver a message to the Emperor, was a joy. Jant isn’t the kind of person I generally like – he’s got a reckless streak, with self- destructive tendencies, but Swainston’s writing had me right in his corner. By the way, the fact that it is the third book in a series is no cause for concern. Unlike far too many other authors, Swainston is capable of writing a completely self-contained storyline, while using characters who have featured in her previous work. I wasn’t even aware it was part of a series until I Googled her. And if you enjoy detailed, intelligent fantasy that is compellingly told, then don’t let the lacklustre cover and unfriendly print size put you off…
10/10