Category Archives: outstanding books

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of HARDBACK Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock #Brainfluffbookreview #Novacenebookreview

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My lovely mother sent this one to me as a gift after hearing Lovelock’s fascinating interview on Radio Four…

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun.

And that’s as much of the atrocious blurb that I’m willing to share. This isn’t a long book, but it posits some fascinating views – which are aptly summed up in the most blurting blurb I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck to read it before I was aware I would be gifted the book.

However, I did my best to put the back cover matter out of my head, because as I read the book, I was aware that Lovelock is a one-off. His ideas are genuinely original and while I’m not convinced about all of them – I don’t agree with his stance regarding the existence of aliens, for instance – I did feel that his summary about the crisis surrounding climate change and our treatment of Earth is worth the book alone. To the extent that I am now converted to supporting the nuclear industry as a stopgap before discovering less toxic ways of generating energy, instead of continuing to use fossil fuels in any form.

I found his ideas about the future direction of our species and how hyperintelligence will continue to develop to be fascinating. I hope that governments around the world will listen to his warnings about keeping machine intelligence away from military applications, though I somehow doubt it – these days many major powers seem to led by braindead donkeys…

If I’ve given you the impression that this book is a doom-laden litany of impending disasters, then I need to correct that mistake. At 100 years old, Lovelock is not only still mentally pin-sharp, he is also largely optimistic about humanity’s future, believing that both machine and organic intelligence will need to unite to head off the threat of global warming endangering all life on the planet. Overall, I found this a readable, cogent analysis on the major issues confronting us as a species and Lovelock’s take on how that will probably pan out worth considering. After all, this is the man who explained that our environment worked as a highly complex, interrelated whole, at a time when other experts mocked the idea. We ignore him again at our peril.

Highly recommended.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheHeartoftheCirclebookreview

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This one was recommended by one of my book blogging friends, so I scampered across to Netgalley and requested it. I’m so sorry I can’t recall who exactly it was who suggested it – but do please let me know and claim the glory – so I can heartily thank you…

Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?

This book is set in Tel Aviv – Landsman is an Israeli author – and the different setting is just one of a range of aspects that sets this book apart. It is set in an alternate dystopian setting where magic-users around the world face a variety of measures designed to limit their freedom. In the US, they are forced to live in ghettos and while apparently Israeli society is more liberal, it doesn’t prevent many attacks on sorcerers, with most police turning a blind eye to such crimes. Reed is one of those fighting for equal rights for the magical community, putting himself at risk as he serves in a coffee bar. I found his edgy character, with his ability to read and diffuse people’s moods, appealing and sympathetic – even when he was being a bit of a prat, which is when you know the author has nailed her protagonist.

There is also a strong cast of supporting characters, notably his flatmate, Daphne, who is a seer. I like the gritty detail that people who can see into the future or become assailed with other people’s strong emotions are prone to depression and mental illness with a high suicide rate among them – it makes sense. I felt that Landsman had thought through carefully what would be the ongoing consequences for someone cursed with such a gift. In the middle of all this turbulence, Reed falls desperately, helplessly in love with another empath. His same-sex relationship with Lee, an American, grows steadily more intense throughout the book and described with passion and tenderness and while this isn’t principally a romance, this relationship plays a pivotal role in the narrative.

I burned through this book in just over two days, staying awake faaar too long to find out what happens next. I like Landsman’s layered characterisation and trick of writing a situation from the inside out – and would happily read anything else she has written. This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and is highly recommended for anyone who likes reading about magical worlds with a difference. The ebook arc copy of The Heart of the Circle was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Sunday Post – 11th August, 2019 #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.

I was AWOL last week, recovering from a big family wedding. my sister and nephew came to lunch. It was wonderful seeing my nephew – formerly a confirmed bachelor – walk up the aisle with someone so well suited – their happiness shone through. I had the privilege of giving one of the readings at the lovely service at Bournemouth Town Hall, followed by an enjoyable reception in Christchurch, where catching up with family was the bonus to celebrating this fabulous couple’s happiness. The only downside was the car journey there and back which made it a long day. Then last Sunday I finally finished working on Sally’s book – it was a gruelling five-hour session, but we both felt on a high at the end. On Monday, my sister and my other nephew – who’d been best man at the wedding – came over for a meal with us. It was a wonderful treat as I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with Michael for some time and he is excellent company.

On Tuesday, Himself and I relaxed, after doing the main shop and treated ourselves to lunch out. It was another hot, sunny day and we were also able to enjoy sitting in the garden as I played hooky from work. On Thursday, Frankie came to stay – Oscar stayed behind as his dad managed to get tickets for the Everton match this Saturday. So Friday saw us shopping till we dropped, swinging by Hobbycraft for art supplies as Frankie draws and paints and generally catching up. It seems a long time since I’ve seen him.

Last night we attended a performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Alexandra Theatre in Bognor, braving stormforce winds to do so. It was worth it, especially as Tim was appearing. We thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful performances, haunting music and impressive production standard. Today we are planning to go up to Forbidden Planet in London so Frankie can check out their selection of manga books.

Last week I read:

The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman
Throughout human history there have always been sorcerers, once idolised and now exploited for their powers. In Israel, the Sons of Simeon, a group of religious extremists, persecute sorcerers while the government turns a blind eye. After a march for equal rights ends in brutal murder, empath, moodifier and reluctant waiter Reed becomes the next target. While his sorcerous and normie friends seek out his future killers, Reed complicates everything by falling hopelessly in love. As the battle for survival grows ever more personal, can Reed protect himself and his friends as the Sons of Simeon close in around them?
I thoroughly enjoyed this Netgalley arc – it’s always a joy when a book exceeds expectations and this one turned out to be an engrossing read unlike anything else I’ve read this year.

 

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures – Book 2 of Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology series
Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes. In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta – who was raised by bears – outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.
This enjoyable account of the Greek heroes who stepped up to rid the world of some of the monsters is a delight to listen to – every bit as good as Mythos

 

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence by James Lovelock
James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the anthropocene – the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies – is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age – the novacene – has already begun.
This short book covers a lot of ground and gives a heady insight into the vision of one of the greatest thinkers of our age. Review to follow…

 

My posts last week:

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones

Friday Faceoff featuring How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Kindle Unlimited Promotion

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman

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

Favourite Fives – My Favourite Five Agatha Christie mysteries https://iwishilivedinalibrary.blogspot.com/2019/08/friday-fives-my-five-favorite-agatha.html?spref=tw This is an enjoyable meme, but what caught my eye was that some of Katherine’s selection were stories that I hadn’t read – what about you?

…a Writer’s work is never done… thankfully!… https://seumasgallacher.com/2019/08/09/a-writers-work-is-never-done-thankfully/ Successful indie author demonstrates the work ethic that has made helped him self publish a string of gripping Jack Calder thrillers.

Short story review: FIRE IN THE BONE by Ray Nayler https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2019/08/06/short-story-review-fire-in-the-bone-by-ray-nayler/ There is a link to this story – and since I’ve read it, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head… what a treat.

#AuthorInterview: #SFF #writer #AdrianTchaikovskydiscusses #writing #openinglines, #worldbuilding, and other bits of #writinglife. Thanks @aptshadow! https://jeanleesworld.com/2019/08/08/authorinterview-sff-writer-adriantchaikovsky-discusses-writing-openinglines-worldbuilding-and-other-bits-of-the-writinglife-thanks-aptshadow/ Top-notch interviewer Jean Lee quizzes talented SFF author Adrian Tchaikovsky on all things writing…

Thursday Doors – Goodbye Dublin https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2019/08/08/thursday-doors-goodbye-dublin/ I just love this quirky series – how does Jean find such a variety of wonderful doors?

Science Fiction in Kindle Unlimited https://books.bookfunnel.com/scifi-in-ku/4tecpf2y60 This is a book funnel promo I’m part of – if you are considering some sci fi goodness this summer, why not check out this selection?

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDarkLordofDerkholmaudiobookreview

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I had bought this one for my dyslexic grandson back in the day when he relied on his Audible reads to keep in touch with the world of books – but I didn’t have a kindle back then that could cope with audiobooks. I have now…

Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.

I know this one is advertised as a children’s read – but it certainly didn’t feel that way to me. Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties are portalled in from another, non-magical world (which sounds very much like our own…) where the pilgrims are promised – and expect – the full fantasy experience. Each group has a wizard guide as they are ushered around to take part in various skirmishes with pirates, avian monsters and a final full-scale battle against the forces of the Dark Lord, who they help overthrow. However, all these tours are taking their toll on the fabric and people exposed to this series of tourist incursions. While this is characterised as hilarious, and I found it both clever and witty – I wasn’t all that amused. I kept thinking of how the locals must feel on the Greek islands when they are overrun by hordes of British youngsters looking for loud music and drunken revelry… And they don’t have a Derk to deliver them from the constant, ongoing invasion. That’s only one example – I’m also aware of places like Indonesia where alongside five-star hotels are staff working long, thankless hours for a pittance as most of the income is hoovered up by the large multinational companies exploiting the natural beauty of the location.

Derk struggles to deal with numerous nit-picking organisational problems and as I continued painting the bathroom, I listened to the unfolding muddle, excellently narrated by Jonathan Broadbent. It was yet another joy – I am so enjoying my audiobook experience! This one is very highly recommended for anyone who enjoys intelligent fantasy adventures – but I shan’t be introducing it to my younger nine-year-old grandson, yet. Clever and precocious though he is, he simply won’t be able to fully appreciate the issues Wynne Jones is addressing in this clever, thoughtful book for another of handful of years.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia #Brainfluffbookreview #GodsofJadeandShadowbookreview

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This was a no-brainer for me as I love Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my review of Certain Dark Things, which also gives the links for my reviews of The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room – and opens it…

I have yet again shortened and tweaked the rather chatty blurb as the story arc is far too well crafted to be spoilt by prior knowledge of one of the main plotpoints. Suffice to say that once more, this remarkable writer has pulled me into her colourful world. I really liked and sympathised with Casiopea, who is the Cinderella-type character – however, don’t go away with the impression that she is anything like the Disneyfied saccharine character who coos over mice and trills to birds. Casiopea is much too coolly self-possessed to do such a girly thing. Indeed, it is her unspoken defiance and evident intelligence that nettles her unpleasant cousin, Martin – how dare the poverty-stricken drudge be their grandfather’s favourite? He is only too aware that if she’d been born a boy, she would have inherited the family fortune and even now, she forgets her place to answer back when he taunts her. So when a particular event takes place after she opens the box and she is offered a new life away from the family home, Casiopea is happy to leave without a backward look.

The character who she follows requires really good writing to portray effectively – he isn’t innately sympathetic, being aloof, cold and not particularly concerned with humanity, other than how the species can best serve him. He certainly isn’t someone I would generally care about – but then it is all about context. Moreno-Garcia is clever in setting him and his interests in opposition to someone much, much worse.

But one of the strengths of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – and one of the main themes she explores throughout this delightful adventure, is one of change. Casiopea and her companion affect each other. She is less angry and bitter away from the long list of dead-end chores she was forced to perform and finds a softer, kinder version of herself who isn’t afraid to intervene to stop someone being harmed. She also finds herself experiencing the world in ways she could only have dreamt of, which forces her to examine what she actually wants, as opposed to what she doesn’t want.

As for her companion, this remote, icily hostile character is shocked to find himself increasingly drawn to the girl, her mortal charm and her kindness, even though he is aware that his evident attraction to her is a sign that all is not well. The other character who undergoes a major change throughout the book is obnoxious Martin. I’m a fan of writers who give us a real insight into what makes their baddies behave so nastily – and Moreno-Garcia gives us a ringside seat to Martin’s plight when he is sent out by his grandfather to coax Casiopea to return home.

The Mexican setting, the 1920s era and above all, the increasingly dangerous tasks faced by these two mortals unwittingly caught up in a power struggle between two immortals who hate each other with a passion only reserved for sibling rivalry. I was fascinated as to how it was going to play out – and I have to say that the ending worked really well. I have found myself thinking about this one since I finished it – always the mark of a book that has sunk its claws into me.

Just a quick word, however – this retelling is a sophisticated, nuanced read designed for adults and is not suitable for youngsters, a detail that Moreno-Garcia is keen to make clear as it has been advertised as a YA read in certain quarters. Very highly recommended for fans of well written fantasy adventure. The ebook arc copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone #Brainfluffbookreview #ThisIsHowYouLosetheTimeWarbookreview

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With a title like that – how could I resist? Though I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting… Whatever it was – it wasn’t what I got.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. And thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Except discovery of their bond would be death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

So… no set battles. No gripping accounts of being adrift in unfamiliar time threads with climactic chases between adversaries. This is an essentially epistolary novel where the two protagonists communicate by letters they hide for each other. Expert assassin Blue, for vague reasons she isn’t wholly aware of – reaches out to her opposite number, Red, whose work she knows well and admires. Slightly burnt out with all the violence of her assignments, she wants something… more. And that is how the correspondence starts. I don’t think I’m providing any major spoilers if I disclose the Red doesn’t ignore the letter – or report it to her superiors.

What makes this book an extraordinary read is the poetical beauty of the prose, juxtaposed with some of grim, bloody tasks both Blue and Red are tasked with. And while both are slightly alienated by aspects of their work – there’s no getting away from the fact that they do both revel in their skills, too.

The sheer delicacy of their communication, sharply contrasted by the gory reality of their daily round made this a constantly surprising read – it isn’t often these days that I get absolutely no sense where a book is going. Although, there were a couple of clues – I still wasn’t sure if the authors had seeded a couple of false trails and there would be a different sort of ending. And no… I’m not disclosing anything more – this is one where I think it’s important that the reader fully experiences the story without any spoilery expectations. So kudos to the blurb-writer who respected that imperative – I was pleasantly surprised to be able to include the whole backcover copy without having to edit it.

So did I enjoy it? Oh yes – this is a triumph. Splendidly ambitious and quirky, only exceptionally talented writers could pull this off. This savage, sublimely beautiful book will stay with me for a long, long time as I ponder what it says about our need for connection with someone who can understand. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy lush poetical prose and flawed desperation. The ebook arc copy of This is How You Lose the Time War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
10/10

Review of AUDIOBOOK Mythos written and narrated by Stephen Fry #Brainfluffbookreview #Mythosbookreview

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When I saw this book featured by Audible, it was a no-brainer. I’m still spinning out the major work (76 listening hours) of Stephen Fry’s narration of the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes – the man could make the telephone directory compulsive listening. As an early fan of Greek mythology, I was sure this would make marvellous listening – and I wasn’t wrong…

The Greek myths are the greatest stories ever told, passed down through millennia and inspiring writers and artists as varied as Shakespeare, Michelangelo, James Joyce and Walt Disney. They are embedded deeply in the traditions, tales and cultural DNA of the West. In Stephen Fry’s hands the stories of the titans and gods become a brilliantly entertaining account of ribaldry and revelry, warfare and worship, debauchery, love affairs and life lessons, slayings and suicides, triumphs and tragedies.

Yep. All of the above. In a chatty, unthreatening manner, Fry charts the doings of those Greek gods, from the violent beginnings in the creation stories, to the establishment of the pantheon and on into the creation of mortals. Throughout, in addition to telling the stories, Fry ensures we also understand how the names of various gods, goddesses, demi-gods, muses and nymphs has impacted upon our language, by pointing out the words that have sprung up around the various names, as well as giving the Roman versions. I also liked how he not only mentions classical power couples – but also cites Kim and Kanye West…

Just a warning for those of you with small people in your household – these stories contain a lot of violence and death. So I’d advise you to listen through this alone to decide whether it would make suitable family listening on a long car journey, for instance. I certainly wouldn’t be happy for my nine-year-old grandson to hear many of the stories as they would raise far too many awkward questions around sexual violence that I wouldn’t want to answer at this stage in his development. Those conversations and decisions need to be directed by his parents, not me.

I was also struck at how few of the stories ended happily. Most seem to be warning mortals not to be too boastful – or too good at anything. And whatever you do, receive wandering, scruffy strangers into your home and treat them well – oh, and ideally, don’t be too beautiful – that rarely ended well if you happened to take the fancy of a god, or goddess, especially Zeus. What I especially enjoyed was how Fry is at pains to depict the ongoing consequences of a particular event – even if you, the listener, may have lost track of exactly who this new character is, if he or she is related to a former protagonist, he points it out, joining up the dots.

All in all, this is an outstanding book – and I am warmly convinced that actually hearing it is by far the best way to experience all those complicated Greek names and torrid stories. This is probably one that I shall want to hear again – something I very rarely ever do – because there is just so much richness and depth of perspective that I am sure that while decorating the bathroom, I lost track of some of those nuances. Highly recommended for anyone with any kind of curiosity about some of the linguistic, moral and cultural beginnings of Western civilisation.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #WithintheSanctuaryofWingsbookreview #2019TheBacklistReaderChallenge

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It’s been far too long since I finished the fourth book in this series, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – and I realised that I had been putting off completing this series simply because I didn’t want all the fun to stop. However, all good things must come to an end…

After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent–dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field. And yet–after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia–the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure–scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies–and what she discovered there, Within the Sanctuary of Wings.

The other issue, of course, is after whisking us around the world, where Lady Trent endured desert, biting cold and torrid jungle in her search for knowledge about the various species of dragons, would this latest adventure managed to measure up to the previous cracking reads? The answer is yes. Now at a stage in her career where her exploits have given her a worldwide reputation, Lady Trent still is not wholly accepted within the scientific circles of Scirland. So while she is constantly in touch with fellow academics, corresponding around the world on the subject of dragons and respected as a leading authority, she is also becoming increasingly restless. Those of you who have read any of these books won’t find it a huge surprise that when reports of the remains of a completely new species come to her attention, she quickly organises an expedition to travel to the inhospitable range of mountains where this frozen corpse was last seen.

I love Lady Trent. She is the embodiment of a host of plucky Victorian ladies who ventured across the globe in long skirts and boned stays on a variety of scientific expeditions that subsequently were often erased from history. Brennan, by now knows her heroine very well, so we can relax into the adventure that befalls her – Lady T is something of a disaster magnet – which also takes the whole series into a completely different direction.

Does this final adventure adequately bring this whole series to a satisfactory conclusion? Oh yes – I thought this culmination of Lady T’s eventful life of scientific exploration was very well handled. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading this delightful series and enjoy the opportunity to read a different sort of book about dragonkind, then this one comes highly recommended. Whatever you do, though, don’t start with this book – go back to the beginning of the series and pick up A Natural History of Dragons see my review here. I only wish that I was also able to turn the page and experience the pleasure of the first book for the first time, again.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook In Evil Times – Book 2 of the Imperials series by Melinda Snodgrass #Brainfluffbookreview #InEvilTimesbookreview

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The High Ground – see my review here – which I read in response to Sci Fi Month and as we had the second book already, I tucked in.

Thracius Tracy Belmanor and the Infanta Mercedes de Arango have graduated from The High Ground and have become officers in the Orden de la Estrella. Tracy’s posting aboard a battleship leads him to further doubt the intentions of the Solar League, as he and his comrades are required to assimilate the settlers of a Hidden World. Meanwhile, Mercedes’ own posting and her difficult marriage to Beauregard Boho Cullen, made to assure her succession of the throne, divides her loyalties. In a society where most humans and all aliens are second-class citizens, the two young officers have difficult choices to make…

As in the first book, the storyline focuses on these two young people who became very close during the first book, even though it was clear their relationship would never be able to go any further. I had sort of assumed that during this book, love would somehow find a way – because that’s what happens in amongst the action and mayhem in most space opera. So I was more than a tad gobsmacked when events took a completely different turn.

I had become very attached to both characters in the first book, but found Tracy harder to like this time around. He is eaten up with anger and bitterness, making no attempt to compromise and foster friendships in amongst the other young officers. That said, even though there were times when I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled, I admired his gritted courage and his determination to do the right thing. His tactical ability and leadership skills are not utilised sufficiently, but when he is called upon to act, he does so with flair.

However, my favourite character by a long country mile is Mercedes. Her life is allll about compromise – she marries the man who she likes rather than loves to secure her family’s grip on the imperial throne. She fills the role of Infanta, rather than continue her career as a fighter pilot, even though she is exceptionally good at it – and all without becoming embittered and angry, in stark contrast to Tracy’s attitude.

The action in the book highlights some of the trickier moral actions the underpin the social structure. When a human colony is discovered illegally operating outside the Imperial League, the consequences are shocking. Its economy is hi-jacked and resources given over to the League, the population brought under control – and all the children under ten years old are taken away to be adopted or fostered by loyal families on other worlds, which means the population are assimilated within a generation. This issue is explored within the story in a manner that had me wondering both about the justification and the long-term effects.

The entitled nobility, who advance by dint of their birth rather than their ability, have a casually dismissive attitude towards the rest of the human population, which is the attitude typifying the huge majority of humans towards all the alien species who are employed as servants or indentured labourers. I really enjoyed this interesting exploration of the society through the lens of two major protagonists, while finding the unexpected plot twists prevented me from putting this one down. I read it in two greedy gulps and surfaced wanting more, so immediately went looking for the third book, The Hidden World – something I hardly ever do.

Recommended for fans of grown-up space opera that takes the characters and story arc outside the confines of the usual genre conventions.
10/10

*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