Category Archives: quest

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

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

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

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

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


Last week I read an astonishingly strong selection of books:

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

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


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


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

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

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



My posts last week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Treasures – 11

MANTIVORE WARRIOR is published today!

Sunday Post – 30th August 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover Love – 3 #Brainfluffcoverlove #CoverloveJulietEMcKenna

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Welcome to another helping of Cover Love. This week I’m displaying Juliet E McKenna’s covers in honour of her recent release of The Green Man’s Silence, which of course I snapped up. I have enjoyed reading her books for a while now – see my reviews of The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe, Dangerous Waters, Darkening Skies, Irons in the Fire, Blood in the Water and Banners in the Wind. I also have read the awesome Aldabreshin Compass series, which absolutely rocks and the highly enjoyable The Tales of Einarinn series. Which ones do you particularly like?


Cover reveal for MANTIVORE WARRIOR – Book 3 of The Arcadian Chronicles series #MantivoreWarriorcoverreveal

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Mantivore Warrior, the third book in The Arcadian Chronicles series, now is decently clothed in a cover, designed by my awesome friend Mhairi Simpson. I love the series branding – she’s done a great job of evoking the sense of the tension surrounding Jessob, my new protagonist in this latest adventure to befall Vrox, my grumpy telepathic alien. Even if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, given that this book features a new protagonist and takes Vrox on a completely different undertaking – it’s a good entry point.

BLURB for MANTIVORE WARRIOR
Setting out to cross The Arids is always dangerous – but this time, when the survival of an ancient sentient species hangs in the balance – it could be lethal…

Jessob Jolanzo, raised within the most powerful and remote mantivore lair on the planet, has roamed The Arids since he was knee-high to a hen. Having succeeded in his seemingly impossible mission, he and his companions are returning with a message of hope to the beleaguered mantivore community. But the way things are going, they’ll need a huge helping of luck to return them safely to the hidden mantivore enclave.

Vrox, apex predator and telepath, holds in his head ancient secrets many powerful humans in Gloriosa Prime would rather keep hidden. And his lifelong captivity leaves him unprepared him for this brutal journey.

Mistress Felina Keeper, former village Storekeeper, is now MindLinked with Vrox and accompanying him on this trek. Resourceful and possessed of formidable mental strength, her presence should help. But Jessob is discovering that while middle-aged mantivores become ever tougher and stronger – the same isn’t true of ageing humans.

And when an attacker strikes from a completely unexpected quarter, it isn’t only future of the mantivore race in peril – Jessob risks losing his mind…

Mantivore Warrior is now available at Amazon on pre-order, with the release date on 31st August. If you are interested in reading a review copy, they are now available at Booksprout – and here is the link. Or if you’d rather approach me directly, as a regular visitor to the blog, then let me know below.

Here is a sneak peek…

CHAPTER ONE
It’s nearly my favourite place in all the world, sitting by a campfire after a long night’s trek. Though my pleasure was dented when Mistress Felina’s face crunched into the scowl I’d grown to dread. “Roaching lizards, again?”
“When roasted till crunchy, there’s nothing tastier.” I put the bundle of lizards down onto the rock beside her, having already gutted an’ beheaded them, after she’d grumbled about that. “Vroxy won’t—”
“I got the ringside seat to Vrox’s kill, thank-you kindly. And to him gobbling it up,” she snapped. “Still trying to wipe it outta my mind so’s I can think of supper without wanting to puke. And then you show up with a bunch of headless lizards!”
Vrox whickers pleadingly. Can Lordling ease our Queen’s aches, so Vrox can return to a peaceful fireside and warm his chilled scales?
It will be done, Vroxy. I’ll need more HealDrool from you when you get back, though, I Sent. Sorting through my pack, I found the right phial, unwrapped it an’ placed it beside me.
While stacking the kindling, Mistress Felina looked across, face-scrunching again as she spotted the phial. “Don’t need that. Not now, Jessob! I’m busy.”
You’re hoed flat an’ hurting. An’ busy proving that you aren’t a cripped old woman Vroxy an’ me should leave behind. Which we won’t cos you’re tired an’ sore, but we might if you go on being such a drab-scaled misery. I grinned at her, hoping to soften her mood.
Vrox squeals, horrified at Lordling’s slack-crested incivility to his Queen and wants her to know he’d no such thoughts.
Mistress Felina chuckled, a throaty, terracotta sound full of comfort an’ warmth, before putting the lizards in a pouch hanging from Leggsie’s round metal body. Leaving anything dead lying around in The Arids for more than a handful of heartbeats was asking for trouble.
I sucked in a deep breath, tasting the multi-coloured scents of the campfire, Leggsie’s blue, metallic tang an’ Mistress Felina’s musky ochre humanity. Staring up at the vast star-spattered sky vaulting overhead, I wondered what Dorn was doing… Is he part of a night-time reccie? Probably not. Probably LoveDrooled up to his neck crest an’ twining tongues with Gristor. Not an image I wanted to linger on.
I shifted across to the boulder next to Mistress Felina. “C’mon then. Let’s have them. The right one, first. That’s the one hurting most.”
Mistress Felina lifted her right foot with a wince, grumbling, “And that’s the trouble with this MindLinking flamdoodle. Some roaching teener starts telling you which foot is giving you the keenest grief.”
I propped her foot on my knees, unbuckled her boot an’ eased her swollen foot free. Squeezing out a tiny amount of HealDrool, I worked it into the roughened sole, marvelling at the way human elderly skin wrinkled an’ folded, so unlike mantivore hide. I made sure to gently knead extra across the purplish lump sticking out by her big toe joint, which ached most of all. I caught the name of it from her thoughts… A bunion. Sounds nasty an’ sore. “There’s nothing to stop you riding a hover-trolley, for a spell.”
“Don’t you start treating me like some lamed liability!” she snapped, yellow fear-notes threading through her voice. “I’ve been trudging through the roaching Arids before you were a kiss on your papa’s lips.”
“Aye, I know.” I lowered my voice an’ raised my mental shields so Vroxy couldn’t listen in – him still tending to MindSnoop. Even though we’d had plenty of talks on why he shouldn’t. “Thing is, Vroxy gets his scales in a swirl when you’re sore, or stenched. Or both. An’ we need him to track those stray vores nice an’ calmlike. He goes in remotely stirred up, that lord will reckon he’s trying to move in on his queen an’ cubs.”
Mistress Felina swapped over feet, already more relaxed as the HealDrool started doing its stuff. “Hm. That’s a thing I hadn’t considered.”
Mistress Felina accepting she might be wrong? That only happens once in a purple tide… Meanwhile I was coping with her relief from the pain, along with a giddying rainbow surge of pleasure as I applied the rest of the HealDrool. “Try raising your shields.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Hoeing you flat with my mind fluff, am I?”
“You’re loud.” So very, very loud. I pushed down my panic at the havoc her untrained Sendings could have on new-borns, cub-starved queenlings an’ mood-scurfed lords once we arrived at the Much-Tribute Horde. The Queen’s coterie will likely scoop her up an’ protect her, seeing as she tastes so powerfully of an old mantivore Queen full of wisdom. Won’t they?
She shut her eyes, breathing deeply.
I surfaced from the swamp of her pleasure at having no more aching feet, now I’d finished applying the HealDrool.
“How’s that?” she demanded, opening her eyes again. “Cos I’m all but rupturing my sorry self keeping my thoughts locked down.”
An’ you might as well not be bothering.

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over #five5-starbooksin5wordsx2 #BrainfluffWyrdandWonderChallenge2020

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The aim of this one is to select five of your all-time favourite books and sum each one up in five words as part of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder challenges. I read this fun challenge on one of my fellow blogger’s site (sorry – I made a note of who it was, then lost it…) and decided that I really, really wanted to have a bash at it. Then Himself also wanted a go and so I’ve added his choices, too.

My Selection

 

Among Others by Jo Walton
Battle-scarred schoolgirl seeking solace.
See review…

 

How to Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Naughty dragon trains small Viking.
See review…

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Heroic quest – or is it?
See review…

 

Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett does religion. Profound silliness.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
Mother’s mission – rescue her daughter.
See review…



Himself’s Selection

 

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first, greatest epic fantasy

 

The Curse of Chalion – Book 1 of the World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Tattered hero dies three times.

 

Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vimes’ timeloop saves his family.

 

Furies of Calderon – Book 1 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Powerless hero surviving powerful world.

 

Dead Heat – Book 4 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs
Ancient werewolf visits old friend.

Sunday Post – 1st September, 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.

It was another busy week – but far more sociable. Last Sunday we collected the children for a short stay before they returned to school this coming week, just as the temperature soared back into the 80s again. On Bank Holiday Monday we visited the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, which we all thoroughly enjoyed – and were a bit shocked at how long it’s been since our last visit. The highlight was the boat ride through the reeds, as ever – but we also had great fun revisiting places where the children used to play, as the photo shows… On Tuesday we went to Worthing to our local Waterstones bookshop where both children bought books with their pocket money and on Wednesday, which was thankfully cooler – we visited Highdown Gardens before taking the children back home again. Their stay was over in the blink of an eye…

Wednesday evening was the first meeting of our writing group since our long break over the summer holidays – and we were celebrating the upcoming wedding of Liz, as this was her de facto Hen Night… Needless to say lots of laughter and jokes were flying around…

During the rest of the week, I’ve been working hard on an editing job, which I’m hoping to finish by tomorrow, as well as continuing to knock Mantivore Prey into something readable. Yesterday, I met up with my sister and we went looking at flats together, as she is hoping to buy somewhere local, instead of rent. Afterwards we had a coffee and cake together and a good old catchup.

Last week I read:

Keep Calm and Carry On, Children by Sharon K. Mayhew
Eleven-year-old Joyce and her little sister hide in their bomb shelter during the German Blitz on London, during World War II. After nights of bombing, it’s decided that they’ll join the over 800,000 children who’ve already been evacuated during Operation Pied Piper. They board a train not knowing where they’re going or who will take them in.
This children’s book set during the bombing of London in WWII is an excellent adventure, featuring the evacuation of thousands of children from the capital to surrounding towns and villages. Told from Joyce’s viewpoint, it gives a vivid picture of what it was like to experience such upheaval. Review to follow.

 

Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer
It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood denounced Marian, his pregnant wife, and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what he did that was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most.

But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St. Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian bargains for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world.
Another thoroughly enjoyable adventure featuring Maid Marion when she’s no longer a maid – or even Robin’s wife. I love the poignant turn that has the hero of Sherwood an embittered, fearful man. Review to follow.

 

The Missing Diamond Murder – Book 3 of the Black and Dod Mysteries series by Diane Janes
1930. Frances Black is worried – divorce proceedings are under way and her solicitor has learnt of a spiteful letter sent to the court claiming that there is more to her friendship with her sleuthing partner, Tom Dod, than meets the eye. Fran takes Tom’s advice to get away, travelling down to Devon to help the Edgertons with their family mystery. After meeting the charismatic Eddie Edgerton and arriving at their residence, Sunnyside House, Fran soon learns that Eddie’s grandfather, Frederick Edgerton, died in mysterious circumstances when his wheelchair went off a cliff. Was it really an accident? And what happened to Frederick’s precious diamond which went missing at the time of his death? As Fran investigates, she uncovers family scandal, skulduggery and revenge, but can she solve the mystery of the missing diamond?
This is one of my favourite murder mystery series – I have grown very fond of Frances. And it was a pleasant change to see her having a bit of fun, as well as trying to solve a theft and possible murder in a classic country house setting. Review to follow.

 

The Wee Free Men AUDIOBOOK – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
Nine-year-old Tiffany Aching needs magic–fast! Her sticky little brother Wentworth has been spirited away by the evil Queen of Faerie, and it’s up to her to get him back safely. Having already decided to grow up to be a witch, now all Tiffany has to do is find her power. But she quickly learns that it’s not all black cats and broomsticks. According to her witchy mentor Miss Tick, “Witches don’t use magic unless they really have to…We do other things. A witch pays attention to everything that’s going on…A witch uses her head…A witch always has a piece of string!” Luckily, besides her trusty string, Tiffany’s also got the Nac Mac Feegles, or the Wee Free Men on her side. Small, blue, and heavily tattooed, the Feegles love nothing more than a good fight except maybe a drop of strong drink!
I loved reading this series – but listening to Tony Robinson’s excellent narration was even more of a treat. Lovely to share snippets of it with the grandchildren, too…

My posts last week:

Review of Children No More – Book 4 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name

Friday Faceoff featuring The Rules of Magic – prequel to the Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman

Review of AUDIOBOOK A Room Full of Bones – Book 4 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Brightfall by Jamie Lee Moyer

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Missing Diamond Murder – Book 3 of the Black and Dod Mysteries series by Diane Janes

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Green Man’s Foe – Book 2 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

Sunday Post – 25th August 2019

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

(Good) Outlets for your drabbles https://earthianhivemind.net/2019/08/25/good-outlets-for-your-drabbles/ Steph has given a list for writers wishing to submit their microfiction – very useful. And if you haven’t played around with this writing form – it’s highly recommended.

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #5: Prolific Garis family https://platformnumber4.com/2019/08/25/fantastic-find-at-the-bookstore-5-prolific-garis-family/ This is an amazing article that manages to link together three generations of a writing family by unearthing their books…

Wayfare Wednesdays! A Travelogue of Ports Unknown! https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordpress.com/2019/07/31/wayfare-wednesdays/ I love the ability to enjoy other people’s amazing tourist destinations without coping with dodgy toilets and weird food…

What in the Worldbuilding: Sports in Sci-Fi and Fantasy (Where are they?) https://pagesbelowvaultedsky.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/what-in-the-worldbuilding-sports-in-sci-fi-and-fantasy-where-are-they/ Loved this article – and am rather proud of my Zippo league in the Sunblinded trilogy as a consequence…

The Friday Face-Off: Yellow Cover http://booksbonesbuffy.com/2019/08/30/the-friday-face-off-yellow-cover/ While I, along with most other participants, chose a single book, Tammy elected to go for a variety of books featuring yellow covers – aren’t they pretty!

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

*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

Review of PAPERBACK Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber #Brainfluffbookreview #Caravalbookreview

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I’ll admit it – it was the cover of this one that caught my eye – and the premise that a complicated, magical game was at the heart of the story…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives…

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to include as far too many of the major plotpoints are revealed, so my first piece of advice is to avoid reading the back matter. As for the story – Garber quickly snagged my attention by providing a sympathetic heroine who is desperate to escape her cruel father. She has written every year for seven years before her request to join the game is approved – and she has tickets for her and her sister. However, as she is soon to be married and is desperate to believe the kind, courteous letters that she has been exchanging with her prospective husband means he is caring and at the very least – kinder than her bullying, violent father who has been terrorising her and her sister ever since their mother disappeared.

Caraval – remember it’s only a game – all too quickly turns into a desperate quest, when her sister almost immediately disappears and Scarlett is led to believe that if she doesn’t find her before Caraval ends, then she will die… Scarlett is plunged into a beautiful, varied world where she cannot trust what anyone says or does and her decisions have unexpected and frightening consequences. Accompanying her for at least part of the way, is a young sailor who effected their escape from their family home. Unexpectedly, he joins her and is responsible for saving her life – apparently… But can she really trust him and his advice? Or is he one of the famous Master Legend’s highly trained actors?

This one is a real page-turner as Scarlett struggles to work out how to survive and track down what has happened to her beautiful, wilful sister – and it is the love between the two sisters that is the emotional engine that powers this story, despite the love story also threading through it. I really enjoyed it and found the twisting, often surreal situations that Scarlett was confronted with kept the pages turning late into the night.

Of course, it’s all very well constructing a tension-filled mystery with high stakes – but at the end, the denouement must deliver. I was pleased to find it did. Some of my guesses about what was going on were correct – however, most of them weren’t and I loved the way Garber wrapped this one up. Recommended for those who like their thrillers with a strong paranormal twist, delivered by a sympathetic protagonist.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Salvation’s Fire: After the War – Book 2 of the After the War series by Justina Robson #Brainfluffbookreview #SalvationsFirebookreview

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This has got to be one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of the year so far, given how much I enjoyed Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Redemption’s Blade. I was particularly intrigued that Justina Robson wrote this sequel, using Tachaikovsky’s world.

The Tzarkomen necromancers sacrificed a thousand women to create a Bride for the Kinslayer so he would spare them in the war. But the Kinslayer is dead and now the creation intended to ensure his eternal rule lies abandoned by its makers in the last place in the world that anyone would look for it. Which doesn’t prevent someone finding her by accident. Will the Bride return the gods to the world or will she bring the end of days? It all depends on the one who found her, Kula, a broken-hearted little girl with nothing left to lose.

So does this one work? Oh yes – this is an amazing premise. The Bride returning to the world long after the tyrant she was designed to partner, has been vanquished. What is her purpose now? And perhaps even more importantly – what will she decide to do, now her bridegroom is dead? The opening sequences surrounding the circumstances where we see the Bride return are really gripping, though I have a hunch if you haven’t read Redemption’s Blade, you might not appreciate the importance of the place and significance of what is happening. This is one sequel that should not be read as a stand-alone, in my opinion – apart from anything else it would be a crying shame to miss out on the joy that is Redemption’s Blade.

Part of the fun of reading a series is to chart the development of the main characters. If I have a niggle with this particular story, it is that Celestine, whose energy and concerns pinged off the pages in the first book, is a pale shadow in this adventure. While she is constantly around, I did find it frustrating not to have her opinions as vibrantly represented as in Tchaikovsky’s tale.

The other issue, which is more of an observation rather than a criticism, is that Robson’s style is denser than Tchaikovsky’s and I had to slow down and pay more attention to the text than when reading the first book. That said, I am a fan of Justina Robson’s writing – see my review of Down to the Bone – and am familiar with her style. I was fascinated to see how each author presented this interesting, complex world. I very much enjoyed the strong relationship between the newly resurrected Bride and the orphaned child, Kula – it isn’t often we see any form of parental relationships explored in science fiction and fantasy and I was delighted to watch how this partnership developed throughout the story.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and would be happy to see Angry Robot approach another author to take this story on further. Or maybe have both Tchaikovsky and Robson follow up their efforts with another book each. However it’s done, I really, really hope this series continues – there is so much more I would like to know about these characters and this world. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy with a difference. While I obtained an arc of Salvation’s Fire: After the War from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

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This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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I was delighted to once more dive into this wonderful series – and it didn’t disappoint…

How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world?

The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…

This book absolutely filled the brief of completely absorbing me from the first page to the last, which I finished once more blown away by where Kirstein has taken this amazing series.

I love Rowan. She is a strong, capable protagonist who is consumed with curiosity about the world around her – which is why she trained to be a Steerswoman in the first place. Steerwomen undertake long, arduous journeys mapping and logging the landscape and are bound to answer any questions put to them by the local populace, unless someone refuses to answer one of their questions. So part explorer, cartographer, naturalist and educator… It’s a really nifty plot device to get a skilled, capable cadre of people out on the road without resorting to war. Over the last three books, I’ve come to be aware of her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She has an over-developed sense of responsibility and is poor at delegating jobs to others – and while she is good at moving through a landscape and keeping on good terms with the people around her, she tends to hold herself somewhat aloof.

This means that once she arrives in Alemeth, where the retired Steerswoman has recently died and they are awaiting a replacement – the villagers contrast her unfavourably with chatty, manipulative Mira. I love the fact that all these books can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty – however if you do read them in the right order (and for a wonder, this time around I have…) then they stitch together to build into a coherent adventure where the consequences of not tracking down Slado could be devastating. However, there is a wrinkle – once Rowan arrives, the village is attacked by a creature never seen before in those parts… I’m not saying any more as I do not want to venture into spoiler territory – but suffice to say that I’m so very impressed at the sheer peculiarity of the creatures that populate her fantasy landscape, along with the flora. Kirstein has built an amazingly detailed and plausible world without holding up the pace.

The twisting turns in this adventurous tale take meant that I stayed up late to read this one – it’s a reasonably substantial read at well over 400 pages, but they more or less turned themselves as I was desperate to know what happened next. This particular story arc was satisfactorily brought to a close – but the overarching narrative has now got an additional disturbing and dangerous strand which has added to the worldwide threat.

I have been spacing these books out, as I didn’t want to reach the end too quickly – but I am delighted to note that Kirstein is working on the fifth and sixth book in the series. Yippee! Highly recommended for all fans of excellent fantasy.
10/10