In this week’s Tuesday Treasures, I’m returning to Bexhill, where I was on a writing retreat with my sister in law. On this particular day, we had a procession of sunshine and showers and watching the rainclouds travelling across the sea towards us was incredible. And – for the record, I haven’t added any filters or tweaked the colours in any way. The clouds really looked like this…
I was browsing through the Audible catalogue, when I came across this book on special offer and as I’d heard good things about the author, I decided to give it a go…
BLURB: It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.
As you may have gathered by the blurb, this book is structured as a dual narrative. The main protagonists are Sean Kendrick and Park Connelly. When done well, this structure is one of my favourites, but the risk is that one character calls to me more than the other, so I end up skimming one of the main sections of the book. When listening as an audiobook, this isn’t an option, and I’m glad I didn’t have that choice because Sean’s voice was so much sharper and his storyline just that bit more gripping. I think I may have been tempted to do so. And if I had, I would have missed some important nuances about life on Thisby, which could only be accessed through Puck’s viewpoint.
The world building and atmosphere that Steifvater manages to achieve in this story is outstanding. The description of the island, the water horses, the sea and the hardship experienced when living on such a place was brilliantly depicted without any loss of pace or tension. Likewise, the characterisation was also exceptional. Sean in particular leapt off the page and although it took me a little while longer to properly bond with her, in the end I was able to get through Puck’s irritability and sharp edges to properly care about her too. However, there is a price to pay when an author produces such a fabulous world peopled by such outstanding characters – and that is the plotting and storyline have to be able to match it and I don’t think this particular story quite lived up to the awesomeness of the place. That said, I am aware that Steifvater is a victim of her own success. If she had not produced such a strong response in me to her marvellous setting and those magical horses which I could smell and touch, then this wouldn’t be a grizzle.
There was a slight anomaly for me and it will be difficult to address in this review without lurching into spoiler land, but I’ll do my best. Sean works for a highly manipulative and successful man and his son happens to be the main antagonist in this story. There is a particularly nasty incident that occurs in his yard with his full knowledge that was both shocking and barbaric. All the staff must have known about it – and yet, the perpetrator apparently gets off completely unscathed. Given that love of horses permeates the whole island and the culture, I cannot believe this incident would have been allowed to go by, unregarded in the way that it appears to have been. This jarred sufficiently to yank me out of the story and make me question the power dynamic within the book. I also wasn’t totally convinced by the ending, which I felt was just a little bit to tidy for such a gritty read.
However, you will see by my final mark that this one got right under my skin. I wandered around in something of daze, a bit emotional and strung out after I’d finished the book. I’ll definitely be hunting down more books by this author, because while maybe this story didn’t tick all my boxes, that amazing setting, those fabulous water horses and tough, sturdy Sean Kendrick stole my heart when I wasn’t looking. Highly recommended for fans of powerfully written fantasy worlds.
I loved Moon’s Vatta’s War and The Serrano Legacy series – see my review here. So when Himself picked this one up as an Easter pressie, I was thrilled.
Summoned to the home planet of her family’s business empire, space-fleet commander Kylara Vatta is told to expect a hero’s welcome. But instead she is thrown into danger unlike any other she has faced and finds herself isolated, unable to communicate with the outside world, commanding a motley group of unfamiliar troops, and struggling day by day to survive in a deadly environment with sabotaged gear. Only her undeniable talent for command can give her ragtag band a fighting chance.
This is a full-on survival adventure which I loved. And even if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this is an ideal introduction to Moon’s world. Kylara is a sympathetic protagonist, keenly aware of her responsibility in trying to keep the group alive. And as they are all plunged into one unpleasant experience after another in an inaccessible part of the planet, cut off from everywhere else due to the atrocious weather conditions, there are a steady stream of casualties. Moon’s smooth, unfussy prose and compelling plotting made it impossible to put this one down until it was over.
Accompanying Kylara is a cast of characters – and it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t all going to make it. So I found myself trying to work out who would survive and who wouldn’t, which all adds to the fun. It was also a pleasure to be reacquainted with other members of the Vatta family, particularly Aunt Gracie who is the formidable matriarch who currently heads up the family. It’s always enjoyable to find a book where it’s an older woman with all the power and still rare enough to be noteworthy. She has a fascinating backstory, which is hinted during the book and if you enjoy this one, then I recommend you track down the first book in the Vatta’s War series, Trading in Danger.
Alongside the gritted struggle for survival experienced by Kylara and the group of people caught up alongside her, there is also the question of exactly who is behind the plot. And who is once more targeting the Vatta merchanting family. Moon manages to give us all the necessary information connected with the politicking without losing momentum and pace – which is a lot trickier than she makes it look. It all adds up to a compelling page-turner.
But once the tension has been wound up to a desperate chase, then the climactic finale needs to deliver. And it certainly does – though there is one major dangling plotpoint to encourage Moon fans to look for the next book. I’ll be honest, I was disappointed when I realised there was such a big unanswered question at the end. I would have gone looking for the next one, anyway.
I was delighted to get my hands on the arc of this new release, as James Lovegrove is one of my favourite authors – see my review of Age of Aztec here. He writes with wit and a wry humour that suffuses his work – and assumes his reader will get the joke…
Dev Harmer has landed in a new body on a new planet. He has gills and fins and a chronic malfunction in his genes. With only 72 hours to bring the settlers and natives of a colonised world to peace before his temporary body expires, murder and corruption are the least of his worries. With the indigenous ‘mer-folk’ on the seabed and the human settlers in floating cities on the ocean surface cannibalising the mer-tech in an attempt to force their way into the eco-system, Harmer is in a race against the clock to ensure his mission doesn’t end in abject disaster, a Polis+ coup or genocide.
Yes, this is mostly a straightforward military science fiction sea adventure with special agent Dev Harmer battling to cope against ridiculous odds. And the reason why he’s even bothering? As an ex-soldier who was grievously injured, he has agreed to act as an agent for ISS to earn sufficient points to have his real body repaired to full functionality, as the procedure is extremely expensive. So his personality is ported into a serious of temporary vat-grown hosts specifically designed for each planet where he is sent to discover if humanity’s arch-rivals, the Polis+, are at the bottom of the heightening tensions between the Tritonion mer-folk.
Dev’s sardonic voice gives this story an enjoyable edge as he has to cope with his body’s increasingly unpleasant side effects as it starts to fail. But one of the touches I really enjoyed, is that the Marine corp of soldiers accompanying Dev are all women, including the kickass commander. This is military sci fic at its action-packed best as the adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for an instant, so that I read way later into the night than I’d intended to find out what happens next. There are plenty of satisfying twists in amongst the mayhem, as Dev finds himself ranged against an insanely fierce storm and all sorts of unpleasant marine wildlife keen to sample his new body. While he is coming to some disturbing conclusions as to who is exactly behind the mayhem on Triton…
Yes. There’s a solid reason why well-written sci fi is my all-time favourite genre and when I encounter it, I remember that reason all over again. Forget Easter eggs and all that chocolate nonsense – I’m buying myself the first book in the Dev Harmer series as an Easter pressie just from me to me…