Category Archives: Swords and Sorcery

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #11

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This is my update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been a year since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.

Today is a rather grim anniversary. It’s a year ago today that Himself was notified that he tested positive for Covid-19 – and though we weren’t to know it at the time, from that day on our lives have completely changed. We both went down with the illness hard, though Himself was sicker than I was and avoided going into hospital by a whisker, as his sleep apnea caused some complications. I felt lucky in that I didn’t struggle to breathe, but instead had to cope with muscle pain and complete exhaustion. And unfortunately, once I recovered from the illness itself, those spells of utter fatigue have never left me. I am also suffering a range of other long-lasting symptoms, including nasal drip, tinnitus and a swollen thyroid, but frankly they pale into insignificance against the mind-numbing exhaustion that leaves me scarcely able to move. The worst spell was in the second half of August where I lay in bed for a fortnight feeling like a zombie – and once I felt well enough to get out of bed without shaking, I found that I had lost a great deal of ground. Indeed, I’m still unable to do things that were possible before that episode.

Since then, I’ve been using the Pacing method recommended for ME sufferers, seeing a reflexologist, taking recommended vitamin supplements and being very careful about what what I eat. At times – around Christmas, for example – I’ve made progress when my energy levels seem to be improving, only to be once more struck down for several days when I could barely move out of bed. For the majority of this last year, my main daily achievement has been having a shower and getting dressed, though there have been extended periods when even that was completely beyond me. Thank goodness for books and TV – I think I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had other worlds to escape into.

Fortunately, this last week has been a good one. Our grandson stayed over, which is always a treat – and we were thrilled to hear that he got 74% for his last assignment. He is really enjoying his college course and working hard on the next module – it’s lovely to see him so enthusiastic. On Monday, we visited the local garden centre for a cup of tea and to do some shopping which was another milestone – we hadn’t been there since the beginning of August. I spent Wednesday, Friday and Saturday resting up, as on Thursday my lovely sister-in-law and my niece visited. It was wonderful to see them again, as I hadn’t seen Celia since we were in Bexhill together on our writing retreat back in October 2020. It seems like a lifetime ago.

The other bright spot has been the quality of the books I’ve been reading this week – they have all been exceptional and come very highly recommended.

This week I’ve read:-

AUDIOBOOK – The Clifftop Murders – Book 2 of the Dorset Crime series by Rachel McLean
DCI Lesley Clarke is settling into her new job in Dorset’s Major Crimes Unit, and becoming accustomed to a slower pace of life. But then she’s called in to solve the murder of a woman with links to Lesley’s new girlfriend.

Has Lesley made a grave error of judgement? Can she track down the killer or does she already know her? And how will Lesley’s new colleagues react when she tells them she’s dating a suspect?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, and once again I was quickly drawn into the story. The bonus is that as I was born and brought up in the area, I know all the place names that get sprinkled around, which gives me a clear picture of the setting. 8/10

The Face of the Enemy – Book 23 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
The Necromantic Wars are over, but there is no peace. In the aftermath of the struggle, long-held grudges are boiling over and conflicts are breaking out. The monarchs want to settle border disputes, the aristocrats want to impose their will on monarchs and peasants alike, the commoners want freedom and justice and the magical communities want to rule all or else separate themselves from the mundanes. And most of this chaos is being orchestrated by Emily’s mentor, the sorcerer Void. He believes the only path to salvation for the Allied Lands is to make himself the undisputed ruler of the world.

After discovering the truth – too late – Emily is on the run, blamed for the disorder by friend and foe alike. With a handful of allies by her side, Emily must find a safe place to gather herself and strike back before it is too late to save what remains of the Allied Lands. And yet, as she flees through lands plagued by civil wars and rebellious nobility, hunted by powerful sorcerers, aristocrats and rebels who want to kill her or use her for their own purposes, she is forced to accept it may not be possible to save everything and to realize, as much as she might wish to deny it, that her mentor might be right. And yet, she also knows the path to hell is paved with good intentions…
This is the penultimate book in this wide-ranging series that has given me a ringside seat into a politically complicated world that has been rocked by Emily’s inventions. I continue to be impressed at how deftly Nuttall manages to produce a very powerful heroine, who nonetheless has real vulnerabilities so that she is often at real risk. And I’m putting off reading the final book in this adventure, as I’ve become very fond of her. 9/10

Assassin’s Noon – Book 4 of the Ageless Mysteries series by Vanessa Nelson
One of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful residents is found dead in his own home. Murder is suspected, but the house was supposed to be absolutely secure against any intruder. Thea is faced with a hostile group of household servants inside the house and demands for swift justice outside its walls.

Working with Mage Niath, it doesn’t take long to realise that it’s not a straightforward death and the dead man has ties to opponents they have faced before. Can Thea uncover the truth of the death before the tensions in the city spill over and more deaths occur?
I pre-ordered this one – something I don’t do very often. But Vanessa Nelson is now one of my favourite authors, thanks to this classy fantasy. A police procedural set in a medieval city where young Thea slakes her thirst for justice by joining the Watch – and puts her unique talents to work in catching killers and law breakers. And once again, this one didn’t disappoint. 10/10

The Chapel in the Woods – Book 11 of the Jack Haldean Murder Mystery series by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.

But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?
I enjoy a good murder mystery, especially one set in the 1920s – and this is one is a cut above the average by quite a way. The plotting and steady unspooling of clues that make sense after the denouement put me in mind of Agatha Christie – and I don’t sling around those comparisons lightly. Full review to follow. 10/10

AUDIOBOOK – Invader – Sequence 1, Book 2 of the Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
Nearly two centuries after the starship Phoenix disappeared, leaving an isolated colony of humans on the world of the atevi, it unexpectedly returns, threatening the stability of both atevi and human governments. With the situation fast becoming critical, Bren Cameron, the brilliant, young paidhi to the court of the atevi is recalled from Mospheira where he has just undergone surgery. Upon his return to the mainland, he Cameron finds that his government has sent in his paidhi-successor, Deana Hanks—representative of a dangerous faction on Mospheira who hate the atevi.

Haunted by the threat of assassination, Bren realizes his only hope may be to communicate with the Phoenix as the spokesman of the atevi—an action which may cut him off for good from his own species. Yet if he doesn’t take this desperate action, he may be forced to witness the destruction of the already precarious balance of world power.
There are books which I’ve found make riveting listening – and this extraordinary series is one of them. The writing is dense and at times, when Bren is stressed, his thoughts can whirl in circular patterns – which is very realistic. But when reading them off the page can get a tad tedious. Daniel May Thomas’s brilliant narration brings all that tension and crisis to life so that I’ve been absolutely rapt listening to this adventure. Very highly recommended if you like your sci fi nuanced and layered. 10/10

The Battle of Hollow Jimmy – Book 2 of Shoot the Humans First series by Becky Black
Maiga wants to vanish. She wants to leave Hollow Jimmy before someone recognises her and remembers her part in the events that led to the human race being all but wiped out. Though the station is a sanctuary, she knows there’s a new home elsewhere in the darkness. But others have plans too, for Maiga and for Hollow Jimmy. Their fates are about to be intertwined.

Captain Bara wants revenge. Perhaps that will silence the noises only she can hear aboard her ship, the Trebuchet. A ship whose name is becoming a curse to those who would like to see humanity finished off once and for all. For Bara, Hollow Jimmy is not a sanctuary. It’s a fortress. It’s a place for her to start a war.
This space station adventure is another gem in a duology that deserves to be far better known. I was left reeling after the twist ending of Shoot the Humans First – and gave myself a bit of time to process it before diving into this one. It is a tense page-turner that has stayed in the memory. Black’s super-power is writing awkward yet sympathetic protagonists – and I liked the fact that the villain was also a woman. Highly recommended. 10/10

This week I have posted:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of For the Murder – Book 1 of The Murder series by Gabrielle Ash

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

Sunday Post – 4th July, 2021 #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.

A very happy Fourth of July to all my American friends – I hope you have a lovely day.

It’s been an odd week. On the plus side, we celebrated little Eliza’s birthday on Wednesday – I can’t quite believe that she is already three years old – where has the time gone? My daughter arranged for her to have a session at Outward Bound, where there is a huge soft play area. Her brothers crawled through tunnels with her, helped her up steps and ushered her down slides, while she duly bossed them around and generally had a wonderful time. I was able to drive myself there, as it is only ten minutes up the road from where I live. Now I have a walking stick, I was able to get out of the car and walk across the endless acreage of the car park without any help. Though it’s surprising how much BIGGER everywhere seems when you move at the speed of a dozing snail. It was lovely being able to see the birthday girl and give her a present and card (a batgirl dress in black and gold netting, with mask), and also see the rest of the family, who I really miss. The pics this week show Eliza and her brothers on their birthday outing, and more wilderness scenes from my overgrown garden.

The rest of the week, I’ve been watching Wimbledon and trying – and failing – to do more than move between the bed and the settee. I’m aware that I’ve so much to be grateful for – but this week, I’ve found it tough. My life is on hold and I’ve no idea when I will become well enough to resume my former busy schedule. Or if I will ever recover sufficiently to do so. I need to cling to the fact that I am able to occasionally write reviews and post them. Though depressingly my wordage for June didn’t even make 10,000 words, which is the lowest I’ve recorded since I started keeping track of my annual wordcount in 2013. When is a writer not a writer – when she doesn’t write!! Thank goodness for books. If I couldn’t regularly escape between the covers of a variety of lovely reads, I’d be a gibbering wreck by now.

Last week I read:

Patterns in the Dark – Book 4 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker
Everyone knows dragons have been extinct for over a thousand years. Everyone is wrong. At least one dragon remains, and military scientists from the Cofah Empire are experimenting with its blood, using the magical substance to power deadly new weapons that could be used to bring the world to its knees.

That’s a concern for Zirkander, Cas, and the rest of the Iskandians, but all Tolemek wants is to find his missing sister. The last time he saw her, their father had locked her in an asylum because of a mental illness with no cure. Now the military has taken her. What use the Cofah have for her, Tolemek can only guess, but he is certain she is in danger. He must save her before it’s too late. But her fate is inexplicably tied to the dragon’s, and he must find it to find her.
I’m working my way through this series far too fast! And that’s because it’s becoming addictive, as Buroker keeps on delivering books full of action, enjoyable characters and quirky humour. The big bonus in this one is that we finally come face to face with a dragon – yay! Unsurprisingly, Buroker is now one of my favourite authors – and I’m delighted to see that she’s written a LOT😊.

Assassin’s Orbit by John Appel
On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.

A threat that could destroy Ileri and spark an interplanetary war… unless the disparate team can work together to solve the mystery.
This was another enjoyable, action-packed read, full of incident and appealing characters. I loved the nuanced, political world. And I really loved that the main characters were of a certain age – though still willing and able to mix it up with the wrong-headed youngsters. Review to follow.

Paladin’s Grace – Book 1 of The Saint of Steel series by T. Kingfisher
Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year…

Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters a fugitive named Grace in an alley and witnesses an assassination attempt gone wrong. Now the pair must navigate a web of treachery, beset on all sides by spies and poisoners, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind…

And yet, ANOTHER lovely, entertaining read – this one had me howling with laughter during some of the romance scenes. I love it when an author successfully highlights just how funny passion can be😊. And yet, there is also plenty of adventure and tension, too. And I’m delighted to note that there are two more books in this series, so I now know where some of my birthday money is going…

The Daydreamer Detective Opens a Tea Shop – Book 3 of the Miso Cosy Mystery series by Steph Gennaro
Mei Yamagawa’s bad luck is almost at an end…

Her tea shop is a week away from opening, she and Yasahiro have planned a trip away, and the future is looking bright and hopeful. But when Yasahiro’s ex-fiancée, Amanda, shows up unexpectedly, demanding his time and presence, all of their plans dissolve…
Annoyingly, it wasn’t until I’d nearly finished this one that I realised I’d read Books 2 and 3 out of sequence. However, that didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying this cosy contemporary murder mystery set in Japan. I really like Mei’s character – and I’ve edited the blurb somewhat, because I didn’t bother to read it before tucking into the book. And got a real shock when I discovered who exactly had been murdered… A charming, engrossing read that has me keen to return to this quirky and different world. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer

Friday Face-off featuring Dragonfly in Amber – Book 2 of the Outlander series by Diane Gabaldon

Review of NETGALLEY arc Willow – Book 1 of The Pepper Lane Club by Grace Parks

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of the Trash n’Treasures series by Barbara Allan

Tuesday Treasures – 34

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Artifact Space by Miles Cameron

Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Shadow of the Gods – Book 1 of The Bloodsworn Saga by John Gwynne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheShadowoftheGodsbookreview

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I’ve had an unread hardback copy of Malice sitting on my bookshelves for far too long. Epecially as a number of bloggers whose opinions I respect are huge fans of Gwynne’s writing, such as Drew at The Tattooed Book Geek. So when I spotted this first book in a new series, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn. All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .

REVIEW: After reading the blurb, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a classic epic fantasy read, although the alternate world has some interesting twists in it, due to the previous apocalyptic event that tore it apart. Those who have survived are tough and resourceful – they have to be.

Gwynne has clearly thoroughly researched Nordic history and mythology and it shows in the immersive writing that gives a strong sense of the world, the clothing, food, weaponry and customs. I really enjoyed picking up these details through character actions and thoughts, rather than pages of information. But if you haven’t encountered this author before, do be aware that he drops in a lot of Norse words for articles of clothing, weaponry and food. If you find this tendency irritating, then this might not be the book for you.

We follow the fortunes of three main protagonists – two women and a man. Orka is a tough, experienced warrior who settled down with the love of her life to raise her son. But that was before a warband came through… Varg was raised as a slave and his beloved sister was the only source of light and love in an otherwise brutal life. Until she was murdered. Now he wants to find the killers and make them pay. Elvar is a young warrior who has risen through the ranks of a warband by her skill and courage, and has an interesting backstory that I won’t Spoil here. But as you can see – this is a brutal world, where might is right.

Gwynne’s plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding are all skilfully done – but what he does superbly well is describe battle scenes. This isn’t so much sword and sorcery, as slash and sorcery – using axes and knives as well as swords means that the close-quarters fighting is bloody and injuries are horrific. During the numerous fights and battles, I always had a ringside seat as to what exactly was going on and how the protagonist was feeling and coping, even as blows, stabbings and slashes were being traded. However, while the fighting was violent and bloody, at no stage was it gratuitous.

All in all, this was an engrossing story that kept me turning the pages until the end. And yes – about that ending… in common with many epic fantasy books, all the major plotpoints were left on a cliffhanger. So I’m hoping the second book won’t take too long to hit the shelves. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in a Norse setting. While I obtained an arc of The Shadow of the Gods from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Night Parade of 100 Demons – A Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheNightParadeof100Demonsbookreview

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I love Brennan’s writing, particularly the awesome Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. I also enjoyed the entertaining duology, Warrior and Witch, the novella Cold-Forged Flame, and the first two books of the Onyx book series Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie. And I’ve made a Covet the Cover feature of her books. So I was thrilled to see this offering on Netgalley.

BLURB: A thrilling epic fantasy adventure in the astonishing realm of Legend of the Five Rings, as two rival clans join forces to investigate a lethal supernatural mystery

Chaos has broken out in the isolated Dragon Clan settlement of Seibo Mura. During the full moon, horrifying creatures rampage through the village, unleashing havoc and death. When the Dragon samurai Agasha no Isao Ryotora is sent to investigate, he faces even greater danger than expected. To save the village, he must confront his buried past – not to mention an unexpected Phoenix Clan visitor, Asako Sekken, who has his own secrets to hide. The quest to save Sebo Mura will take the two samurai into the depths of forgotten history and the shifting terrain of the Spirit Realms… and bring them face to face with an ancient, terrifying evil.

REVIEW: What is speedily apparent by the blurb alone, is that this swords and sorcery adventure takes place within a Japanese setting, using their pantheon of demons and otherworldly creatures. While the trained samurai dealing with the outbreak are two very different young men from completely different backgrounds. What might not be quite so apparent – I certainly hadn’t realised it while reading the book – is that the world is also part of a very popular role-playing game. To be honest, I offer that info-nugget more as a matter of interest. If it encourages you to go and out and get hold of a copy, then I’m delighted – what I don’t want it to do is discourage you from doing so. Because you’ll be missing out on a wonderful story.

This tale drew me in from the first. Told in third person viewpoint through the characters of the two samurai who end up in the village trying to help this desperate state of affairs, I loved the setup right from the start. Brennan’s brilliant characterisation and scene setting came to the fore – and then the plot grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let me go. I’m a tad tired this morning as I stayed up far too late into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put this one down. And I dreamt of it as I slept…

The plot is also a joy – I didn’t see any of the twists coming, and the growing relationship between the two young men is beautifully and tenderly handled. I’m not the most romantic soul – but from halfway into this book, I was willing both these likeable characters to get together. There is plenty of action and lots of tension as the stakes go on growing ever higher – so the appearance of a very sassy cat in the last third of the book was a welcome slice of humour, in amongst the threat and battle. All in all, this is an absolutely cracking read and comes very highly recommended to all fans of excellent fantasy – whether you’ve heard of The Legend of the Five Rings game, or not… While I obtained an arc of The Night Parade of 100 Demons from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

My Outstanding Reads of 2020 #Brainfluffbookblogger #2020OutstandingReads

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The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.

During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.

AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.

You Let me In by Camilla Bruce
By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey
This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys
This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron
This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel
This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.

Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik
This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.

A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady
I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.

AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer
I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths
I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.

While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…

Sunday Post – 6th December, 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.

It’s been another really busy week. I was able to attend my first session of Fitstep in over a month and I’m hoping to start back at Pilates, now that our second lockdown has eased and we are designated as a Tier 2 risk. It’s not the same as we have to dance within separate squares and be socially distanced, but flinging myself around to music again was a real treat. This week was dominated by Tim’s annual review and getting the paperwork up together for that, as well as conducting a conference call instead of the usual meeting. And yesterday was my mother’s birthday. We sent her a bouquet of flowers and a card and spoke to her on Skype. She looks marvellous, which is a comfort, but it’s not the same as seeing her…

The photos this week come from a walk along the beach with Himself on the last day of his holiday, before he returned to work on Wednesday. Just look at the millpond smoothness of the water…

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear
Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Dr Jens as she tried to uncover exactly what was going on. Mystery thrillers set in space are always enjoyable – and though Jens does spend quite a lot of time musing about Life, the Universe and Everything – it was only in the later stages of the mystery that I wanted the pace to pick up. Review to follow.


Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list.
The penultimate book in this series, it certainly has a sense of cranking up the stakes as high as they could possibly go. I like the fact that despite there being a lot of battle scenes – Verus still very much minds about the fact that he is causing the deaths of a lot of people. Review to follow.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher
Halla is a housekeeper who has suddenly inherited her great-uncle’s estate… and, unfortunately, his relatives. Sarkis is an immortal swordsman trapped in a prison of enchanted steel. When Halla draws the sword that imprisons him, Sarkis finds himself attempting to defend his new wielder against everything from bandits and roving inquisitors to her own in-laws… and the sword itself may prove to be the greatest threat of all.
This was such fun! I have previously read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which I’d loved and when I saw Himself had added this one to our TBR, I was delighted. I shall be reading more of this author in the coming year…

My posts last week:
Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of the Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan

November 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Review of Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Covet the Covers 13 – Elizabeth Bear

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Tuesday Treasures – 20

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

12 Science Fiction Reads I’m Looking Forward to in 2021

Sunday Post – 29th November 2020

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

December Countdown: One prompt per day https://lynns-books.com/2020/11/29/december-meme-one-prompt-per-day/ This looks like a lot of fun! I may well join in from time to time… Why don’t you think up appropriate books, too?

Christmas Gift Ideas for Book Lovers/Blogmas https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/christmas-gift-ideas-for-booklovers/ Of course book lovers love books – but sometimes you want to give those readers in your life something else…

The Ukrainian Muse and the Paradox of Life https://dalocollis.com/2018/03/29/the-ukrainian-muse-and-the-paradox-of-life/ Occasionally you stumble over an extraordinary blog – and then you just have to share it… Thank you Diane for pointing me towards this!

Thursday Doors – Follow the Wall https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2020/12/03/thursday-doors-follow-the-wall/ Jean takes us on a walk alongside a wall built a long time ago for quite a different purpose…

George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’ Sung by 109 Movies and TV Shows https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xX0TDSQkf54&feature=youtu.be Tim has been busy again – mixing up another song using clips from films and TV programmes – he really has some amazing skills…

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

Sunday Post – 7th June, 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.

Apologies for the grotty appearance of this post. Unless I pay £147 a year, I can no longer use WordPress Classic editor. I am exploring other options, as having to struggle to this degree to get even this unsatisfactory result isn’t feasible – I’ve better things to do with my time…

We’re now into flaming June and our summer weather has abruptly departed. I would be happy to report that we’ve got rain – we haven’t. Gale force winds are savaging the garden and drying it out still further. Oh well.

It has been a busy week as I have been getting Picky Eaters ready to see the light of day – and I’m thrilled at the wonderful cover my mate Mhairi Simpson has produced. Many thanks to her for donating her time to this project. Other than that, more editing and working on Mantivore Warrior. Tonight there is another Zoom family gamesnight which we’re looking forward to joining – hopefully I won’t be smitten with another headache!

Last week I read:

The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall Ryx, bringing far too much unwanted attention to this small, but strategically vital country – all centred on an ominous ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle…
I loved the Swords and Fire series – see my review of The Defiant Mage and found the unfolding situation at the start of this gripping tale immediately pulled me into the story. A great start to this spinoff series.

AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
Professor Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos. So when mutilated bodies found deep in the Montana woods leave the cops searching blindly for clues, Theo sees something they missed. Something unnatural. Something only he can stop. As a computational biologist, Theo is more familiar with digital code and microbes than the dark arts of forensic sleuthing. But a field trip to Montana suddenly lands him in the middle of an investigation into the bloody killing of one of his former students.
This was great fun – though there were various plot holes large enough to haul a grizzly through, it was well narrated and I really liked Theo Cray, so was happy to go along for the ride.

Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby
PI Bellamy Vale’s near-immortality doesn’t give him a moment to rest. Completely worn down as Death’s supernatural detective, he’s starting to think he got the short-end of his do-or-die deal. So when a string of savage attacks grip the city, Vale abandons all hope of sleep and sets out to discover who let the Otherworld beast free…
This was an intriguing dynamic, where poor old Bell finds himself indentured to Lady McDeath, who sends him to sort out the most dangerous and messy tasks popping up around Cold City. I’m glad I have the second book on my Kindle, ready to read when I get the time. Review to follow.

The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green
Set high on top of Widows Hill, Harrow House has remained empty for years. Now, on behalf of an anonymous prospective buyer, Ishmael and Penny are spending a night there in order to investigate the rumours of strange lights, mysterious voices, unexplained disappearances, and establish whether the house is really haunted. What really happened at Harrow House all those years ago? Joined by a celebrity psychic, a professional ghost-hunter, a local historian and a newspaper reporter, it becomes clear that each member of ‘Team Ghost’ has their own pet theory as to the cause of the alleged haunting.
Yet another quirky paranormal murder mystery – it’s been something of a theme this week – I enjoyed this addition to this entertaining series and will be reviewing it in due course.


My posts last week:

PICKY EATERS – Cover reveal

Friday Face-off featuring Searching for Dragons – Book 2 of the Enchanted Forest series by Patricia C. Wrede

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

May 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL * Review of The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of The Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Sunday Post – 31st May 2020


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

Tips to Photograph Bees https://wanderingambivert.com/2020/06/03/tips-to-photograph-bees/ Given that a lot of us are still in lockdown, wandering around the garden, or going for walks might give you the opportunity to take a pic of bees, here is some advice on how to do it well…

A Teacher’s Story #1 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2020/06/03/a-teachers-story-1/ What an inspirational tale…

Talking with Kids about Racism https://platformnumber4.com/2020/05/30/talking-with-kids-about-racism/ Many thanks to Becky for posting this really useful resource. I very highly recommend the article ‘What White Children Need to Know About Race’…

The Last Video Store on Earth https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2020/06/04/guest-post-the-last-video-store-on-earth/ I loved this article…

Kvetch – 22 https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2020/06/03/kvetch-22/ And if you’re in need of a laugh, or two…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook Witch – Book 2 of the Doppleganger duology by Marie Brennan #Brainfluffbookreview #Witchbookreview #WyrdandWonder2020

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I love Brennan’s writing, particularly the awesome Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this entertaining duology, Warrior, so didn’t leave it too long before diving into this second offering. I am linking this review to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

BLURB: When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. Until now…
Created by the merging of witch and doppelganger, Mirei is a unique being. Her extraordinary magic makes her the most poweful witch alive—and a notorious social outcast. While Satomi, the leader of the witches’ ruling Primes, hails Mirei as a miracle, rival Primes proclaim that Mirei is an evil abomination… and that those who champion her must be destroyed.

I am a real fan of a premise that throws up unintended consequences. Given the first book finished in quite an unexpected place, I didn’t leave it too long before diving into this one – and once more Brennan quickly threw in a couple of curved balls I didn’t see coming. I love it when that happens… Interestingly, Mirei, who was the focus of the first book is slightly pushed to one side as the consequences of what happened to her ripples through the layers of the magical community and the group of assassins, both of whom have been directly affected. As you can imagine, when a number of powerful people within both these groups become a tad fed up, the consequences are dire.

Due to the fast paced, twisting nature of the plot and the fact that I am allergic to spoilers, I can’t really comment in any detail about the events that unfold. However, Brennan manages to provide a solid, believable world without resorting to pages of description, which is important in such a tightly constructed, pacey read. Desperate to find out what would happen next, I burned through this one, staying up far later than I should to discover what happens next. While her Memoirs of Lady Trent series is very well known, this duology is far less so – and it deserves to be far more widely read. Highly recommended for fans of Marie Brennan and page-turning fantasy adventures with twisty plots.
9/10

Series I Completed in 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SeriesICompletedin2019

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The High King’s Vengeance – Book 2 of Malessar’s Curse duology by Stephen Poore
The duology takes the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy, gives them a jolly good shake and tips them out… I loved the way we find the protagonist is as much the most convenient fool in the neighbourhood as the special chosen one. And that she discovers in the second book that most of the assumptions she’d made in The Heir to the North were wrong. Disastrously so, as it happens. Both The Heir to the North and The High King’s Vengeance are highly recommended – despite the dodgy covers.

 

The Fall of Dragons – Book 5 of The Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
This epic fantasy comprises The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm, A Plague of Swords and this concluding book – The Fall of Dragons. This high fantasy swords and sorcery adventure is chockfull of action with the battle scenes being particularly outstanding. Cameron wears armour and takes part in historical martial arts – and his own experience means he writes those aspects very well. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy and brilliant battle scenes.

 

 

Within the Sanctuary of Wings – Book 5 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan
This gave the whole series an enjoyable twist as a huge development occurs in this particular book that is a complete gamechanger. I’ve loved following the feisty Lady Trent through all her adventures, comprising A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, In the Labyrinth of Drakes – as well as this final instalment. This is historical fantasy adventure is completely original take on dragons and is very highly recommended.

 

No Going Back – Book 5 of the Jon and Lobo series by Mark L. Van Name
You’re going to think I mostly read five-book series… But once I finished this military sci fi thriller, where a mercenary teams up with a discarded sentient warship, published in 2012 by Baen, I was really sad to see there were no other books featuring these two likeable, battle-scarred characters. The series comprises Jump Twist Gate, an omnibus edition of the first two books – One Jump Ahead and Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More and No Going Back – review to follow. Highly recommended if you like your military sci fi on the quirky, thoughtful side.

 

 

The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams
I’ve always enjoyed the sheer mapcap energy that pings off the page with Williams’ writing, but this trilogy is where she showed what she could really do in this genre mash-up, where science fiction and fantasy collide in a magnificent shower of sparks… This series comprises  The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins, in addition to The Poison Song. Very highly recommended.

 

 

The Unbound Empire – Book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso
I loved these books right from the first line onwards. Caruso pulled me right into the middle of her delightful world, where each magic-user needed to be bound to a controller. So what happens when this happens by accident, rather than by design? The intense, assured writing won me over, and it was with real pain that I took the decision that this one couldn’t make the final cut in my 2019 Outstanding Reads list. This series comprises The Tethered Mage and The Defiant Heir as well as The Unbound Empire. This YA fantasy is very highly recommended.

 

 

AUDIO The Empty Grave – Book 5 of the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud
This outstanding children’s alternate fantasy, where people who have died in troubled circumstances turn into feral ghosts who are capable of appearing at night and killing the living. And only children are able to see and fight them… Lucy tells her gripping tale throughout these books, which are funny, poignant and genuinely frightening in places. This series comprises The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy, The Creeping Shadow as well as The Empty Grave. This outstanding series is very highly recommended.

 

 

A Season of Spells – Book 3 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter
It’s the world that Hunter has created here that makes this one stand out. I’ll be honest – I think the first book is the best one. But I’m glad I also read the other two, as they added breadth and depth to this intriguing and complex version of Regency Britain, where Christianity never prevailed, Roman gods are acknowledged and the country is still a patchwork of smaller kingdoms loosely united by treaties. This series comprises The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick in addition to A Season of Spells – review to follow.

 

 

AUDIO How To Fight a Dragon’s Fury – Book 12 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Written for reluctant readers, this children’s epic fantasy adventure featuring a small, very ordinary-looking Viking boy, who isn’t all that good at most of the Viking pasttimes. And whose hunting dragon is very small and very, very naughty drew me in from the first by the sheer quality of the characterisation and plotting. I have read these adventures to both children, until they both decided they wanted to complete the books on their own. So I finally finished listening to the last handful of books on my own. Hiccup’s exploits were funny, gripping and ultimately absolutely heart-breaking, so I wept as I listened to the epilogue of this instalment, feeling like I’d lost a cherished friend. This series comprises How To Train Your Dragon, How To Be a Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese, How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons, How to Ride a Dragon’s Storm, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword, How to Seize a Dragon’s Jewel, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero as well as How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury. Very highly recommended for children of all ages, who believe in dragons ages…

 

The Violent Fae – Book 3 of The Ordshaw series by Phil Williams
Lynn of Lynn’s Book Blog recommended this series – and I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky urban fantasy adventure with a difference. Letty the foul-mouthed fairy who bounces right back became a solid favourite with me. This trilogy comprises Under Ordshaw, Blue Angel as well as The Violent Fae. Recommended for urban fantasy fans who are looking for something different.

 

 

 

AUDIO The Last Olympian – Book 5 of Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan
This children’s re-telling of the Greek myths, updated and made fresh when told through the eyes of young dyslexic half-blood, Percy Jackson. Frankie absolutely loved this series and so I thought I’d better discover what all the fuss was about. This clever, entertaining series comprises Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curse, Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth as well as The Last Olympian. Highly recommended for those who enjoy teenage coming-of-age fantasy adventures. I didn’t review any of these books on my blog, as I felt most of what I had to say had already been covered about this very popular series.

 

 

AUDIO Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, with forewords written and narrated by Stephen Fry
This marvellous collection of the four novels and all the short stories provided over seventy hours of quality listening as I was decorating the bathroom during the summer. I broke it up, listening to other books in between each of the six sections, stretching it out as long as I could – so it was with a real sense of loss that I finally arrived at the last section. Overall, I was impressed at how well much of Conan Doyle’s canon stood the test of time, although there were a handful of horribly racist stories I simply skipped.

These were the series I completed during 2019. I’ll be posting another article charting those I’m intending to continue throughout 2020. What about you – have you read any of these and did you enjoy them, too?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton #Brainfluffbookreview #LadyHotspurbookreview

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It was the blurb that attracted me – a retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry IV sold this one. I studied the play at school and it sank into my soul. What I hadn’t realised is that this is the second book set in this world of Innis Lear as neither Goodreads or Amazon mention it. However, I think reading The Queens of Innis Lear would have helped enormously. So before picking this one up, go and track down the first book.

BLURB: Hal was once a knight, carefree and joyous, sworn to protect her future queen Banna Mora. But after a rebellion led by her own mother, Caleda, Hal is now the prince of Lionis, heir to the throne. The pressure of her crown and bloody memories of war plague her, as well as a need to shape her own destiny, no matter the cost. Lady Hotspur, known as the Wolf of Aremoria for her temper and warcraft, never expected to be more than a weapon. She certainly never expected to fall in love with the fiery Hal or be blindsided by an angry Queen’s promise to remake the whole world in her own image—a plan Hotspur knows will lead to tragedy. Banna Mora kept her life, but not her throne. Fleeing to Innis Lear to heal her heart and plot revenge, the stars and roots of Innis Lear will teach her that the only way to survive a burning world is to learn to breathe fire. These three women, together or apart, are the ones who have the power to bring the once-powerful Aremoria back to life—or destroy it forever.

Unusually, I’ve included the full blurb as it neatly sums up the dynamic of the plot about three young women who were once firm friends, as their relationships change into a more complex dynamic that has consequences not just for them, but for two kingdoms. This long book (600+ pages) is very ambitious, given it claims to be a retelling of one of the Shakespeare history plays. While there are echoes of that dynamic, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that thread, as there are also important differences that occur very quickly.

It took me a bit of time to really bond with the characters, but then I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book and I recommend you read the first one before tackling Lady Hotspur. The title is actually misleading as the book equally deals with Prince Hal and Bana Mora just as much as Hotspur. It covers their joint and individual journeys extremely well. Gratton is an accomplished author who drew me into a world of complex magic and layered characterisation so that despite the heftiness of the read, I was held throughout. I was all set to give this one a ten, before I got to the final act and that crucial defining battle…

As I don’t want to lurch into Spoiler territory, you’ll have to bear with me if I’m a tad vague. But the trajectory of the book charts the relationships and competing claims, both personal and societal, upon three young women who already had high expectations thrust upon them. I felt Gratton did an outstanding job in making those genuinely gripping and very poignant – the relationship between Hotspur and Hal was particularly well done, I felt. But I was very dissatisfied with the manner in which the story was tied up. I think Gratton committed the unpardonable sin of raising reader expectations for one type of outcome, only to pull a switch that didn’t convince me at all. The conclusion was far too tidy for such a tortuous journey – by the end, I wasn’t even sure why they went to war at all, given the outcome.

The other issue I had was the role of women in the story. This magical tale is set in a late medieval setting when political marriages secured dynasties and land and Might is Right. Why we suddenly have a cadre of highborn, marriageable women, able to fight in battle alongside their male counterparts, is never fully explained. And I mind. It seems to me that you cannot sweep away all the impediments to women’s full equality within a story without addressing these obstacles, or factoring in a different dynamic that will give these women some tangible advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Because their ability to prevail against fully armoured men due to their unique skill never convinced me. And I’m not prepared to go with the flow on this one – what sort of message does that give generations of us who watched our male work colleagues sail past us simply because of their genitalia? That we’re not strong enough? That we need magic? Or that just reading about a cosy world where it’s all just different is going to make me feel better? Systemic inequality of opportunity for women is far too widespread to be treated in such a flippant manner.

Furthermore, it’s supposed to be a retelling of a Shakespearean play. He might have been the greatest playwright that ever lived, but he was still a product of his time – so women were never found on the battlefield fighting alongside their men in his stories. If Gratton had wanted to change that aspect after specifically referencing Shakespeare in her worldbuilding, then she needed to spend at least some time and effort demonstrating what made it possible for these women to be able to learn the martial arts and take part in the bloodletting alongside the men. And she doesn’t.

The really aggravating aspect is that it wouldn’t have taken much to have turned this well-written, but slightly flawed effort into an outstanding read, as far as I’m concerned. And despite my real gripes with the book, I am still awarding it a solid eight. But it could have been a ten with just a little bit more thought… The ebook arc copy of Lady Hotspur was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10