I liked the look of the cover and thought the premise sounded rather unusual – and I wasn’t wrong. This proved to be a story that took me on an unexpected and entertaining journey.
BLURB: Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads: “Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.” Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.
Somewhere dark. Somewhere deep. The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.
Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him. Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.
REVIEW: This book is labelled on Goodreads as a YA read. Now I know that YA can be a bit tricky to exactly pin down – but I was a tad surprised, because this didn’t feel like a book particularly aimed at younger readers. Which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t enjoy it, but there are more mature readers who tend to avoid stories where emotions are dialled up high and the romance is the narrative engine that drives the action. This isn’t one of those.
Which begs the question as to exactly what it is… To be honest, it reminded me a bit of The Pilgrim’s Progress minus the religious component. There is a strong sense of morality running through the book – very bad things happen to those who set out to hurt others. And even those who don’t transgress, but simply are aware and do nothing – they don’t fare all that well, either. I rather enjoyed that aspect, particularly as it ends up being more nuanced and sophisticated as the story progresses. It took me a while to completely bond with Ollie. I suspect that’s because right now I’m significantly overweight after over a year of illness and I found his obsession with his weight rather annoying. However, once he’s up to his neck in all sorts of trouble, he turns out to be a thoroughly endearing hero.
Overall, this is a quirky read that starts off rather downbeat but ends up being inspirational with a strong message for all of us. Recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of Herrick’s End from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over fourteen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
Thank goodness little Eliza and my daughter have now recovered from their initial medical emergencies. Eliza is back at nursery school and I was able to spend some time with her to see she is back to her normal, bouncy self – more of that later! However my daughter has had to return work while also juggling the needs of three children all at very different stages, so she is at full stretch. To the extent that we’ve had our Boomerang Boy staying with us again.
After his first full week at his new school didn’t go very well, we offered to have our younger grandson to stay over for this last week. Himself is on annual leave and we have the time to give Oscar the support he needs to cope with such a major change, mostly by simply being there. It worked out really well and by Friday he was much happier and more settled, having made a friend and feeling less overwhelmed. He helped make tea, played Wordle with me and contributed to discussions around the table during the evening meal. He is such a star and we love his company – as you can see by the nonsense going on between Himself and Oscar when I was trying to take a photo!
Under normal circumstances, that would be my major news for this post – but this time around I’ve other tidings to share. I am definitely on the road to recovery! My energy levels have suddenly jumped up, so I don’t get exhausted so easily. Last Saturday Oscar and I (he came to stay last Friday evening) had a sleepover at my sister’s to listen to a nightingale singing in a nearby wood. She made us a lovely roast dinner and then we played cards – we taught Oscar to play knock-out whist and then he beat us both at Dobble. That level and length of interaction would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago – but I not only coped, I was thoroughly enjoying it.
I am not yet fully recovered, as I’m still dealing with nasal drip, tinnitus, persistent pain in my upper right arm and chest that wakes me up at night. In addition I still have a swollen thyroid and lymph glands in my neck. And I am horribly unfit – unsurprising as I have spent a large part of the last fourteen months too tired to get out of bed. But I am so thrilled and massively relieved! I’d begun to fear that the almost constant tiredness constantly dogging me was going to be with me for the rest of my life. On Wednesday evening, I was able to join a Zoom meeting with my Writing group and got such a welcome… It was lovely to see everyone again, as the last time I’d been part of the group was 3rd March, 2021.
So on Thursday evening, Oscar’s last night with us, we asked if we could also borrow the other two children and celebrated my improvement by taking the grandchildren to The Dragon, their favourite Chinese restaurant. Even little Eliza came along – and without her mother, who couldn’t make it as she was busy with an online meeting. It was one of the best nights of my life. We got a lovely greeting from the staff, who remembered us even though we hadn’t been there since 2019 – and the children were wonderful. Eliza was as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The food was fabulous and the service was brilliant. When our waiter spotted that Eliza was determinedly spooning up the plum sauce she was supposed to be sharing with her older brother, he brought two sachets of tomato ketchup just for her, tore them open and squeezed them onto her plate and invited her to dip her cucumber slices in that instead. The older children were chatty and easy-going, clearly enjoying the food and always polite – I’m so proud of them!
The highlight for me is that even a fortnight earlier – I simply couldn’t have envisaged feeling well enough to have taken part in such an outing. So it was a huge deal for me to be there. I hadn’t been anywhere for a meal since we went away for our wedding anniversary in September 2020. I’m very aware that I still have a long way to go – and I’m not going to rush ahead with a Graduated Exercise Programme, for example. That would probably tip me back into a relapse – after all, it has taken over a year to get here. So if it takes that length of time to regain my fitness, without running the risk of becoming bedridden again – that’s fine by me😊. I have a hospital appointment on Monday – fingers crossed it won’t find anything sinister!
This week I’ve read:-
Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic by Helen Harper The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.
There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman. I’m a Helen Harper fan – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a real page-turner and I’m now looking forward to reading the next one in the series, as I’m desperate to discover what happens next.
Murder in the Manor – Book 1 of A Lacey Doyle Cosy Mystery series by Fiona Grace Lacey Doyle, 39 years old and freshly divorced, needs a drastic change. She needs to quit herjob, leave her horrendous boss and New York City, and walk away from the fast life. Making good on her childhood promise to herself, she decides to walk away from it all, and to relive a beloved childhood vacation in the quaint English seaside town of Wilfordshire.
Wilfordshire is exactly as Lacey remembers it, with its ageless architecture, cobblestone streets, and with nature at its doorstep. Lacey doesn’t want to go back home—and spontaneously, she decides to stay, and to give her childhood dream a try: she will open her own antique shop.
Lacey finally feels that her life is taking a step in the right direction—until her new star customer turns up dead. As the newcomer in town, all eyes are on Lacey, and it’s up to her to clear her own name. With a business to run, a next-door neighbor turned nemesis, a flirty baker across the street, and a crime to solve – is this new life all that Lacey thought it would be? This is one of the books that Himself acquired – I was intrigued by the blurb and was in the mood for something a bit different from my usual fare. There is much to commend it – I liked the gutsy can-do attitude of the heroine. But timescales were ridiculously compressed (a week to get a temporary Visa to live in the UK????) and this offering couldn’t make up its mind if it was a cosy mystery or a cosy second-chance romance. 7/10
Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.
The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake. This enjoyable timeslip space opera adventure has some interesting things to say about how History slants events to suit those writing said History. I grew very fond of the Fortunate Five and found myself rooting for them. 8/10
Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath by T.M. Blanchet Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads: “Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.” Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.
Somewhere dark. Somewhere deep. The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.
Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him. Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast. This intriguing offering has been labelled YA, but it certainly didn’t come across as a YA read to me. I thought the story was going in a certain direction – when it suddenly turned into something completely different. And I was hooked. I was also intrigued by the strong morality story that underpins it, putting me in mind of Pilgrim’s Progress – although there isn’t any religion in this offering. Review to follow.
The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.
At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance. But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do… I wanted to like Dodie – but she’s the type of heroine that frankly gives millennials a bad name. She giggles and pouts over men as if she’s a mid-teen, turns her back on a friend looking for support and suddenly decides to adopt a baby without having any of the resources to do the job properly. Thank goodness the baby’s grandparents saw through her charm and realised just how flighty she is. I read on in fascinated horror to see how else she was going to mess up her life. Though given her addiction to every kind of sweet food on the planet, it might just be she’s making decisions in the throes of a sugar-blitzed brainstorm. 6/10
AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver, narrated by Sir Ian McKellan It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack.
The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever… What a treat… In this prehistoric world, our ancestors have formed a deep spiritual bond with the creatures around them. Paver depicts their hunter-gatherer lives with realism and respect – and I recommend you also listen to the Afterword, where she describes the research she has done to back up aspects covered in this gripping adventure. But then, you’ll probably want to listen on, anyway. With McKellan’s masterful narration, I’d listen to him reading aloud the soccer results. Review to follow.
Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m 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.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This week has been a busy one, winding up my Creative Writing class and teaching Tim until after Christmas. I am hoping that during the break I can regain my health and stamina. My wonderful writing buddy, Mhairi and I also completed our tax returns – she comes over and we tackle them together, which makes the whole process a lot more fun and a lot less scary. It was one of those chores we’d planned to do much earlier this autumn, but I’d had to postpone as I wasn’t feeling well enough.
Other than that, I’ve started buying Christmas and birthday pressies as far too many family members saw fit to get themselves born in December, including my mother, daughter and number one grandchild. This weekend I had the grandchildren stay over for the first time in over two months – it will be the last time I’ll see them before Christmas – and we had a great time. We all went shopping yesterday morning, started decorating the house in the afternoon and went out for a Chinese meal at our favourite restaurant in the evening. So Sunday morning we spent a lazy morning recovering, before Oscar tackled the Christmas tree, while Frankie experimented with different looks. It seemed far too soon that I had to load them back into the car, ready to take them home yesterday afternoon and then sank onto the sofa, too tired to move for the rest of the evening. Hence being a day late…
Last week I read:
Ichor Well – Book 3 of the Free-Wrench series by Joseph Lallo
Ever since Nita Graus left her homeland and joined the crew of the Wind Breaker, the reputation of the airship and its crew has been growing. The destruction of the mighty dreadnought, the escape from the legendary Skykeep, and the inexplicable ability to remain hidden from the ever-watchful eye of the Fug Folk have combined to make her and her fellow crew the stuff of legend. Alas, legendary heroes cannot exist for long without attracting a worthy villain. Luscious P. Alabaster strives to be just that foe. This steampunk adventure is great fun – though it’s a real shame that I mistakenly tucked into the third book in the series. However, I’ll be backtracking to the first two books, because I really enjoyed this one.
Six of Crows – Book 1 of the Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… I’d heard so much about the criminal underworld fantasy adventure, so decided to give it a whirl as a break from all the science fiction I’ve recently been reading. And I’m so glad I did as I thoroughly enjoyed it.
An Easy Death – Book 1 of the Gunnie Rose series by Charlaine Harris
Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. I was wittering at Himself about this one and next thing I knew – he’d bought it for me… And Himself, of course – I love it that we often love the same books. We certainly both thoroughly enjoyed this one. Lizbeth’s first person narration during the variety of adventures that engulf her during a particular job had me thoroughly rooting for her. She is feisty, tough and smart and yet doesn’t come off as a Mary Sue. I found it hard to put this one down until I’d finished it.
After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During May, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to sixteen. They are:
The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive. This is an impressive debut novel that takes a familiar trope of the apocalyptic end of the world and makes it more about the protagonist’s internal, emotional journey than the gritted struggle of survival we normally get. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering and look forward to more from this author – see my review here.
The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit. This gripping, emotional book charts the power struggle going on in the highest level of society. Those with the most magic are in control and treat everyone else with a chilling lack of compassion. It is all about getting more influence and control and no one is allowed to stand in the way – certainly not a young couple in love and afflicted with iron rot… I very much enjoyed this savage world and look forward to getting hold of more books in this series in due course – see my review here.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters… This is a lovely story with a big heart – and no, that is not some coded warning that this is a saccharine read. For in amongst the quirky charm, Hogan tackles head-on issues such as dementia and features characters that fall outside society’s ideas of what is normal. I very much enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it in due course.
I also managed to clear eleven books from my TBR pile. They are: Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon. This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive. This inventive, clever series deserves to be far better known – see my review here.
A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue As you may have gathered from the blurb, in parts this book is laugh-aloud hilarious – what isn’t quite so obvious is that in other places it is heart-breakingly sad. What it never does is stand still. I love the roller-coaster ride – even though I need some breathing space between books. See my review here.
The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife. Another gem of a series that deserves to be read far more widely. This second book has provided plenty of twists and given the story a cool science fiction twist that has me longing to pick up the next book – see my review here.
Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool series and Book 16 of The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles. This is the final book in this trilogy and for my money is her best book yet. Action-packed and full of emotion, with a real twist in the end, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far and is my book of the month. See my review here.
The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war. Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. Another cracking read – see my review here.
Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper… I really enjoyed this unusual urban fantasy set in an inn with a difference. This particular peace conference certainly provides plenty of opportunity for mayhem and turmoil – review not yet posted.
Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet. This novella certainly packs a punch with an impressive protagonist full of rage and power – and no recollection of who she is and where she came from. She just knows she has a quest and is bound to carry it out. Review not yet posted.
A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday? Once more Oscar and I settled down together to enjoy this madcap adventure with all the unexpected plot twists, wondering how Hiccup is going to escape this next lethal threat. Great stuff!
Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for? Lots of adventure and incident in this underwater, military science fiction offering, featuring a flawed protagonist with a dark backstory… Enjoyable and engrossing.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. I loved this one. It could so easily have descended into a sentimental mess and didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the unpredictable, dangerous nature of the monster… Review not yet posted.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan See above.
So that is my May roundup. Due to my illness back in April, I still have a backlog of reviews waiting to be posted, which is a nice position to be in – and a change for me! Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?
Sue and I catch up with each other at Fantasycon every year, so I was thrilled that her debut book, Marked, had been scooped off the slush pile by Jo Fletcher. I read and enjoyed it – see my review here, so was more than happy to read the latest release in this series.
Able to see ghosts in both the human and daemon worlds, Lucky de Salle is a commodity – and a liability. And when her best friend Kayla mysteriously disappears, she and her daemon guard stumble onto a secret that makes her even more of a danger to her enemies. Now she’s being hunted by the daemon Henri le Dent and Amaliel Cheriour, the court’s sinister executioner, Lucky has to rely on her wits, her inner strength, her friends – and the emerging talents that make her far more than she thinks she is.
Lucky is now travelling in the Underlands, accompanied by the two daemons who have marked her, Jinx the Deathbringer and Jamie the Guardian. My strong advice is to track down the first book in this entertaining series, as this one picks up right from where Marked left off. Tingey writes with pace and conviction. All too often when loved ones are kidnapped, it seems the protagonist is more concerned about the details connected to the chase, but Lucky’s real fear for Kayla pervades this part of the adventure. This made me care about her again, and hooked me into the story.
In addition to a likeable protagonist, the world is peopled with a number of vivid characters, including a cute, shape-changing drakon – and Tingey manages to pull off a device that normally has me rolling my eyes. There is a love triangle going on – both Jinx and Jamie want Lucky. But don’t reject this one because you are sick of the angsting and hand-wringing that normally goes with such dynamics, because there simply isn’t any… The three of them are quite happy for things to play out as they are – matters are conducted with more latitude in the Underland, apparently.
Court life doesn’t get any less lethal, with the King teetering on the edge of outright madness and the book continues to gather pace as the story gallops to the exciting and unexpected climax, with a vile cult making an effective and very unpleasant antagonist. There are plenty of surprises along the way and, while this particular story arc has been suitably concluded, there are still some major question marks surrounding Lucky’s role and what her enemies will do next. All in all, an action-packed adventure that is great fun.
I was drawn by the chirpy blurb and colourful cover – and the fact that my granddaughter falls within the age group indicated. So would I enjoy it?
Make no mistake, the Underworld is not a cheerful place. Brinkloven Crowley the Third is a Prince of Hell and he does NOT like living among his kind. He searches tirelessly for a way to escape. Then an escape finds HIM, and it is most unfortunate… Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell is the prequel to the middle grade series Skycastle, the Demon, and Me.
This certainly bounces along with plenty joie de vivre, given that we are talking about Hell, which is fine by me as it is squarely aimed at children. The cover and blurb had a feel of the wonderful How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, and I was hoping it would be of that calibre. It isn’t. The characterisation of Brink, the scrapes he gets into and the world he inhabits just lack the pinsharp writing, deft description and desert dry humour the is the hallmark of Cowell’s writing.
That said, it is a perfectly enjoyable little tale that I would happily read to the children and Brink is an amusing protagonist, although the depiction of Hell was a bit thin. I liked the device that allowed Brink to escape the confines of Hell – it was a neat twist, given how much Brink had striven to leave.
Brink is a protagonist I found it easy to sympathise with – it was easy to understand why he’d hide away and read, given the unpleasant characters wandering around Hell – not least his large, loud-mouthed brother. I found the latter scenes in the book easier to visualise than the earlier ones where he is wandering around Hell and the grey demon Torque was one of my favourite characters. And the final interchange between Jack and Brink suddenly brought the story to life in a way that made me want to check out the first book in the Skycastle series.
The ebook arc copy of Brink’s Unfortunate Escape from Hell was provided by NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I enjoyed Tad Williams’ Otherland series, so when I saw the funky cover and realised it was a new series, I scooped it off the shelves. Would I enjoy it as much as the epic fantasy door-stoppers I’m more used to reading from him?
Bobby Dollar, angel on Earth, has a couple of epic problems. Problem One: Bobby has fallen in love with Casimira, Countess of Cold Hants, who just happens to be Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell’s girlfriend. Problem Two: the Grand Duke, aware of the first problem, has whisked Casimira off to the Bottomless Pit itself, telling Bobby he will never see her again unless Bobby hands over a golden feather that Eligor desires more than anything else. But Bobby, long-time veteran of the endless war between above and below, is not the type of guy to be intimidated. All he has to do is toss on a demon’s body, sneak through the infernal gates, work out why Eligor wants the feather, and rescue the girl. Saving the day should just be a matter of an eon or two of anguish, mutilation and horror. If only it were that easy.
While the first person narration is humorously laconic, the overall tone puts the grrr into grimdark. Bobby spends a significant slice of the book in Hell, which Williams has managed to make convincingly hellish. Needless to say, this book isn’t suitable for your younger teens as Williams – known for inventive, detailed worldbuilding – doesn’t hold back when depicting the worst place on the planet. He has taken some of the classic representations of Hell, built on them and given them his own imaginative spin. The result is a graphic examination of hopelessness and despair. One of the grimmer details is that a fair number of its inhabitants don’t really deserve to be there – or the fact they are trapped there for Eternity. And the reason why I’ve capitalised it, is that is a very, very long time. One of the scenes that will haunt me for a while is the Forest of Suicides…
Any niggles? Well, I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the torture – while it wasn’t as graphically described as the backdrop, there were enough details for it to have been extreme. Bobby manages to prevail because of his unwavering belief in his love for Caz and the fact he’s an angel. If he’d been human, he would have folded like wet paper under a fraction of the abuse he endured, which is something that I felt should have been more explicit. But this isn’t a dealbreaker.
It is an original, dark and visceral take on the fight between Good and Evil – the ending wasn’t what I was expecting. But I certainly want to read the next slice of the adventure, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. If you have enjoyed Tad Williams in the past and haven’t yet picked up this series, I recommend you do so – it is urban fantasy splashed with Williams’ own magic formula.
After being gripped by the first two book in this classy series, see my review of The Straight Razor Curehere, and my review of Tomorrow the Killing here – would I enjoy the next slice of the Warden’s adventure as much?
The Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Law Town Denizen of them all. As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, fast than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.
But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A host of lunatics and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved. She who waits behind all things.
And there you have the blurb. This is every bit as engrossing the other two books – but the action builds up more slowly and my strong advice is that to get the best out of this book you do really need to read the first two. While Polansky hasn’t committed the newbie error of leaving you floundering if you do read these books out of order (a regular bad habit of mine that I managed to avoid this time around), Warden is such a layered, complex character, in order to appreciate some more of his finer points you need to have read at least one of the other books. The tone of this one is darker and more savage – not a surprise, given that Warden is fighting for his life and is more scaldingly aware that he is growing older in an unforgiving environment.
I love his character. While I’d probably go out of my way not to meet him in real life, the humorous asides that pepper his first person narrative, often directed against himself as well as everyone else around him, pulled me right into the story. Despite his ability to murder in cold blood, despite his drug dealing, despite his nastiness to those who care about him – I fiercely wanted him to prevail throughout the story. And, like the previous book, this one explores more of his past – this time shedding light on his downfall in the Black House. How it came about and who, exactly, he still holds accountable for the disaster. Because that is the other part of Warden’s character – he holds a grudge. And is prepared to wait a long, long time before taking his revenge… But that seems to be a common trait in Low Town – and when events take a turn for the worse, he needs all his skill to stay one step ahead of the chaos breaking out around him.
So does the final climax and denouement satisfactorily bring this particular narrative arc to a fitting conclusion? Oh yes. Once more, I ended one of Polansky’s books feeling as if I’ve been through an emotional wringer. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you really enjoy character-led stories set in a vibrant, grubbily corrupt backdrop with the inevitable violence leavened by dark humour, then go looking for this series. It’s right up there with the best this sub-genre has to offer.
After enjoying the first book in this series, The Straight Razor Cure, as much as I did – see my review here – it was a no-brainer to go looking for this sequel. Would I enjoy it as much?
Once he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House; now he is the criminal lynchpin of Low Town. His name is Warden. He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery’s daughter is missing somewhere in Low Town, searching for clues about her brother’s murder. The General wants her found, before the stinking streets can lay claim to her, too…
This is another murder mystery, a bit after the style of the adventure The Warden got involved in during The Straight Razor Cure – but this one is all about his past. In Fantasy, war is often part of the story, but Polansky focuses on the damage that war inflicts on those who took part. The Warden’s traumatic memories interleave the current story as he struggles to cope. But once the General asked him to track down his daughter, the Warden finds himself confronted with a past he does his best to avoid. Mostly by taking copious quantities of drugs.
We were faced with the Warden’s irreverent, sharp attitude in Polansky’s first novel, along with his short fuse, his ruthlessness and his drug habit. This is the book that unpacks a real slice of his backstory that probably helps to make up his spiky, layered character. I really enjoyed this journey – the Warden’s sparky humour counteracts the darker tone of this book and helps to tone down the uglier edges of the violence that regularly flares throughout the story. He is a classic anti-hero, complicated, driven and full of self loathing – but with a strong sense of justice and loyalty for the handful of people he loves. Though I’m glad I’m not one of them – he regularly punishes those who do…
One of the joys of this book is the backdrop. The dubious delights of Low Town is described vividly throughout, along with the character cast, through the filter of the Warden. Some of those descriptions verge on the poetic and others are amusing. And some of the descriptions of trench warfare are plain grim, but what they do is build up a wonderful world that pings off the page and straight into the imagination. And as the backdrop is continually inserted as part of the Warden’s routine – he walks everywhere, for starters – the pace is never impeded. It’s a far niftier trick to pull off than Polansky makes it look.
As for the storyline – well I didn’t see that coming… It was a real plot twist, right at the end which created a strong sense of satisfaction and confirmed for me that Polansky is destined to be considered alongside the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.
I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. Not that Polansky tries to sanitise the bad part of town – but neither does he treat us to any gratuitous violence or revel unduly in the grottier parts of the landscape. Which is a problem I occasionally encounter with underworld fantasy – while I enjoy being fully immersed in the action, I don’t appreciate feeling the need to shower afterwards…
Having a character that pings off the page is all very well – but a murder mystery needs a lot more than that to work effectively. The world has to be convincing – and again, Polansky ticks all the boxes. Warden’s business interests on the seedy side of town require him to be ruthless and unpleasant, with a supporting cast of characters who he rubs shoulders with. He also has a part-share in an inn called The Staggering Earl run by his business partner Adolphus, friend and former comrade-in-arms, where he whiles away his time drinking and drug-taking when not roaming around doing deals. Or trying to find the child murderer.
Warden has a very chequered past which gradually unfolded throughout the book, allowing him access to some highly placed people on both sides of the law. Not that anyone exactly rolls out the welcome mat for him… The narrative is handled very well as various pressures steadily build up and Warden finds himself on the back foot, needing to solve the murders for his own survival.
I really didn’t spot the perpetrator until the final denouement, which was satisfyingly climactic, tying up all the loose ends. There’s no cliffhanger at the end of this book to encourage readers to reach for the second in the series – which in this case is entirely unnecessary as I’ve already ordered it. Warden’s snarky commentary on his nicely twisty adventures is an ideal way to while away the bleak January weather…