Tag Archives: adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Paper & Blood – Book 2 of The Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearne #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Paper&Bloodbookreview

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I love The Iron Druid series – see my reviews of Hounded, Hammered, Shattered, Staked and Scourged. Atticus is a fabulous hero with his adorable dogs and the steady humour they provide prevent the series from getting too dark as his enemies get angrier and more powerful. So I was delighted when Ink & Sigil, the first book in a spin-off series, appeared. Would I enjoy Paper & Blood as much?

BLURB: There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.
REVIEW: I really have rather fallen in love with Al. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sympathetic, enjoyable protagonist who also happens not to be in the full flush of youth – and yes… I’m aware that Atticus is two thousand years old. But he looks like a twenty-something, whereas Al doesn’t. The extra weight of years and wry wisdom has completely won me over. It doesn’t hurt that I also enjoy the company he keeps, especially his foul-mouthed hobgoblin companion, Buck Foi and Nadia. And yes… there is a lot of swearing in this book, so if you find that offensive, then this won’t be for you. It was the one thing that, at times, slightly niggled as I wished that Al had reported that Buck Foi cursed, rather than giving me the benefit of all the sweariness. But it wasn’t a dealbreaker, because I enjoyed the characters and the action.

And the great big bonus for me is that Atticus and his dogs also heavily feature in this adventure. I’ve really missed tucking into yet another amusing story featuring Atticus since the Iron Druid series finished, so I was delighted that he has such a big role in this book. And it is also fascinating to see him filtered through Al’s viewpoint. As ever, Hearne tells a cracking tale, full of action and suspense. As the mystery of the missing sigil agents deepens, Hearne’s warm-hearted, larger-than-life characters are genuinely concerned. When we meet the horrible monsters intent to tearing apart everyone they meet, I did wonder if we’d ever see them again. Because for all his folksy fun, Hearne isn’t afraid to kill off a likeable, affectionate character if it fits the plot.

A large part of the story is set in the Australian outback, which is effectively evoked and certainly adds to the vividness and tension, while Al and his gang attempt their desperate rescue. As ever with Hearne, I didn’t see the denouement coming – but that didn’t stop it being entirely satisfying. While there is lots of action and humour, I also appreciated the discussions and stories between the characters and the philosophical deliberations. All in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and is highly recommended for urban fantasy fans with a liking for their fantasy with a strong Celtic twist and lots of quirky humour. While I obtained an arc of Paper & Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 20th June, 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 Father’s Day to those of you who are celebrating. This year, it won’t be a major thing in our house, as we’re still coming to terms with the death of my lovely father-in-law, Derek Higbee, who lost his battle with cancer on 6th May. He was a remarkable man, whose education was hampered by WWII and despite being dyslexic, he went on to have a successful career, ending up as Managing Director of an engineering firm, with several inventions to his name.

Derek with the wallclock he designed and made

A keen cyclist all his life, he embarked on several major sponsored cycle rides once he retired, including riding the length of Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and the other where he rode from the tip of South Island in New Zealand and ending in Auckland on North Island. All proceeds went to charity. He also took up pottery, passed exams and became good enough to have his work displayed for sale at the prestigious annual exhibition in the Bishop’s Kitchen at Chichester Cathedral. And his abiding passion for the last decade, was his involvement with the Ringwood Junior School, where he ran an Engineering afterschool club. He rounded up a team of like-minded friends and between them, they designed and constructed projects appropriate for 10 and 11-year-olds that could be successfully completed within a term. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Indeed, he received a national award in recognition of his efforts to introduce STEM subjects to schoolchildren. When he was in Christchurch Hospice, one of the nurses immediately recognised him, as her daughter had been one of the hundreds of children who had attended the club over the years.

Marie and Derek on his 70th birthday

All of this would be noteworthy and impressive – but he was also a charismatic, kindly, outgoing person with a lively intelligence and quirky sense of humour. And a very strong family man. Himself is the eldest of three – two boys and a girl. I came into the family rather unexpectedly, having divorced with two young children, and being determined never to get involved with anyone else ever again. Until Himself and I realised our strong friendship had become something deeper… I and my children were welcomed wholeheartedly by both Derek and Marie. When we first moved into our house, it was in a sorry state. Derek and Marie travelled up to help us fix up the house and we went away on holiday with them several times, first with the children – and then later, we took our eldest grandchild to stay with them and my sister-in-law’s family in a holiday cottage in Wales, back in 2008. So many happy times… We always knew they were there for us, and that was such a comfort.

Himself, Marie & Derek on a family holiday

His funeral service was on a lovely sunny day and although I wasn’t well enough to attend, I was able to watch it live online. I’ve promised myself that once I’m better, I’ll pay my respects by putting a posy of wild flowers on his grave. Derek was keen on wild flowers and nature – his final project was making a nestbox for owls, which he didn’t quite manage to complete. The celebrant at Derek’s funeral commented on just how much he had managed to pack into his life – not just with achievements and material success, but with past-times that made the world a better place. He is missed by all who knew him.

Last week I read:
Chains and Memory – Book 2 of the Wilders series by Marie Brennan
Last autumn Kim and Julian stood at the center of that storm. Now they face a challenge closer to home: a battle over the laws governing wilders, the closest genetic relatives of the sidhe. Many feel that change should wait until the current upheaval has ended . . . but Kim sees opportunity in the chaos, a chance to free Julian and all his kind from the chains of the deep shield that locks their gifts away.

The roots of that shield run deeper than she knows. The quest to destroy it will lead her and Julian back into the world of the sidhe, where they will uncover ancient lies, face betrayal on all sides — and gamble everything on the possibility of freedom.
This was a real page-turner. Having recently read the first book in this engrossing series, I was completely on board with Kim and Julian – and the twisty plotting has left me hoping for more…

Antiques Carry On – Book 15 of A Trash n’Treasures mystery series by Barbara Allan
Vivian Borne – true-crime author, antiques dealer and ex-sheriff of Serenity, Iowa – is looking forward to meeting her new editor in London. Flying first class, rooms at the Savoy . . . Her long-suffering co-author, daughter Brandy, worries the trip will bankrupt them both, but the alternative – Mother travelling alone – is unthinkable. Brandy’s almost tempted to make her fiance, Tony – Serenity’s Chief of Police – call Scotland Yard and warn them Vivian’s coming.
But even Brandy doesn’t predict their vacation will end in murder . . . or that she and Mother will be unceremoniously ejected from the country, with an order to leave things well alone.

Vivian and Brandy need a case to write about, and Mother doesn’t care which one. But as the intrepid sleuths – ably supported by doggy detective Sushi – investigate a promising local prospect, they’re plunged into a complex mystery that stretches right back to London . . . with no choice but to carry on.
This quirky whodunit is something of an acquired taste – but I was charmed by the tension between mother and daughter, who write alternative chapters. And along with the murder mystery is all sorts of high jinks that largely appealed to my humour. Review to follow.

Love’s Labor’s Won – Book 6 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall
Two families, alike in dignity…and armed with powerful magic.

The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire… when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all…
This isn’t the best book in this gripping and unusual school adventure series – but I was interested to see Emily’s ongoing progression as she makes her way in this different world a portal away from the universe where she was born. And negotiating the customs and manners of the highest echelons of society was bound to trip her up…

Deathmaker – Book 2 of the Dragon Blood series by Lindsay Buroker
When Lieutenant Caslin Ahn joined Wolf Squadron, she was prepared for the reality that she might one day be killed in the line of duty. She was less prepared for being shot down, assumed dead by her own people, and dragged off to the Cofah Empire as a prisoner of war.

As if being thrust into a dungeon and interrogated wasn’t bad enough, the sadistic commandant decides to give her a cellmate: the notorious pirate Deathmaker. Given the crimes he’s committed against Iskandia, Cas owes it to her people to try and kill him…
That cover belies the sheer energy and humour that pings off the page as feisty Cas finds herself hauled into a criminal underworld against her will. I love Buroker’s writing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining fantasy series.

AUDIOBOOK – Soul Music – Book 16 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Young Susan has always suspected that her Grandfather was different, as though all the time he spent riding a white horse and wielding a scythe weren’t enough of a giveaway. Now that her worst fears have been confirmed, Susan learns that she’s expected to take over the family business when she grows up, even though most people mistake her for the Tooth Fairy.

But as attractive as Death can be to many people, Susan is drawn into something else: the exciting, addictive heavy beats of ‘Music with Rocks In,’ Discworld’s latest dance craze.
Nigel Planer does a fabulous job of narrating this one. I read the paperback a lifetime ago, and listening to this one was still a treat. Though I got a tad tired of the running joke regarding the Klatchian foreign legion – but that’s a niggle. It might not be Pratchett at his best, but that’s a very, very high bar to scramble over.

My posts last week:

Friday Face-off featuring Dead Astronauts – Book 2 of the Bourne series by Jeff VanderMeer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Mystic’s Apprentice by Mary Miley Theobold

Unfortunately, as I’ve been ill again most of the week, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or article. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers, 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.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Murder at Beaulieu Abbey – Book 11 of the Abbess of Meux series by Cassandra Clark #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #MurderatBeaulieuAbbeybookreview

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I’ve been reading some excellent historical murder mysteries recently, so this offering on Netgalley caught my eye. As usual, I didn’t research it properly before requesting it. So I was slightly surprised to discover it was Book 11 of a long-running series. Oh well – it’s been a while since I crashed midway into a series with such style!

BLURB: February, 1390. The Church seethes with rebellion. Newly elected Pope Boniface faces a challenger: the anti-pope Clement, who sows discord from his power base in France.

The quarrel threatens the very survival of the Cistercian Order. So when suspicions grow that distant Beaulieu Abbey may turn traitor, Hildegard’s prioress summons her with a mission she can’t refuse: travel to the isolated royal abbey and spy out their true allegiance. The public reason for Hildegard’s trip is more prosaic. A young Cornish heiress, promised in marriage to the son of local aristocrat Sir William, needs escorting to her new home. It’s not often Hildegard joins a betrothal party, and she’s looking forward to meeting the girl.

But little does Hildegard know, death and danger wait at Beaulieu – and even the protection of her travelling companions, the monks militant Brother Gregory and Brother Egbert, may not be enough to keep her safe from harm . . .

REVIEW: As luck would have it, I know this part of the world rather well. In another life, we owned a yacht and Beaulieu River was a favourite destination when cruising up and down The Solent. So I was especially keen to read this murder mystery set in this beautiful, atmospheric part of the world.

Hildegard is a sympathetic protagonist, who is clearly intelligent and courageous. I also liked the fact that she is a widow with grown children that brought a steadiness and experience she demonstrated throughout. It makes a nice change to have a female protagonist who is a bit older and past her physical prime. However, this murder mystery is clearly action led, despite being told from the viewpoint of a single protagonist. There are so many twists and turns and so much going on that at times Hildegard’s thoughts and reactions – other than those about the mystery – aren’t apparent, so by the end of the book I didn’t know her as well as I wanted. While she is in some very dangerous situations. I didn’t ever get the sense of her real fear, or her ongoing dialogue with God, which would have been the case in those days.

However, Clark’s depiction of the surroundings, infrastructure and all the topographical features are spot on. Once I realised the limits of the characterisation, I was perfectly happy to relax into the story and appreciate the plotting, which was very well done. Though three- quarters in, I was a bit dismayed to have worked out exactly what was going on – until the denouement when I realised that I was completely wrong. And that is always the mark of a cracking good plot. Checking back, I realised that Clark has not cheated her reader in any way while achieving such a volte-face, which is the mark of an experienced, skilled writer.

All in all, this whodunnit is a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted read. Though I would have preferred more insight into the character, it certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker and I would happily go on to read more books in this entertaining series. While I obtained an arc of Murder at Beaulieu Abbey from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Two Audiobook FANTASY CHILDREN’S/YA mini-reviews: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett & Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan #BrainfluffFANTASYCHILDRENS/YAmini-reviews #TheWeeFreeMenmini-review #MagnusChaseandtheSwordofSummermini-review

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AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett

BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…

MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages.
10/10

AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan

BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.

MINI-REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world…
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMidnightBargainbookreview

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I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.

BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.

She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.

That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Family Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonFamilyLife #PickyEaters

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If suffering from flame-bowel disorder, it’s vital you don’t fly over anything flammable – or anyone you care about…

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Friday Faceoff – Every great story seems to begin with a snake… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffserpentinecovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with serpentine images. I’ve selected The Reptile Room – Book 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.

Scholastic, September 1999

This edition was produced by Scholastic in September 1999, and is the default cover design for this book. While I like the artwork, as you’ll know if you visit this meme regularly, I have an unreasonable dislike of textboxes. So this cover, where the artwork is squashed into a small box in the middle, bordered by a bleh-beige colour hasn’t endeared itself to me. Given how quirky this series is, that ultra-boring title font doesn’t do it justice, either. In fact, it seems to me that this cover is a study in how to transform a funny, original book into something that looks dutifully boring.

Egmont Books, May 2003

Published in May 2003 by Egmont Books, this is altogether more successful. The intention to make this cover look like one of those old-fashioned photo albums is far clearer in this iteration of the cover. The black border, contrasting with the bright green of the spine, with the red cord is both attractive and eye-catching. The styling of the font also gives a strong hint that this book is humorous, as well as an action adventure tale. I also think the choice of image, focusing on the interaction of the snake and the Baudelaire baby is far more effective. This one is definitely a contender…

HarperCollins, May 2007

This edition, published by HarperCollins in May 2007, had done away with the original cover design and opted for more artwork, which I really like. I’m not a fan of either textbox, although I’ll concede that the top one does the job of successfully featuring the author name, which is the selling point of this series, rather than the title. I certainly like this cover more than the top one.

Egmont Books (UK), 2010

This edition, produced by Egmont Books (UK) in 2010, is my favourite. I like the artwork that takes the original image and redesigns it to focus still further on the dramatic interaction between the deadly serpent and Sunny. I also think the treatment of the author font fits well with the overall design and the series and title information looks as if they have been considered as part of the overall look, rather than simply been plonked across the image, as so often seems to happen. Overall, this is the cover that would persuade me to pick this one off the shelves.

German edition, May 2002

This German edition, published by Distribooks in May 2002, is one of the very few covers that hasn’t referenced the original artwork in some form. This one has departed from the Edwardian feel of the original image, so the colours and style are fresher and more vivid. The result is attractive and eye-catching. My only niggle is that I think the dramatic, gothic treatment of the title is at odds with the artwork, but overall I think this is a successful cover. Which is your favourite?

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Tips on Life #BrainfluffCastellanthe Black #WiseDragonicTipsonLife #PickyEaters

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Never, ever snatch livestock from humans unless you’ve burnt down their farm and incinerated any onlookers. They are the only species in the world more possessive than dragons

Castellan the Black, mighty dragon warrior, features in my short story Picky Eaters, written to provide a humorous escape from all the stuff that isn’t happening on Wyvern Peak… All proceeds for the duration of its publishing life are donated to mental health charities.

Two FANTASY Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron & Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard #BrainfluffFANTASYmini-reviews #ADragonofaDifferentColourmini-review #OfDragonsFeastsandMurdersmini-review

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A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.

However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight…
9/10

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard

BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wingssee my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.

I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series.
7/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Doors of Sleep – Journals of Zaxony Delatree series by Tim Pratt

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I haven’t read anything by this author, but the cover caught my eye and I really liked the premise. I’m also a fan of Angry Robot, whose output is invariably interesting and well written, so I was delighted to be approved for this arc.

BLURB: Every time Zax Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his destination and never knows what he will see when he opens his eyes. Sometimes he wakes up in technological utopias, and other times in the bombed-out ruins of collapsed civilizations. All he has to live by are his wits and the small aides he has picked up along the way – technological advantages from techno-utopias, sedatives to escape dangerous worlds, and stimulants to extend his stay in pleasant ones. Thankfully, Zax isn’t always alone. He can take people with him, if they’re unconscious in his arms when he falls asleep. But someone unwelcome is on his tail, and they are after something that Zax cannot spare – the blood running through his veins, the power to travel through worlds…

REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining portal adventure, which has a pleasingly old-fashioned feel. The overarching narrative is very straightforward. For reasons that poor Zaxony doesn’t fully understand, every time he falls asleep or unconscious – he jumps worlds. Initially, he spends his time in a horrified daze as he tries to come to terms with his new normal. For the worlds that Zax encounters are mind-bogglingly various, ranging from idyllic to nightmarish and everything in between. He can take someone with him, as long as he is holding them when he falls asleep – but he is haunted by an upsetting incident where a lovely woman he fell in love with stayed awake during their journey between worlds and arrived in the new world raving – her mind broken by the experience. So he is very careful who he takes along.

We join Zax in the middle of his adventures, after a couple of the companions he has taken with him haven’t turned out to be ideal – and just as he starting a relationship with another kindly soul. There is a generally upbeat, positive vibe running through the series of adventures that I thoroughly welcomed and while the main plot isn’t overly complicated, or particularly original – what made this book really stand out is the sheer inventiveness and variety of alll those worlds Zax visits. There is a building sense of frustration that we only ever see the thinnest slice of their dynamic – because as soon as Zax falls asleep, off we go to somewhere entirely new, again. But I really liked that niggling sense of annoyance, as it helped me bond with dear old Zax, who is generally a well-meaning, honest chap – in sharp contrast to a nicely satisfyingly nasty antagonist in the form of the Lector, an archetypal evil scientist.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and note with satisfaction that it looks as though this is the first in a series. Highly recommended of fans of science fiction adventures with an upbeat tone. While I obtained an arc of Doors of Sleep from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10