Tag Archives: alternate history

Review of The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer Trilogy by Elizabeth May

Standard

I encountered the first book, The Falconer, at the beginning of the year and loved the intense, brutal writing style of this YA genre mash-up, so was delighted when this offering became available at the local library.

thevanishingthroneAileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her friends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

Whatever you do – don’t start with this book. Go back to The Falconer, which ended on a devastating cliffhanger and pretty much picks up exactly where the first book left off. So if you start with this one, while you may not be floundering too much, you will definitely be missing an important chunk of the story. Having your main character being subjected to sustained torture can be tricky business, especially in a YA read, and needs careful handling. Fortunately May deals with it well and Aileana certainly is left with wounds that run deeper than the scars inflicted as the storyline progresses.

I was concerned that as the first book galloped towards an apocalyptic climax, the second book would necessarily be something of a let-down – and it proved to be nothing of the sort. May doesn’t ease up on the pace one iota and Aileana is immersed into another series of twists and turns that reveals yet more of the fae and their tortuous relationship with humanity reaching back millennia.

It was also a treat to meet up again with the strong supporting cast of characters who people The Falconer… I was very relieved that Derrick, the stroppy pixie, survives. Apart from anything else, the repartee between Aileana and Derrick provides some very welcome humour. Not that this is particularly downbeat – there is too much going on and too many issues for our protagonist to consider for the mood to become too gloomy. However, it is gritty – wounds cause scars. People sustain losses. And bear grudges…

Once more, I was swept up into this enticing, edgy world. Though as I approached the ending I became increasingly concerned that it could not compete with The Falconer’s shocking conclusion. But I need not have feared – as I got to the final page, I was scraping my jaw off the floor, while being very relieved that I shan’t have to wait too long for the final book, The Fallen Kingdom, in this exciting, entertaining series. Highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

Standard

I requested this one from NetGalley as the description caught my attention and I was looking for something different…

themercyofthetideRiptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever.

This book is definitely on the literary end of the speculative fiction spectrum, with a nod to alternative history and magic realism. It is a study of loss and grief. A car crash months before the story starts has killed two women and not only does their death massively impact the main protagonists in the story – it also appears to set off a chain of events that have recurred on this site before.

Often protagonists are faced with unexpected deaths of partners, parents or children – and while we are aware of the impact upon them, events generally move along so that we rapidly gain some distance from the bereavement tearing lumps out of their lives. Indeed, I am regularly exasperated at how quickly that aspect of the story is glossed and the implicit message is that the bereaved are allowed a few months’ grace, but then should be pulling themselves together, again. Unless the book is all about how their dead partner has arranged letters in bottles, or a series of tasks for them to undertake – then they’re allowed to continue to founder in a morass of grief.

Rosson hasn’t done either of these – his focus is firmly on the four characters devastated by the deaths of these two women. In beautiful, unsentimental prose that peels back any pretence or façade, he digs into his characters’ souls and shows the crippling extent of their loss. Alongside this, though, there are other events. Mutilated remains of animals start appearing along the beach of this off-season seaside town which has seen far better days, a body is discovered. Meanwhile the political temperature is steadily rising as Ronald Reagan is warning the world about Russia’s ‘evil Empire’ and fears about nuclear war abound as the cold war seems to be dangerously heating up.

There are all welded into an engrossing read that takes us into the rain-lashed streets of Riptide with a grieving Sheriff of Police, a teenage boy trying to also look out for his deaf nine-year-old sister as he comes to terms with the loss of their mother and a Deputy who was having an affair with one of the women. In order for this book to work, I needed to really care for all the characters – which I did. Even when they did stupid, silly things. Even when they were mean and angry. Rosson does a cracking job of giving his characters depth and vulnerabilities that certainly had me rooting all the way for them.

Any niggles? I’m aware this is more of a literary read than I generally do, these days – but I did feel that about two-thirds of the way through, the pace dipped slightly just at the point in the book when it should have picked up. That said, I was never at any stage tempted to put it down. I really enjoyed the wonderful piece of personification for all that terrible grief in amongst the story and found it a gripping, sobering read. Strongly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of The Mercy of the Tide from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Sunday Post – 19th February 2017

Standard

Sunday Post

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

Himself has had the week off work. We have mostly stayed at home, because my half term break is next week *sigh*… That said, we did manage to have a couple of days when we chilled together and had lunch at our favourite place.

The weather has been variable, starting cold and wet but steadily getting warmer and sunnier – yesterday was fabulous so we went for a walk over Kithurst Hill. The views were wonderful and for the first time this year, it felt more like spring than winter. I’m not kidding myself – I’m aware that next week it could quite easily snow, but still… there it was – a slice of sunshine! The bonus was during the walk I talked through my ideas for Miranda’s Tempest, as since Christmas I’ve felt like I was wading through concrete on the rewrite. J is a really good listener and together we discussed some of the issues that I’d got stuck on, so I’m hoping to make much better progress this coming week, when I can fully concentrate on it.

As you can see, I’ve had a great reading week with a tranche of entertaining and in one case, outstanding books to read – though it looks a tad more impressive than it is, given one was a novella and one was a children’s book.

This week I have read:

The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer series by Elizabeth May
Aileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her thevanishingthronefriends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

I encountered the first book, The Falconer, at the beginning of the year and loved the intense, brutal writing style of this YA genre mash-up, so was delighted when this offering became available at the local library. There’s no second-book slump here – May continues where the first book leaves off in this adrenaline rush of an adventure. I will be reviewing it in due course.

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
mirandaandcalibanMiranda is a lonely child. For as long as she can remember, she and her father have lived in isolation in the abandoned Moorish palace. There are chickens and goats, and a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree, but the elusive wild boy who spies on her from the crumbling walls and leaves gifts on their doorstep is the isle’s only other human inhabitant. There are other memories, too: vague, dream-like memories of another time and another place. There are questions that Miranda dare not ask her stern and controlling father, who guards his secrets with zealous care: Who am I? Where did I come from?

This beautifully written love story is mostly the prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest though you don’t have to know a thing about the play to become engrossed in the events of the enchanted island. I loved this one – it is my favourite book of the year to date.

Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds
A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

This space opera novella offers a cracking adventure with plenty of twists and turns, along with some interesting concepts. The slow bullets of the title are identity chips buried deep within a person that record all their major life events. They are impossible to change or over-write. So what happens in a crisis when your life and who you are can be read for all to see?

Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle Mysteries by Robert J. Harris
thegravediggersclubOne day Arthur Conan Doyle will create the greatest detective of all – Sherlock Holmes. But right now, Artie Conan Doyle is a twelve-year-old Edinburgh schoolboy with a mystery of his own to solve. While sneaking out to explore Greyfriars Kirkyard by night, Artie and his best friend Ham spot a ghostly lady in grey and discover the footprints of a gigantic hound. Could the two mysteries be connected?

This entertaining historical mystery adventure for children tripped along at a fair clip, with the main protagonist, Artie Conan Doyle, seeming very familiar with fans who have read any Sherlock Holmes stories.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

Review of A Closed and Common Orbit – Book 2 of the Wayfarers’ series by Becky Chambers

Teaser Tuesday featuring Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Friday Face-off – Drivin’ Along in my Automobile… featuring Ill Wind – Book 1 of the Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Artie Conan Doyle and the Gravediggers’ Club – Book 1 of the Artie Conan Doyle mysteries by Robert J. Harris

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

10 of the Best Wendy Cope Poems Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/17/10-of-the-best-wendy-cope-poems-everyone-should-read/ Once more this great blog has produced an entertaining informative article I really enjoyed.

Girl from Mars, on the telephone https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/girl-from-mars-on-the-telephone/ I love the sheer quirkiness of this pic…

Take My Hand, We Will Walk https://bitesizedhamma.com/2017/02/14/take-my-hand-we-will-walk/ I love the simplicity of this short poem, which also has been very apt this week. Himself and I had a walk just like this one – something we should do more often.

When Dedications Leave Something To Be Desired https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/when-dedications-leave-something-to-be-desired/ Oh, this is hilarious! I howled with laughter and then shared the fun with J…

Interview with Sir Kipling from the Lily Singer series by Lydia Sherrer http://lolasreviews.com/interview-with-sir-kipling-from-the-lily-springer-series-by-lydia-sherrer/ I’ve seen book characters interviewed before, but never with more entertaining snark than this gem…

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Standard

If you ever read and enjoyed H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds then this one might be for you, as this offering by established science fiction author, Stephen Baxter, is its sequel.

themassacreofmankindIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

So has Baxter been successful in keeping the tone and feel of Wells’ book? Yes, I think he has. Walter who was the main protagonist in The War of the Worlds, has spent his time since then exhaustively researching the Martians and is convinced they will return. He’s not the only one. Britain is quite a different place as society is more militaristic, poverty is widespread and life is a lot more drab as everyone has been impacted by the damage inflicted by the Martians. Julie, our protagonist who also made an appearance in The War of the Worlds, is shocked at how much England has been affected on her return. I really enjoyed the fact that Baxter has not just reprised a Martian invasion – he has also constructed an alternate history for Europe and America in the aftermath of the initial invasion.

Once it all starts to kick off again, the feel of the action with the pace, the tone and some of the characters from Wells’ apocalyptic adventure returning makes Baxter’s tale feel very familiar, in particular the artilleryman’s appearance is every bit as disturbing as before. Although there are some important differences – the Martians have learnt some vital lessons after their first unsuccessful attempt to conquer Earth, which transformed the familiar into an engrossing page-turner. Initially, Baxter emulates Wells’ action-filled chaos as the British military are all set to engage the invasion force – it shouldn’t come as a huge shock if I reveal the carefully laid plans by the best military minds don’t go to plan. I really enjoyed Baxter’s trick of using historical figures in his catastrophic scenario, such as Winston Churchill.

Like Wells, Baxter regularly cuts away from his main protagonist to other characters in key positions as the Martians tighten their grip on Earth by targeting cities around the world. Will humanity survive, or is Mankind doomed to unremitting slavery for the rest of millennia? We learn of other humanoid races who accompany the invasion force – and there is a real sense of shock when we learn who they are and where they come from. For the purposes of this book, Baxter has continued using the version of the solar system provided by Wells. So not only is Mars inhabited, but also Venus and Jupiter. As for the final twist that brings the Martian advance to a halt – it certainly provides an interesting outcome. I really enjoyed the idea once I got used to the notion, particularly as Baxter then builds upon it and gives a fascinating scenario.

There is scope for another book in this series and I’m very much hoping Baxter writes it – I found The Massacre of Mankind as compelling as The War of the Worlds and would love to read more set in this traumatised, alternative world.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – A Bouquet for You, M’Lady…

Standard

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 week we are looking at covers featuring flowers. I have chosen The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly Trilogy by Jo Walton. There are just two covers to choose from this week…

thejustcity1

This offering was published by Tor in January 2015. The darkness of the cover, along with the classical characters is a little off-putting to me. This book is a joy to read so the rather heavy cover doesn’t accurately reflect the lightness of touch and readability of this enjoyable book.

 

thejustcity

This version was produced by Corsair in July 2015 and this is my favourite by a long light year. There is still a nod to the classical setting, but there is a real beauty and sense of joy with this cover that is far more in keeping with this remarkable book. What do you think?

Sunday Post – 4th September

Standard

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

Firstly, a massive thank you for all the kind encouraging messages I received last week. I was blown away by everyone’s kindness. As for the situation – it isn’t going to sort itself out in a hurry, but at least I now don’t feel quite so overwhelmed. Regarding my mega-rewrite, I managed to complete the first draft in the early hours of Monday morning. I haven’t yet returned to look at it in detail – I need to get some distance from the words before I start the editing round – but my sense is that the book is tighter and sharper. I shed 12,000 words from the manuscript, so it is certainly leaner. In the meantime, I’m cracking on with my course notes for the beginning of term later this month.

My summer break is definitely over. I attended a training session at Northbrook College on Tuesday afternoon and my wonderful friend, Mhairi, came over for the day on Wednesday, offering tea and sympathy on industrial quantities. We even managed to get some work done.

This week-end I’m back in granny mode as the grandchildren have come to stay for the last time before they restart school, along with my niece so we have a houseful. Lovely! Now all we need is the rain to stop…

This week I’ve only managed to read:
League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik
The deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been leagueofdragonsdenied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

I’ve loved this Napoleonic alternate history series, where dragons are pressed into service in the battle between the French and British armies as troop carriers and bombers. In League of Dragons Novik has brought Temeraire’s adventures back full circle to the European theatre of war and finished the dragon’s story arc in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of this series, it comes highly recommended.

 

 

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
thechangelingsIzzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange things start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

This entertaining children’s offering is a delight, with a strong fast-paced story, appealing protagonist and sufficient twists to keep me reading far later than I should to discover what happens. I shall be reviewing this book in the coming week.

 

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 28th August

Review of League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep

Friday Faceoff – Hell is Empty and All the Demons Are Here… featuring The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud

The Versatile Blogger Award

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

Harry Potter Month (30) https://lynns-books.com/2016/08/30/harry-potter-month-30/
Lynn has unearthed this very amusing piece of nonsense which had me giggling…

10 x 10 + 1 = The 101th Dalmation – Give it a sniff –
http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/10-x-10-1-101th-dalmation-give-it-sniff.html?spref=tw This amusing and accomplished post by Mareli was to celebrate her 100th blog post. With material like this, no wonder her blog is growing so fast…

Calling All Applicants – http://writerunboxed.com/2016/08/30/calling-all-applicants/
Steven James writes a wry article about the joys of writing..

How to Plan Your Glacier National Park Family Vacation Including the Best Hikes for YOU, Camping and Relaxing – https://roamwildandfree.com/2016/08/31/how-to-plan-your-glacier-national-park-family-vacation-including-the-best-hikes-for-you-camping-and-relaxing/ Yes – I’ll grant you the title doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but once more Becca and Alex demonstrate their experience and common sense approach to travelling – along with breathtaking pics…

Presumptions https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/09/01/presumptions/ Jean writes an honest, unsentimental account suffused with love on the challenges she faces bringing up a daughter and twin boys. And the writing is wonderful, too…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Review of League of Dragons – Book 9 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

Standard

League of Dragons is the final book in this remarkable series, set in Napoleonic times, where dragons are roaming the world in significant numbers, both in feral groups or domesticated. And in their gritted struggle, the English and French are using dragons to wage war on each other. The series starts with Temeraire when a very special egg Captain Laurence is transporting on his ship suddenly starts to hatch… And as the hatchling immediately bonds with Laurence, his naval career is abruptly over and he finds himself seconded to the less prestigious Dragon Corps. I’m not good at following long-running series, but I fell in love with Temeraire and have made a point of reading every book. The first four books predate my blog, so my reviews start with Victory of Eagles, the fifth book in the series.

leagueofdragonsThe deadly campaign in Russia has cost both Napoleon and those allied against him. Napoleon has been denied his victory…but at a terrible price. Lawrence and the dragon Temeraire pursue the fleeing French army back west, but are demoralized when Napoleon makes it back to Paris unscathed. Worse, they soon learn that the French have stolen Termeraire and Iskierka’s egg. Now, it is do or die, as our heroes not only need to save Temeraire’s offspring but also to stop Napoleon for good!

So does this final episode satisfactorily wrap up the story, tying up all the loose ends and give us a suitable conclusion to the adventures Temeraire and Laurence have endured? Oh yes. Inevitably over such a long-running series, the quality of the stories will vary. But League of Dragons is back in the original theatre of war that caused all the initial mayhem. And the book starts during the closing stages of the terrible defeat Napoleon’s army suffered at the hands of the Russians – only in this version there are brutalised, starving dragons in the mix…

I was immediately sucked into the story, enjoying the blend of fact and fiction Novik weaves around this grim chapter in European history – and enjoying the warm relationship between Laurence and Temeraire all over again. Novik is a highly accomplished writer, who manages to give us a strong sense of 19th century sensibilities and customs without lapsing too much into the flowery, highly descriptive writing style of the time. I also love the humour that runs through the book engendered by the draconic desire for a hoard and decoration. In some of the books, when the pair have been stranded on the other side of the world, fighting for their lives, that humour hasn’t been in such evidence. It was also lovely to meet up with some of the original supporting characters, again.

There are some wonderful battle scenes, alongside the ongoing drama as to whether Napoleon will prevail in his vision of dividing the world up into draconic territories to bribe the majority of the world’s dragonkind to support his campaign in Europe. I whipped through this book in just over two days, reluctant to put it down as I was engrossed in the story, really caring for the two of them – and genuinely concerned that Novik might just have them go out in a blaze of glory… As it happens, the ending is entirely satisfactory and while I’m sad to think I won’t again be pulled back into this vivid, engrossing world, I’m delighted it was so successfully concluded.

My firm recommendation is to go back to the beginning of this enjoyable, original series and start there – I really wish I could join you and do it all over again…
10/10

Review of Kindle EBOOK Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Standard

I enjoy being a Netgalley reader – it pushes me out of my comfort zone every so often. I’m not sure I would have picked up this offering if it hadn’t been on offer, given the description was a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own.

radianceSeverin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

For starters, this is a novel with a fractured timeline, so the story skips around and is told in a mixture of interviews, gossip and through extracts of old classic film, among other narrative modes. So you need to pay attention. Initially I wondered what I was getting myself into – for the sheer oddness of the world wasn’t anything I was prepared for, given that I’m allergic to reading any kind of blurb. Was it worth the effort? Oh, yes.

The story revolves around Severin Unck, whose peculiar upbringing on film sets while accompanying her father and a series of step-mothers, has left her with a desire to make her own films – this time the non-fiction type. This is a world where the Moon and all the planets in the solar system are inhabitable, just about… with the help of a substance secreted by the mysterious callowhales who live on Mars. So we’re also talking about a mysterious alien creature on top of everything else – though there are a plethora of those, which are often renamed for their Earth counterparts. In addition to being a whole lot busier than our solar system, there are some other oddities to this version of the 20th century. Films continue to be manufactured as silent, despite there being the technology to produce talkies, which are considered crass and generally rejected by the general populace. No… I didn’t get it, either. But Valente has a knack of announcing this is how it is and after an initial jolt of surprise, I found myself accepting it. But what this does, is overlay the whole book with the period feel of the early 1920’s – even when the date is later. Though the timeline jumps around like a flea on a hot brick…

There is a mystery surrounding Severin’s disappearance and this is the narrative engine for the book, as it circles around the characters who impacted on her life at various times and finally, the puzzle is fully explained. On the way, all sorts of ideas are examined, such as what makes art; how we define family; the nature of goodness, as opposed to badness; what makes us human… In less skilful hands this potpourri of a story could have rapidly descended into an unmanageable mess and it is a testament to Valente’s technical ability that it didn’t. Furthermore, she manages to produce an extraordinary novel bristling with life and vibrancy, peopled by an astonishing cast of eccentrics.

If you yearn to read something completely different – and even if you don’t – go and track this book down. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’ll guarantee you won’t have read anything else quite like it.
10/10

Review of The Philosopher Kings – Book 2 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

Standard

I loved the first book in this series, which I got for Christmas – see my review here. Would this second book be as enjoyable?

thephilosopherkingsTwenty years have passed since the goddess Athene founded The Just City. The god Apollo is still living there, albeit in human form. Now married and the father of several children, the man/god struggles to cope when tragedy befalls his family. Beset by grief and fuelled by a bloodthirsty desire for revenge, he sets sail for the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean to find the man he believes may have caused him such great pain.

Jo Walton is an amazing writer. Truly. And if you look at the notion of Athene and Apollo cooking up a social experiment to set up a city based on the precepts advocated in Plato’s Republic, roll your eyes and decide to pass, don’t. Go and get hold of it. This science fiction/fantasy mash-up is an alternate history, with a twist of magic courtesy of the gods. I cannot compare it with anything else out there, because I simply can’t recall reading anything else quite like it.

Walton could have easily turned this into a turgid, ideas-led story with all the narrative pace of a  dozing snail – but she is an innate storyteller with an easy readable style. While I had enjoyed reading Apollo’s story in the first book, in this book we have far more of an insight into his vulnerability, now he is living in human form. The other main character who caught my interest is his daughter, Arete, which means Excellence, which brings its own problems, as she feels the continuous pressure to live up to her name…

Now the original population of The Just City have adjusted to the consequences triggered by the Last Debate initiated by Sokrates, they are in a state of constant preparedness for warfare, also advocated by Plato. But war has consequences – consequences that immortal gods don’t generally have to face.

Apollo is overwhelmed by grief and fury and is determined to go after the culprits for the cause of his misery. His grown children also want to accompany him on this voyage, including Arete. But first, there is a lot of discussion as to whether they should be setting off, at all. After all, Athene has deliberately set up her Just City in the shadow of a huge volcano, whose explosion will swallow it, so that all the people she has pulled out of their own timespans will be able to revert back to their own historical time. But what happens if they now travel further afield, spreading their sophisticated advancements as they go? How will that impact on the historical timeline?

The pacing and shift in setting is perfectly designed to widen the concept of the story and give us greater insights into how the characters react when placed in a variety of dangers, both natural and manmade. I also love the nifty way in which the story unfolds, such that Walton marries up our knowledge of the ancient world with these events. And as for the ending – well that’s a doozy! I certainly didn’t see it coming, and yet, now that I think about it – it’s absolutely logical that a certain individual would become involved in this whole business.

So now, I’m really looking forward to reading Necessity, the third book in the series, which is due out in July. I have had a storming start to 2016, having read a slew of superb books – and the Thessaly series is right up there as outstanding.
10/10

Review of Hive Monkey – Book 2 of the Ack-Ack Macaque series by Gareth L. Powell

Standard

I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book Ack-Ack Macaque – see my review herehivemonkey – in which this bio-engineered gaming hero blasts out of his reality to find himself stranded in another timezone. Would this second book, which has been hanging around on my TBR pile far too long, be as entertaining?

In order to hide from his unwanted fame as the Spitfire-pilot-monkey who emerged from a computer game to defeat the nefarious corporation that engineered him, the charismatic and dangerous Ack-Ack Macaque is working as a pilot on a world-circling nuclear-powered Zeppelin. But when the cabin of one of his passengers is invaded by the passenger’s own doppelganger, our hirsute hero finds himself thrust into a race to save the world from an aggressive hive mind, time-hopping saboteurs, and an army of homicidal Neanderthal assassins!

This alternate world adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up as the action continues full-bore throughout this entertaining read. While I have read the first book, I think you could dive into this series with Hive Monkey, as Powell ensures new readers are fully briefed. Ack-Ack is a cigar-chomping, foul-mouthed, hard drinking character who is all too keen to get involved in bar brawls as his constant anger and loneliness finds an outlet in such behaviour. For all the chirpiness of the narrative, there is a poignant undertow as all the main characters grapple with life-altering loss. The monkey leaps off the page with splendid vividness, such that I’m very grateful I’ve only encountered him between the pages of a book – I certainly wouldn’t want to invite him to dinner…

The other main characters are similarly adrift – the airship captain Victoria Valois, whose brain is augmented by experimental gelware after suffering major brain damage; her hologram husband, Paul who is uploaded in the ship’s operating system. And K8, the young hacker who initially freed Ack-Ack from the corporation who had been exploiting him, before he burned out and died like all his predecessors, as well as struggling science fiction writer, William Cole. As Powell shifts between his main characters while the story hurtles forwards, we get to learn about the sorrows and losses that motivates each of these people.

What could so easily be a fairly downbeat read avoids being so because there is a bounce and relish to all the mayhem. I very much enjoyed the zaniness of the storyline and the twisting plot – chiefly because Powell writes with attention to detail and ensures there is rigour in his plotting and science, despite the oddness. There are a couple of nifty surprises that I really enjoyed and the antagonist was also all too believable, as well as creepily convincing.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read and provided a welcome break from the dreary rain that seems to be constantly falling this January – and if you are yearning for a similar escape, I can recommend this slice of mayhem.
9/10