Tag Archives: alternative history

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

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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 currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is SNAKES, so I’ve selected a book from one of my favourite series, Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in July 2010 and features two snakelike dragons entwined around a porthole showing a ship. I really like the rippled sand as a backdrop, but I do think the fonts are very boring, given what an amazing premise this series offers.

 

Published in June 2011 by Voyager, this is the cover of the book that I read. I confess to loving this series with the black and white etched illustrations relating to incidents within the book and featuring amazing dragons. I also like the coloured font that is in keeping with the strong period feel of the cover and nicely pops against the black and white. This is my favourite.

 

Produced by Pocket in March 2013, this French edition follows the theme of the dragon coiled around a porthole or some sort of orb. I love the font – I think it works beautifully and picks up the gilding around the porthole very effectively. However, the stormy backdrop isn’t sufficient foil to the dark crimson/brown dragon and while those half-furled wings are wonderful, I’d rather the head was more of a feature. I’m also rather distracted by the shadow of the dragon against the clouds – surely that shouldn’t be happening?

 

This German edition, published by Penhaligon Verlag in 2010, is my favourite of all the similar designs where a dragon is coiled around some sort of globe. For starters, this dragon looks properly fierce and I love the way it has grasped the patterned globe, which is also beautifully patterned in colours that contrast very well with the hot reds and oranges of the dragon and the scaled background – another nice feature. It was so nearly my favourite, but I found the font both plain and a poor contrast to the rest of the cover.

 

This Polish edition, published by Rebis in October 2010 is the cover that gave me the chance to actually choose this book. Instead of dragons, we have two snakes battling on this cover. While it all looks very dramatic, I’m not sure the snakes are all fully in proportion – it seems one of them is rather on the short side, but perhaps the hidden part of the body conceals several coils… Once again, that rippled sand effect is a great backdrop, but disappointingly this Polish cover has gone down the route of also duplicating the very dreary, if clear, font from the Del Rey cover. Which is your favourite?

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Teaser Tuesday – 6th November, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

Second Star – Book 1 of the Star Svendotter series by Dana Stabenow

42% The worst thing about Charlie was that I couldn’t slug someone that much shorter than I was and look myself in the mirror the next morning. I began to feel that it might be something I could overcome, given time.
Reaching for a cutting board, she took another, closer look at me, and paused with the knife poised over a green pepper. “You look exhausted, Star. What’s really worrying you?”

BLURB: Earth’s first space colony is overrun by spacepirates, politicians and saboteurs. One person dedicates her life to keeping her beloved colony safe: Esther “Star” Svensdotter. She’s dealt with all kinds of human troublemakers, but the rules change when the colony receives its first contact from aliens.

I’ve read and enjoyed Stabenow’s successful best-selling Kate Shugak series – see my review of Less Than Treason. I’d had this space opera adventure on my Kindle for a while and decided to give it a whirl. So far I’m really enjoying Stabenow’s alternative take on our history, if those pesky aliens hanging out in the Beetlejuice sector really had roused themselves to get in touch…

Sunday Post – 26th February 2017

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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.

It’s been my turn to have a week off, as it’s half term. That said, I’ve been hard at it – last week I suddenly had a breakthrough with how to move forward with Miranda’s Tempest so this week I’ve cracked on with the rewrite and finally completed it Friday afternoon. The relief is staggering – I’d begun to think this was the one that would defeat me… I still have to go through it a couple more times to tidy up the prose and catch those stray pronouns – I’ve changed the viewpoint from first person to third – but hopefully I’ll have it in a readable state before Easter.

Other than that – I’ve read. A lot. It’s amazing just how much more mental energy I have when I’m not teaching or trudging through the inevitable pile of admin that comes with it. Both the Fitstep and Pilates sessions went well this week and I am still thrilled at the progress I’m making fitness-wise. Next week, back into the hurly-burly but I’m still on a high at having completed my rewrite – yay!

This week I have read:

The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson
Riptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down atthemercyofthetide 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.

 

Demon Hunting in Dixie – Book 1 of the Demon Hunting in Dixie series by Lexi George
demonhuntingindixieAddy Corwin is a florist with an attitude. A bad attitude, or so her mama says, ’cause she’s not looking for a man. Mama’s wrong. Addy has looked. There’s just not much to choose from in Hannah, her small Alabama hometown. Until Brand Dalvahni shows up, a supernaturally sexy, breathtakingly well-built hunk of a warrior from – well, not from around here, that’s for sure. Mama thinks he might be European or maybe even a Yankee. Brand says he’s from another dimension. Addy couldn’t care less where he’s from. He’s gorgeous. Serious muscles. Disturbing green eyes. Brand really gets her going. Too bad he’s a whack job. Says he’s come to rescue her from a demon. Puh-lease. But right after Brand shows up, strange things start to happen. Dogs talk and reanimated corpses stalk the quiet streets of Hannah.

This is not my normal fare – I freely admit it. But this was just plain fun. While the insta-love was more about insta-lust, I was prepared to go with the flow as Addy is just so much fun. I enjoyed the fact that she was still concerned about what the neighbours thought and was very mindful of her mother’s opinion even after all the life-changing adventures.

 

Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in cleansweepa small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night… Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved.

Dina is a thoroughly engaging protagonist. Impulsive, brave and with an over-developed sense of responsibility, she immediately plunges into this adventure when she feels the caretaker of this territory is not doing enough. I really enjoyed her character, particularly as she also has a vulnerability that pulled me further onto her side.

 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
allthebirdsintheskyPatricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

 

Very Important Corpses – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
The Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of veryimportantcorpsesLoch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed.

I’ve done my usual trick of dropping into the middle of a series, but while I was aware there was something of a backstory that I didn’t know, most of the action and focus was on the current situation so it wasn’t an issue. Ishamael is certainly an intriguing figure. Endowed with superhuman powers, he is used to dealing with the nasties coming from other dimensions.

 

The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry
thedemonicarcticexpeditionFast-paced, action-packed and funny, perfect for reluctant readers. The Demonic Arctic Expedition is the fourth in a series of MIDDLE GRADE books for fantasy-adventure loving readers. This book contains a scowling demon, an ancient weapon, an adorable Hound of Hell, a sort of angel, a dragon, an ordinary boy and an extraordinary castle. And a not so cuddly polar bear…

Yes… the plot is every bit as surreal and whacky as it sounds. There is also an enchanted sword and a dragon, who spends most of the time coating the dungeon in dragon snot as he has a cold, which he has given to the guardian angel… Mulberry has a trick of pulling in all sorts of classic characters and themes from fantasy and subverting them in her Skycastle adventures. Great fun!

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 19th February 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

Teaser Tuesday featuring Clean Sweep – Book 1 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR

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

Friday Face-off – Little Green Men… featuring The Tar-Aiym Krang – Book 1 of the Pip and Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of The Demonic Arctic Expedition – Book 4 of the Skycastle series by Andy Mulberry

 

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

Point of View Blows Up in My Face (or the end of the “Normal’s Menace” experiment)
https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/02/23/point-of-view-blows-up-in-my-face-or-the-end-of-the-normals-menace-experiment/ Jean’s blog is always worth a visit – she is a passionate, talented and searingly honest writer, but this experiment in writing viewpoint is a MUST for anyone who struggles with it.

10 of the Best Poems about Dreams and Dreaming https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/24/10-of-the-best-poems-about-dreams-and-dreaming/ I love this site – and once more it delivers a series of excellent poems about this mysterious thing we all do…

Space Features of the Week http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/02/23/space-features-week-23-february/ Once more Steph delivers an excellent roundup about what’s going on in space. And plenty is…

Photolicioux – untitled https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/untitled-98/ It may be untitled but I’ll guarantee it’s burn out your visual cortex if you focus on it for too long.

Using Speech-To-Text Software as an Editing Tool http://writershelpingwriters.net/2017/02/using-text-to-speech-software-as-an-editing-tool/ The marvellous Sara Letourneau has set out very clearly in this excellent article how to save your voice and your sanity by getting your computer to read back your work to you during the editing phase.

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

Review of ebook Kindle edition of Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

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This children’s fantasy offering is interesting. It is an alternative history, set in the aftermath of the English Civil War during the Protectorate when Oliver Cromwell is ruling. Except what sparked this version of the Civil War isn’t the Divine Right of Kings and Charles I’s stubborn insistence on trying to wrest control away from Parliament – it is the Witch Wars, where Charles’ refusal to hound witches to extinction is the cause of the war.

firegirlTwelve-year-old Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in a magical Glade created by her mother, Hecate. She’s desperate to meet new people and find out about the world. And, more than anything, she wants to be a witch. But when her mother is kidnapped by a demon – everything changes . Suddenly Hazel is alone in the world. Well. . . not quite alone. For it turns out that Hazel does have magic – she’s just not very good at controlling it. And she may have accidentally created a grumpy familiar in the form of a dormouse called Bramley.

I really liked the nifty way that Ralphs has kept his young protagonist isolated from the rest of the 17th century world, where young girls were expected to be demure, very obedient and quiet. Not at all the attributes that would appeal to modern youngsters looking for an adventurous read – and Hazel is suitably feisty and courageous because she has been shut away from the rest of the world tucked away in the magical Glade. The relationship she has with Bramley is also sparky – literally at times, as Hazel’s control over her lethal magic is tenuous. The little mouse is thoroughly fed up at the prospect of all the adventures, and provides an amusing, running commentary on the proceedings.

Hazel is immediately swept up in a series of adventures as she wanders the countryside, trying to work out what has happened to her mother, and encounters other people who are prepared to help. I very much like the fact that none of them are what they initially seem. The antagonist and his evil team are genuinely frightening – the demon Rawhead and the giant poisonous spider Spindle in particular are full of menace. As is the smooth-talking Nicholas Murrell, who initially led the persecuted witches against Cromwell’s troops, but his thirst for power had led him down some dark paths. I enjoyed the fact that he is not some pantomime, two dimensional villain, but was evidently determined to stand up for an oppressed minority with courage and bravery during the war.

All in all, this is an accomplished, enjoyable tale set in a complex, believable world where the magical rules all nicely hang together. Any niggles? The formatting in the ebook leaves much to be desired – I very much hope it gets sorted out before the book goes live in August, as the chapter headings are accompanied by short extracts from ‘contemporary’ books, embellished by attractive decoration which is all thoroughly mangled.

I’m assuming the book is targeted at young teens, but this punchy, well written tale will have wider appeal for older fans who enjoys a well told fantasy adventure, which will be published in August 2015. The review copy was provided via Netgalley by the publisher, and all the opinions in the review are my own.
8/10

Review of Mainspring by Jay Lake

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This interesting science fiction, alternate history offering is a twist on the steampunk genre that has become so popular. In Lake’s detailed world the big difference is that God has constructed a clockwork Earth that runs on huge brass runners that follow the equator in the form of a huge wall – so here is an example of clockpunk.

Her Imperial Majesty Queen Victoria still rules New England and her American Possessions; the Royal Navy rules the skies with its might Airships; and Earth still turns on God’s great brass gears of Heaven as it makes its orderly passage around the Lamp of the Sun from Midnight to Midnight and Year to Year.

In the town of New Haven, a Clockmaker’s young apprentice is visited at midnight by a brass Angel, and told that he, and he alone, can find the Key Perilous to rewind the Mainspring of the Earth. If he does not, the planet will wind down, and life will cease.

mainspringAnd there you have it. A classic Quest plot, complete with naïve yet obscurely talented youngster, who finds himself ranged against forces far greater than his own slender resources… Cosily familiar in so many ways. And this is no accident. In tone and plot progression, this book relies on many forerunners of the Hero Quest genre – I was reminded of H. Rider Haggard’s novels when reading this book.

Hethor is an excellent young hero, whose initial assumptions become thoroughly overturned as he progresses through a series of engrossing adventures – including a gripping interlude on an airship, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Told in limited third person POV, the success of this ambitious book lies in Lake’s storytelling skills and ability to weave a complex world through the eyes of an inexperienced youngster without losing pace. No mean feat. And one that Lake pulls off with surefootedness that marks him out as One To Watch.

It takes great technical ability to meld modern tastes with a writing style that more than nods in the direction of its 19th century forebears – and Lake avoids the pitfalls that could have so easily turned Mainspring into a stodgy-though-at-times interesting tale, or wincingly embarrassing read. And if I write that with feeling – it’s because I’ve read them when dipping into the steampunk genre, and a major reason why it isn’t my favourite sub-genre.

Lake manages to immerse us in a Victorian experience without offending modern sensibilities by reprising the darker side of colonial adventuring that makes us uncomfortable these days when we read Haggard’s hero interacting with African inhabitants. He shows the same sensibility when Hethor falls in love – it wouldn’t have taken much to have marred the whole relationship by portraying a sense of superiority by the youngster.

Any grizzles? Well – there are some jarring moments. We always have a sense that Hethor is somehow uniquely talented in being able to sense the clockwork turning of the Earth, but this specialness is never fully explored. And a couple of times, I do feel that Lake leans far too heavily on Hethor’s abilities without actually properly explaining exactly what is going on. It’s a shame, as there are so many aspects of the world-building that are so slickly executed that I don’t believe that Lake didn’t actually know what propelled Hether to be able to do these things – I think these details just got buried in the plot momentum.

During all the adventuring, I was also fascinated by the questions thrown up by the failure in Earth’s mainspring – if God is such a perfect being, why has he produced a fault in the mainspring that creates the deaths of hundreds and thousands of people? Hethor has to work towards his own answers to that question – amid his interaction with some interesting antagonists who have come to a different conclusion.

If you are a fan of steampunk or alternate worlds, then this is a must-read novel. And if you aren’t – then try it anyway. As a slice of high octane adventure in a wonderfully described alternate world it takes a lot of beating.
8/10

Review of Tongues of Serpents – Book 6 of the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik

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I’ve followed this delightful series in which the Napoleonic wars are conducted with fighting dragons. However in this sixth book – does Novik manage to sustain the freshness and quirky charm of the first books?

tonguesofserpentsConvicted of treason despite their heroic defence against Napolean’s invasion of Britain, Temeraire and Laurence – stripped of rank and standing – have been transported to the prison colony at New South Wales. With them travel three dragon eggs intended to help establish a covert in the colony, and destined to be handed over to second-rate undesirable officers willing to accept so remote an assignment.

But instead of leaving behind the political entanglements of the war, Laurence and Temeraire sail into a hornet’s nest of fresh corruption. The young Australian colony has been thrown into turmoil after the overthrow of the military governor, one William Bligh – formerly Captain Bligh, late of the HMS Bounty.

I really enjoyed this change of scene. Temeraire is a wonderful character who has steadily developed throughout the series and quickly pulls me into his various adventures with his singular dragon viewpoint. As I wasn’t attracted to the series through any particular knowledge of the Napoleonic campaigns, Novik’s necessary tweaks to fit her storyline with the historical facts don’t particularly disturb me. Neither was I worried that Temeraire was no longer fighting Napoleon – Novik’s tour of her version of the world is sufficiently engaging that I am perfectly relaxed about exploring it along with the protagonists. However, I did wonder if Laurence would have struggled more with the brutal reality of the penal colony. While I’m sure he would have coped physically with the hardship, I did think that he would have found the sense of his disgrace would have chafed – especially considering the circumstances that led to their transportation.

I liked Novik’s depiction of the Australian outback during Temeraire’s exploration of the continent. Her deft use of some of the Australian myths to produce some challenges to the dragons along the way manages to provide plenty of narrative tension, along with the surprises that await the expedition when they finally reach the other side of the continent.

All in all, I feel that Tongues of Serpentsis an entertaining addition to the series which I certainly wouldn’t characterise as a placeholder, and I’m looking to getting hold of Crucible of Gold, the next instalment.
8/10

Review of Making History by Stephen Fry

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This is the first time I’ve picked up a Stephen Fry novel, and it was an enjoyable, if slightly uneven, experience. Thumbing through the opening pages, I noticed that this book was first published in 1996, which begins to make sense when considering some of the faultlines running through this alternate history offering.

Michael Young is convinced his brilliant history thesis will win him a doctorate, a pleasant academic post, a venerable academic publisher and his beloved girlfriend Jane. A historian should know better than to imagine that he can predict the future.

making historyLeo Zuckerman is an ageing physicist obsessed with the darkest period in human history, utterly driven by his fanatical hatred of one man. A lover’s childish revenge and the breaking of a rotten clasp cause the two men to meet in a blizzard of swirling pages. Pages of history. When they come together nothing – past, present or future – will ever be the same again.

And there you have the blurb. The book contains an intriguing premise – two men decide, for very different reasons, to tamper with history by ensuring the one man responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany is never born. However, the result isn’t what they bargained for… As a former history student, I thoroughly enjoyed Fry’s thorough approach to the historical content and had no problem with the leisurely start. And the conclusion that Fry comes to is certainly thought provoking – I’ve been thinking a lot about the book since I put it down.

Fry successfully establishes Michael’s character as a wunderkind bedevilled with increasing insecurities as his peers are rapidly catching up, if not overhauling his precocious giftedness. Inevitably, given the sub-genre, the narrative timeline is speckled with flashbacks which are ably handled. And it goes without saying that the writing is excellent – actually, that shouldn’t go without saying. Excellent writing should always be acknowledged and I’d be selling Fry short if I just gave a nod in that direction because we all know that the man has an intellect the size of Greece’s overdraft.

So far, so good. The protagonist has been well established, with plenty of depth. We have met with Leo and there’s been a couple of interesting plot twists – and then the novel prose comes to abrupt end and I was confronted with a film script. The action immediately speeded up as I witnessed a major emotional confrontation spool through in this script mode – feeling completely unconnected to the characters. Later in the novel, there is another, longer film script interlude, which also had the effect of alienating me from the action – a real shame as I’d really enjoyed the book up to this point.

I am aware that my extreme aversion to this literary device is subjective – probably connected to the fact that books are my first and major love, while films are okay, I suppose…. However, I did find the film script sections really spoilt the book for me. Having said that, up to the point it all went Courier I found the depiction of the alternate world engrossing and chilling in equal measure. Fry is good at writing minor characters memorably and the flashes of humour helped alleviate what could have been a grim read, given the subject matter.

All in all, it’s an interesting book with a fascinating premise and if you enjoy alternate histories, I highly recommend it. Who knows – you may even enjoy the scripted sections…
8/10

Review of The Prometheus Project by Steve White

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This science fiction alternative history adventure has a really classic feel to it, starting as it does in the 1960’s, with Bob Devaney as a typically alpha-male ‘muscle for hire’ narrating the tale – and what a tale…

Bob Devaney was a Special Forces soldier in the early 1960’s – until a certain traumatic event, which he refused to discuss even with his superiors, caused him to leave the Army and set up his own security and investigative agency, employing only him.
Hired by a secret government agency to do undercover work, he was escorting a mysterious woman named Novak to the White House when they were ambushed by gunmen. Novak used a device that worked like an invisibility field to make an impossible escape – and then knocked Devaney out with some kind of ray gun. When he woke up, he realized that Novak was about to kill him for knowing too much – but suddenly she received a message: Devaney was to be recruited for something called the Prometheus Project.

prometheusprojectThe Project turned out to be the largest disinformation operation in history, targeted at the aliens who ruled the galaxy. A man named Inconnu had arrived in a damaged but highly advanced craft in the 1940’s claiming that he had escaped from a group of humans whom aliens had been studying, and it turned out that unless the Earth could convince the aliens that the planet had a unified government, and was armed with technology comparable to that of the galactic rulers, the Earth would be exploited as a primitive protectorate.

And there you have it – off we go on a roller-coaster adventure that had me reading into the small hours to find out what happens. An adventure that includes kidnapping, power politics with aliens and a really cool twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. White writes well – this could have so easily have descended into some clichéd retread, but instead bounces along with engaging gusto and freshness, aided by the first person narration of Devaney, reminding me all over again just WHY I love this genre so much…
It’s a big ask to write convincingly about first encounters with aliens. For starters, they have to appear different enough that the reader is convinced they could have evolved on another planet – or if they are similar, provide a solid reason for it. And the protagonists have to appear sufficiently awestruck, without holding up the narrative pace while they boggle over the enormity of their discovery. Add to that the fact that those of us who enjoy the genre will have read this scenario at least a dozen times before – and you begin to see why most modern science fiction writers tend to avoid this plotline. However, I think that White manages to pull it off extremely well – I particularly liked his explanation that the Space Race to the Moon was deliberately poorly handled, leading to its abandonment, so that NASA wouldn’t accidentally encounter the Project’s base on the dark side of the Moon…

Any grizzles? Well the one minor detail that jarred was that Chloe, Devaney’s love interest, refused to get up close and personal with him for fear of becoming pregnant. I found it difficult to believe that in the 1960’s any female sent on a long-term mission to another world wouldn’t have been automatically provided with some kind of birth control – after all, a form of the Pill had been invented in the 1950’s. It is a picky point, but in a book where I felt the world was constructed with care and attention to detail, this was the one bit that didn’t work.

Other than that, I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction – for some of us it’ll be a misty-eyed trip down Memory Lane, reminding us all over again why we fell headlong for the genre. For the less aged among you, this gives a flavour of a time when we were all bombarded with news reports of flying saucers – when many of us truly believed that in the next decade or so, we’d be out among the stars encountering these beings for real… Heigh ho
9/10

Review of Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik – Book Five of the Temeraire series

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If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.

The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French victoryofeaglesship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.

It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow…

As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.
While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.
In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series.
9/10

Review of The Separation by Christopher Priest

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I’m a fairly decisive person. But, very occasionally, a book has me seriously conflicted. The Separation is one such novel. Priest is an interesting and powerful writer with a very individual voice. He is fascinated by the notion of an unreliable narrator – and he doesn’t regard himself as a science fiction or fantasy writer. He’s best known as the author of the book The Prestige, which was made into the successful film. Here in The Separation are many of the themes that we found in The Prestige – a double-hander between two close-knit people bound by ties of love, envy and eventual hatred.

Set against the background of World War II, this book explores the wartime experiences of the Sawyer twins, who had won a bronze at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Both with the same initials, their story is researched by Stuart Gratton, based on primary source material given to him by Angela Chipperton. Gratton’s interest is sparked by a comment he comes across in a memo from Winston Churchill, who mentions J.L. Sawyer, who is both a conscientious objector and RAF fighter pilot. It isn’t until a long time into the book, we realise that it shouldn’t be possible for Angela and Stuart to meet, as they are both from different timelines. What they do have in common, is that their father is J.L. Sawyer…

theseparationAnd that’s as much as I’m going to say about the plotline. Did I say plotline? Hm – the word tangle would be more accurate. Priest certainly weighs in on the literary end of the genre – and although I’ve seen the book described as science fiction, for my money it’s probably the heftiest attempt at alternate history/ies I’ve ever read. There isn’t a single alternate strand running through the book, rather a series of them. Priest constantly reprises the confusion between the twins with other major characters – Churchill has a double to perform his morale-raising public appearances and there is also confusion surrounding Hess and his identity.
As the war progress – in one timestrand, it ends in 1941 after Churchill signs a Peace Treaty with Hess – both men find the constant, bruising conflict frays at their ability to cope. They seem to surface from a nightmarish swirl into pools of lucidity, which constantly shift, throwing up alternatives. I was gripped with the need to find some resolution in this morass of confusing parallel worlds – and I give you due warning, there isn’t one. Priest doesn’t toss his bewildered readers any kind of lifeline. It’s up to you to make up your own mind as to exactly what is going on. Is this some kind of mental hallucination brought on by the brothers’ traumatic experiences? Or a dystopian view of multiple realities, all with their own grim denouement?

What Priest does provide in super-abundance, is detail. Loads of it. We have sheafs of documents from Churchill and his office. There are letters and diary entries from all the main protagonists. Joe and Brigit’s isolated cottage; Jack’s experiences as a fighter pilot; Joe’s time working with the Red Cross – these are all described minutely. Priest’s sense of the time is pitch-perfect and he obviously has extensive knowledge of what was happening during the War. Repeated phrases and events, in different contexts with different outcomes cycle and recycle through the book, making it almost impossible to keep track of exactly how many alternate realities actually surface. If you have an interest and knowledge in the period, you might like to play games at spotting exactly which point Priest deviates from the historical reality.

For me, a big problem with this book is that the twins are prickly, quarrelsome, rather aloof and not terribly likeable – despite their undeniable courage and strong moral standards. And because of the impenetrable plot, you don’t really ever get a real handle on the supporting cast. Brigit, Joe’s German wife and the cause of the twins’ feud, came closest to eliciting my sympathy. But even her actions towards the end of the book seem rather random and unexplained. And this is the book’s weak point. This is a demanding read – and on an emotional level, there isn’t much reward.

However, it certainly provides much brain-food. Priest’s formidable, rather cool intellect is on display in crystalline clarity throughout this book. Has he succeeded in pulling it off? My honest answer – I’m not really sure… I would have liked to care more about the Sawyer twins; I would liked a tad less complexity and cris-crossing of timelines; I found the ending overly abrupt and not entirely convincing – there were other timelines that provide a more satisfactory conclusion to the book, in my opinion.
But I’m willing to bet that I shall still be mulling over this book when many others will have faded into the furniture. Particularly the malign effect of the war on the brothers, which I feel is a powerful, rather under-reported theme running throughout the book. Priest is fond of using a sudden, shocking breakdown of order as a catalyst to some of his temporal confusions in his work – and WW2 certainly provides that in spades…

So, is it a great, if flawed book? Or a good book, overloaded with too much plot or detail to make it anything more than a hefty, rather confusing read?

7/10 or 9/10? – I simply cannot decide!