Tag Archives: best reads of the year

My Outstanding Reads of 2013

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These are the books that have stuck in my memory as the most enjoyable or thought- provoking reads of the year. For those who don’t already know – I don’t bother to review books I dislike. In 2013 I read 115 books, didn’t complete 4 others and posted 69 reviews.

The Bloody Angel – Book 4 in the Eddie LaCrosse series by Alex Bledsoe
Having in a former life owned a yacht, I have very limited tolerance for tales that get the sailing wrong… So when my husband kept onwake of recommending this book, I rather grumpily decided that I’d better read a couple of chapters to shut him up before returning to the next cool space opera beckoning. And then became hooked…

Twenty years ago, a barmaid in a harbour town fell for a young sailor who turned pirate to make his fortune. But what truly became of Black Edward Tew remains a mystery – one that has just fallen into the lap of freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse. For years, Eddie has kept his office above Angelina’s tavern, so when Angelina herself asks him to find out what happened to the dashing pirate who stole her heart, he can hardly say no – even though the trail is two decades old.

If that sounds like a really cracking plot with plenty of opportunity for swashbuckling characters, a hatful of exciting adventures, plenty of humour and more than a slice of real heartbreak and horror – you’d be right.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
doomsdayI picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy and science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out…

This book, indeed, deserves to be part of the SF Masterworks series – from the moment I opened the first page I knew I was in the hands of a great writer at the top of her game. Willis sets the scene in Oxford’s near future with deft dexterity, her characters crackle with humanity and there is a bone-dry humour running through the whole story that helps to make the grim adventure Kivrin endures bearable.

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan
As an ex-teacher, the failure of our state education system is a subject that haunts me – and when I read this book, I was excited about 1worldits potential for helping fix our broken system. A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: this is the goal of the Khan Academy; a passion project that grew from an ex-engineer and hedge funder’s online tutoring sessions with his niece, who was struggling with algebra, into a worldwide phenomenon. Today millions of students, parents and teachers use the Khan Academy’s free videos and software, which have expanded to encompass nearly every conceivable subject, and Academy techniques are being employed with exciting results in a growing number of classrooms around the globe.

Khan suggests that instead of having a teacher deliver a lesson to a group of children in a totally arbitrary manner, they learn individually at their own pace using modern technology with the teacher acting as enabler. He also suggests that a far more creative, wide-ranging curriculum should be in place, where children undertake complex self-directed tasks in groups. A revolutionary approach to state-funded education? Absolutely. Read Salman Khan’s solutions to our educational problems – and then could someone point the Minister of Education in the direction of this book? Please?? We cannot continue to squander our most precious resource – our children.

The Clockwork Rocket – Book 1 of The Orthogonal by Greg Egan
clockworkEgan, as a physicist, has always been on the harder side of science fiction, but the important difference – for me – is that he is also able to write convincing characters into the bargain.

However, this time around he has produced a truly different world – one where the laws of physics as we know them no longer work. As he explains on his website – along with a series of diagrams – this fictional world he’s invented where light travels at differing speeds is due to changing a minus sign to a plus sign in a mathematical formula that governs the geometry of space-time. He calls this a Riemannian universe as opposed to the Lorentzian version we inhabit. In Egan’s world, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity simply doesn’t make sense. Further, the basic humanoid template, so prevalent in most space opera adventures, is also off the table. Egan demonstrates a head-swivelling leap of imagination by producing a race of beings who don’t look like us, or breed like us… It’s an awesome achievement. And highly readable into the bargain.

The Glass God – Book 2 of The Magicals Anonymous by Kate Griffin
Sharon Li: apprentice shaman and community support officer for the magically inclined. It wasn’t the career Sharon had in mind, butglassgod she’s getting used to running Magicals Anonymous and learning how to Be One With The City. When the Midnight Mayor goes missing, leaving only a suspiciously innocent-looking umbrella behind him, Sharon finds herself promoted. Her first task: find the Midnight Mayor. The only clues she has are a city dryad’s cryptic warning and several pairs of abandoned shoes…

Sharon’s determinedly fair-minded stance is given a major workout as she comes up against a number of unpleasant nasties in her pursuit of the Midnight Mayor. Griffin hasn’t eased up one jot on some of the more revolting corners of London, as the story rolls forward with all the energy and slickness we’ve come to expect from one of the foremost fantasy Brit writers.

A Half-Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb
half forgotten song1937. In a village on the Dorset coast, fourteen-year-old Mitzy Hatcher has endured a wild and lonely upbringing – until the arrival of renowned artist Charles Aubrey, his exotic mistress and their daughters, changes everything. Over the next three summers, Mitzy sees a future she had never thought possible, and a powerful love is kindled in her. A love that grows from innocence to obsession; from childish infatuation to something far more complex. Years later, a young man in an art gallery looks at a hastily-drawn portrait and wonders at the intensity of it. The questions he asks lead him to a Dorset village and to the truth about those fevered summers in the 1930s…

Those of you familiar with The Legacy will recognise that Webb has again revisited the dual narrative, with one story unfolding back in the past and one storyline gradually progressing in the present. The past finally meets the present in an exciting and unexpected denouement – but the engine that drives this story is a lost, unloved soul who anchors all her hopes and affection on a charismatic artist. Webb apparently loosely based Charles on Augustus John, who had a reputation as a womaniser and clearly loved women’s bodies with a strong, sensual appreciation.

Webb’s depiction of Mitzy’s harsh childhood, where she spends much of time scavenging the surrounding countryside for plants, herbs, fish and small animals to eat or make up potions for her mother to sell, is far from the rural idyll that soft-focused adverts use. Yet, she still manages to evoke the beauty and rhythm of the Dorset countryside – so much so, that I fell asleep with the colours of this book swirling in my head. The initial friendship of Charles’ two girls is a revelation for Mitzy, who is shunned by all the village children, except for Wilf. This particular narrative caught at my heart and as it spirals into a tailspin of obsession and the inevitable darkness, the book’s denouement was completely unexpected and shocking.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
You live in Eden. You are a member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of Angela and Tommy. You shelter beneath the Forest’s darkedenlantern trees. Beyond the forest lie mountains so forbidding that no one has ever crossed them. The Oldest recount legends of a time when men and women made boats that could travel between worlds. One day, they will come back for you. You live in Eden. You are member of the Family, one of 532 descendants of two marooned explorers. You huddle, slowly starving, in the warmth of geothermal trees, confined to one barely habitable valley of an alien, sunless world. You are John Redlantern, a teenager and agent of change for life in Eden.

This book has a 1970’s feel about it – but with modern nuances with the story being told through a number of the most prominent characters in first person viewpoint. And if you only ever pick up a handful of science fiction books a year, make this one of that handful – this memorable and disturbing read is worth it.

The Red Knight – Book 1 of The Traitor’s Son Cycle by Miles Cameron
redknightTwenty-eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild. Twenty-eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snaps shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip your head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men – or worse, a company of mercenaries – against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder.

It requires the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it. The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery it’s just another job. The abbey is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can’t deal with. Only it’s not just a job. It’s going to be war…

Military medieval fantasy generally doesn’t do it for me. I’ve read plenty in my time, and until my husband nagged me to try this book, I’d more or less decided I wouldn’t shed any tears if I didn’t ever read any more. But this is different. For starters, Cameron knows what he’s talking about. He’s been involved in role-playing, martial arts – he’s actually jousted in tournaments… And it shows in the writing, which gripped me from the first page until the last – and gave me an insight into just how very different that world was, compared with our modern version.

Sister by Rosamund Lipton
When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first sisterflight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister’s life – and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice’s fiancé and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.

The strong first person viewpoint and constant tension, coupled with the fine writing had me utterly engrossed, so that I gorged on the book in two hefty sittings. Though I did have to break off at one stage to find some tissues because I was weeping… The protagonist is beautifully handled as we follow her desperate search for her sister, which entails finding out a series of very uncomfortable truths about herself. Lupton is adept at braiding the surroundings, weather and cast of well depicted, vivid characters through Beatrice’s consciousness, so that she is one of the strongest and most interesting protagonists I’ve read for a while.

Advent – Book 1 of The Advent Trilogy by James Treadwell
adventFor centuries it has been locked away. Locked away. Lost beneath the sea. Warded from earth, air, water, fire, scrying thought and sigh. Now magic is rising to the world once more. And a boy called Gavin, who thinks only that he is a city kid with parents who hate him, and knows only that he sees things no one else will believe, is boarding a train alone, to Cornwall. Where he steps into a different world…

I’ve seen this book compared favourably to Susan Cooper, and while such hyped comparisons are often absurd, this time, I was reminded of Cooper’s threat-ridden landscape and sense of tension. Treadwell is a superb writer – the description of the ancient house, Pendurra, is outstanding. It is a hefty read and at no time does Treadwell throw his young readers any sort of ‘you’re only teenagers, so I’ve made it easier for you’ lifebelt, I’m delighted to report. This non-teenager was engrossed with the quality of the storytelling and this shifting, frightening world has stayed with me since I read it.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thompson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted kindofvanishingvillage. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.

Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other. One a noisy, rebellious tomboy living in a household where the adults only occasionally pay attention to their three children, while the other is the heart of her parents’ aspirations and already knows she needs to be neat and pretty to succeed. Neither girl trusts or like the other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read, and I’m still not sure that it fully works… but it certainly powerfully evoked the time and has stayed with me since I read it.

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
madscientistsdaughterFinn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more. But when the government grants right to the ever-increasing robot population, Finn struggles to find his place in the world, and her heart.

If you’re looking for a slam-dunk, action fuelled adventure full of clear-cut baddies and heavy-tech weaponry, then don’t pick up The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Because this offering is on the literary end of the genre, with nuanced, three-dimensional characterisation and coolly sophisticated prose that places this book in a heavily contemporary setting, due to the recent crash in civilisation – and also accounts for the sudden, huge reliance on robots, as their tireless assistance is needed to provide vital labour in rebuilding society. Not that this is the focus of the book. This story concentrates on Cat and her relationship with the world, after having been tutored by a robot for all her formative years. And, by default, Finn’s relationship with Cat also is under close examination. Because the bond between them is heart and engine of the book, it has to be pitch-perfect. And it is. Don’t expect any black and white answers – this book is beautifully complex and Cat’s life unfolds in unexpected and sometimes disturbing directions. And in common with the other books in this list – it is a story that still steals into my head when I’m not thinking of anything else in particular.

The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated by K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell
I heard this book narrated on Radio 4 and was transfixed. Normally the radio is the background for the necessary loathed household reason I jumpchores I have to perform – but during that week, I sat down and listened. So it was a no-brainer to get hold of the book and read it for myself. Most books – for me – provide a really enjoyable way to escape the everyday. But there are a hatful of books that are inspirational, thought-provoking and genuinely life changing. I’m a tad allergic to books which trumpet this aspect – mostly because they’re not. However, The Reason I Jump is the real article.

This remarkable book, written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen, provides some answers. Severely autistic, Naoki learnt to communicate via pointing to letters on a ‘cardboard keyboard’ – and what he has to say gives an exceptional insight into an autistically-wired mind. He explains the often baffling behaviour of people with autism, invites us to share his perception of time, life, beauty and nature, and offers an unforgettable short story. Proving beyond doubt that people with autism do not lack imagination, humour or empathy. Naoki makes a heartfelt plea for our patience and compassion. Even if you don’t have anyone autistic in your life, it is worth reading – especially when you consider that every letter was pointed to and then written down by a scribe, before being translated into English.

Among Others by Jo Walton
among othersAfter reading Tooth and Claw, I wanted to read more of Jo Walton’s books. Googling her immediately brought up Among Others, so it was a no-brainer to go and get hold of a copy. But would I find this next novel – so completely different from dragonkind set in a Victorian backdrop – equally engrossing?

When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.

This is a remarkable book. I’ve never read anything quite like it and – for once – the OTT phrase on the cover by Jeff Vandermeer A wonder and a joy is absolutely spot on. For starters, there is a complete backstory that would easily fill a novel in the scenario that builds up to this book. Among Others is dealing with the aftermath. What happens next, once the protagonist has averted the End of the World at great personal cost. And make no mistake, the cost is heartbreakingly high.

The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m still undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. Certainly the most amazing book I’ve read this year.

My Outstanding Reads of 2011

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If you can stand it – just a couple of stats; I read 86 books during 2011 and started 5 more that I didn’t complete. My definition of outstanding as a book is firstly one that sticks in my memory – this is quite a big deal as I have been known to hand a book across to my husband with the question, ‘Have I read this, before?’

In addition, an outstanding read has to have added something to my creative inscape, or provided me with food for thought. There are a couple on the list that didn’t seem to make a profound impression at the time, but have lodged in the back of my brain like a burr. Most of the books are extremely well crafted – I have spent too many years poring over manuscripts to tolerate poorly written work, but there are a few with major flaws that still made the cut on the grounds that they have the X factor – that indefinable something that quickened my pulses and had me arriving at the last page still wishing there was more…

I thought I’d share these with you, in case you’re looking for something really special to start your 2012 reading list.

Engineman by Eric Brown Paris is vividly described as a fading city, overrun in parts with alien vegetation as the population enginemancontinues to move away to more thriving places, both on and off Earth. The previously bustling port and centre of the bigship industry is sliding into inexorable decline. And just as parts of Paris are no longer vital, neither are the Enginemen – those once elite corps of men and women whose brainwaves ‘pushed’ the bigships into the nada-continuum while in a trance-like state called the flux, allowing the ships to travel thousands of light-years in a matter of weeks and months. However, once interfaces were invented so that people could actually walk or drive through to colony planets, the Enginemen were obsolete and unwanted…

The book explores the plight which echoes that of generations of men and women through the ages who have found their skills are suddenly redundant. This is science fiction at its best – looking at contemporary issues through a futuristic lens. This amazing world and the spiky protagonist have stayed with me, even though I didn’t really like the ending, overmuch – the rest of it was so very strong I have included it.

theradleysThe Radleys by Matt Haig This intriguing take on vamps is one of the selections of More 4’s TV Book Club 2011. Life with the Radleys: Radio 4, dinner parties with the Bishopthorpe neighbours and self denial. Loads of self denial. But all hell is about to break loose. When teenage daughter Clare gets attacked on the way home from a party, she and her brother Rowan finally discover why they can’t sleep, can’t eat a Thai salad without fear of asphyxiation and can’t go outside unless they’re smothered in Factor 50. With a visit from their lethally louche uncle Will and an increasingly suspicious police force, life in Bishopthorpe will never be the same again.

The writing is aptly sharp with a thread of black humour running through the book. Haig’s descriptions are vividly arresting, as the gripping storyline keeps the pages turning until you reach the end far too soon.

Banners in the Wind – Book 3 of The Lescari Revolution by Juliet E. McKenna This is the final instalment in this intriguingbanners series where McKenna decided to see what would happen if the downtrodden masses and squeezed middle men revolted.
A few stones falling in the right place can set a landslide in motion. That’s what Lescari exiles told themselves in Vanam as they plotted to overthrow the warring dukes. But who can predict the chaos that follows such a cataclysm? Some will survive against all the odds; friends and foes alike. Hope and alliances will be shattered beyond repair. Unforeseen consequences bring undeserved grief as well as unexpected rewards. Necessity forces uneasy compromise as well as perilous defiance. Wreaking havoc is swift and easy. Building a lasting peace may yet prove an insuperable challenge.

For my money, this book is the best of the trilogy. This was always an astoundingly ambitious project – to depict a full blown revolution through the viewpoints of six characters. The fact that McKenna succeeded so well is down to the fact that she is an experienced, skilled writer whose epic Fantasy has always been character-driven.

familytradeThe Family Trade by Charles Stross This start to his alternate historical science fiction series proves that Charles Stross is an outstanding talent and – unsurprisingly – won the 2005 Sideways Award for Alternative History, as well as a nomination for a Locus Award.

Miriam Beckstein is happy in her life. She’s a successful reporter for a hi-tech magazine in Boston, making good money doing what she loves. But when she receives a locket left by the mother who was murdered when she was an infant, the knotwork pattern hypnotises her. Before she knows it, she’s transported herself to a parallel Earth, a world where knights on horseback chase their prey with automatic weapons.

I love this world, where Miriam is constantly cold away from her modern comforts. Where, as a thirty-two year old, she is regarded as a dowager – almost past her prime purpose, which is to make an advantageous match and provide plenty of babies also capable of world-walking. The heroine is enjoyably complex with a completely understandable reaction to the shock of switching between the two worlds.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot This non-fiction book has become an international bestseller, henrettalackscharting a remarkable story that consumed the author for a decade.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells – taken without her knowledge – became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing polio vaccine, helped lead to important advances like invitro fertilization and gene mapping, and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the ‘coloured’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where Henrietta’s children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family – especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into Space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

cobratrilogyThe Cobra Trilogy by Timothy Zahn In a very smart marketing move back in 2004, Baen gathered together this fine series of books and put them into an omnibus edition.

The colony worlds Adirondack and Silvern fell to the Troft forces almost without a struggle. Outnumbered and on the defensive, Earth made a desperate decision. It would attack the aliens not from space, but on the ground – with forces the Trofts did not even suspect. Thus were created the Cobras, a guerrilla force whose weapons were surgically implanted, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, yet undeniably deadly. But power brings temptation… and not all the Cobras could be trusted to fight for Earth alone.

It sounds like just one more super-soldier adventure with warfare the staple and the protagonist spending his days dealing with a deadly enemy and corrupt officialdom on his own side… But it isn’t. Oh, there’s plenty of action, alright. Written with plenty of verve and tension – but the book quickly shoots off into another direction, exploring the far more intriguing political and social aspects of having a bunch of surgically enhanced fighters within a community. While they may be capable of saving a planet from a deadly alien invasion – what happens when the threat goes away and the majority of your force has survived the war?

The Way of Kings – The Stormlight Archive Book 1 by Brandon Sanderson A health warning comes with this book – it is a wayofkingsbeast at just over a 1000 pages. So if you enjoy curling up in bed with your fav read, you may have to rethink how you hold/balance this breeze block edition – I know I did.

It is a mark of Sanderson’s writing skill that I was held throughout this monster – huge tomes of high fantasy are not high on my list of favourite reads, and I picked this up fully expecting to get about halfway through and then lose interest. However, in addition to effective characterisation, Sanderson’s world is fascinating. I loved the landscape, complete with original ecology and unusual wildlife – as well as a complicated, tortuous history and conflicting religious beliefs.

coldmagicCold Magic – Book 1 of The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott This engrossing offering is the first of Kate Elliott’s latest world – and if you’re a fantasy fan you’ll know that she is one of the leading talents in the field. She is excellent at providing interesting, multi-layered worlds and is also adept at producing satisfying complex characters – a combination that doesn’t always go together. As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. And the cousins are about to discover the full ruthlessness of this rule.

And, make no mistake, this is a rich and interesting world. Elliott herself describes it as “An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.” So do we gain a sense of the full layered intricacy of this world through Cat’s eyes? The blunt answer has to be – no, we don’t. Not even after reading the second book in the series, Cold Fire, do I get a sense that I’ve done more than graze the surface of this fascinating world. Am I bothered? Not, particularly, no. If Elliott chooses to roll out a world of this richness and then only play in a corner of it, that’s hardly going to impact on my reading pleasure – unless she doesn’t produce a sufficiently interesting storyline with a convincingly complex cast of character. And she does.

Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne This is a story all about robots, living in a robot world. But before you embark on this novel– twistedmetalknow that the grim cover is far closer to the tone and style of this book than any cosy childhood memories you might harbour of Metal Mickey…

Penrose: A world of intelligent robots who have forgotten their own distant past. A world where all metal, even that of their own wire-based minds, is fought over – a valuable resource to be reused and recycled. Now full-scale war looms, as the soldiers of Artemis sweep across the continent of Shull, killing or converting every robot to their stark philosophy. Only the robots of Turing City stand in their way. Robots who believe that they are something more than metal. Karel is one such robot. Or is he?

Ballantyne has pulled off a nifty trick, here. He has produced a credible world of metal beings who are gendered – the male robots provide the wire that the females can twist and weave into a mind that powers the average robot for somewhere between thirty to forty years. However, females in Artemis no longer take time to think and decide exactly what traits they are going to include into their children’s minds – they are indoctrinated into the ethos of Nyros, that all minds are only metal, so each robot’s needs and wishes is subordinate to the State. I’m sure this is starting to ring bells amongst the non-robots amongst you… While the action scenes and carnage surround the war are depicted with clarity and power, this book is so much more than a military shoot ‘em up romp.

hundredthosandkingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine. There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Jemisin manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. She writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again.

Room by Emma Donoghue This was short-listed for last year’s Man Booker prize and won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prizeroom for 2010. I got hold of the book after hearing Donoghue’s interview for Radio 4’s Women’s Hour when she mentioned that she was inspired on hearing about five year old Felix in the Fritzl case.

Jack is five and excited about his birthday. He lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures eleven feet by eleven feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows what he sees on screen isn’t truly real – there’s only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until one day, Ma admits there’s a world outside…

This account could so easily have lingered on the grimness and sheer horror of their existence – but seen through the filter of a small boy, whose young mother has determined to shelter her son as much as possible from the worst aspects of their imprisonment, it becomes something else. Jack’s narrative gives us a fascinating insight in the ability of humankind to survive in a highly difficult situation.

wiseman'sfearWise Man’s Fear – Book 2 of The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss It is the second day of the Chronicler’s visit to the small country tavern where our hero has tucked himself away, with his loyal Fae companion, Bast. The second day when he continues to tell his own life story – the true version… Or is it? Kvothe is the classic unreliable narrator, several times admitting that he has a habit of embellishing his reputation. At the start of this very long narration, we return to the University where we last left him battling enemies and pernicious poverty.

To be honest, I started the book with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. However, it didn’t take long before I was once more caught up by Kvothe’s charm to relax and let the Rothfuss magic do its stuff. He is a remarkable writer. At a thousand pages, this doorstop should be a lot stodgier and boring than it is. We have Kvothe’s recollection of a multi-talented, vibrantly youthful version of himself interspersed by a number of interruptions, where a poignant counterpoint is the burned out innkeeper, whose motivation in telling his tale seems to be to setting the record straight before his death. Or is it? Bast, his concerned companion, is still something of a puzzle – although we get a strong sense that he isn’t what he appears to be… The central theme of what makes a reputation and the nature of fame – a classic for fantasy fiction – is approached with intelligence, while the world is a masterpiece of interesting details that ensure it is convincingly complex.

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky was one of a group of Russion SF writers called together yellowbluetibiaby Josef Stalin in 1946. Stalin, convinced that the defeat of America was only a few years away, needed a new enemy for Communism to unite against. Skvorecky and the others were tasked with creating a convincing alien threat; a story of imminent disaster that could be told to the Soviet peoples. And then after many months of diligent work the writers were told to stop and, on pain of death, to forget everything. Little is known of what happened to the writers subsequently but in 1986, Skvorecky made a dramatic reappearance at Chernobyl claiming that everything that he and the others had written was coming true. His assertion was widely disbelieved but Skvorecky claimed (tastelessly many believe) that the Chernobyl disaster and the destruction of the Challenger space shuttle conformed to the pattern set by Stalin’s scenario. Skvorecky believes that alien invasion is ongoing.

Roberts deftly portrays a Russia suffering a crisis of confidence with everyone scrabbling to cope with Gorbachev’s cataclysmic changes involving perrestoika against a backdrop of crumbling Communism. It isn’t a pretty picture – especially filtered through the viewpoint of an aging, burnt out ex-alcoholic. By rights it should be unremittingly grim enough to make the likes of Dan Simmons and Roger Levy look pink n’fluffy in comparison. However Roberts leavens the underlying awfulness of his subject matter and backdrop by dollops of humour, to the extent there are laugh-aloud moments in this book, which veers from moments of acute danger, high farce and reflections on the dreadful circumstances within a couple of pages without jolting the reader out of the story.

thousandautumnsofjacobThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell This is an historical novel, set on a tiny man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki. This island of Dejima was the sole gateway between Japan and the West, in the guise of the Dutch East India Company, for some two hundred years. The tiny enclave was where two cultures rubbed shoulders and misunderstood each other. And in 1799 a young clerk, Jacob de Zoet, lands on the island with the intention of making sufficient money to return to Holland and marry his fiancée in five years’ time. Instead, he loses his heart to a beautiful but scarred Japanese midwife.

While the love story winds through the book it isn’t the engine driving the plot – what lies at the heart of this epic, boisterous roller-coaster is the gulf yawning between the Japanese and Europeans. Mitchell plays with his readers expectations by throwing in a few curved balls which I certainly didn’t see coming… Although, you might as well take curved balls in your stride, because almost everything else in packed into this novel. It takes a while to pick up pace as the reader is plunged into Mitchell’s extravagant prose while he depicts this extraordinary world and his beautifully drawn characters, who leap from the page with three-dimensional vividness. I’d advise you to relax and enjoy the richness and complex detail, for once things start kicking off the tale whips along at a cracking rate, with all sorts of double-dealing, corruption and dirty deeds afoot. And Jacob finds himself caught up right in the middle of it all…

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch It isn’t that often I come across London-based Brit fantasy. This offering is a quirky, riversoflondonenjoyable adventure with lots of pace and humour, which nicely leavens the gorier moments. Peter is a coolly unflappable mixed-raced young Londoner with a very low boredom threshold, who is good at thinking on his feet. His laconic narrative, along with the long suffering observations about the labyrinth of police paperwork and procedures adds an extra twist of enjoyment to this tightly plotted piece of supernatural high jinks.

Peter’s relationship with his enigmatic superior Detective Inspector Nightingale has clearly got legs. For starters, they live in a spooky neo-Gothic fortress, complete with a creepy housekeeper, (think Mrs Hudson with sharp teeth…) and a running gag about the odd combinations that turn up in the packed lunches. One of the major characters in this book is mentioned in the title – London. Not only does Aaronovitch use some of the major tourist sites as backdrops to some of his set pieces, he also casually drops in actual café names and walks his readers through real neighbourhoods. In addition, he has woven the city’s history into this very contemporary tale – a really neat trick, as London’s past is part of its everyday richness. The patina of history lies as thickly as the traffic fumes along many of our capital’s streets – and Aaronovitch deftly mines this historical treasure trove to underpin his tale of mayhem and chaos. All in all, this is a readable, accomplished novel, crackling with energy and humour.

prometheusprojectThe Prometheus Project by Steve White 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. Bob Devaney was a Special Forces soldier in the early 1960’s – until he is recruited into something called the Prometheus Project, which turns out to be the largest disinformation operation in history, targeted at the aliens who ruled the galaxy.

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, White manages to pull off 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.

And there you have it, my reading highlights of 2011. If you want to read the full reviews, they are archived on the blog – better still, go and read the books… and let me know what you think.

My outstanding reads of 2010

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I’m not quite sure exactly how many books I read last year – but it’s around 130 as I tend to average between 2 & 3 books a week. I thought I’d just round up the ones I enjoyed the most and share them with you as I believe that they are all enjoyable and worthwhile reads with something original to say.  Needless to say, many are science fiction and fantasy, but there are a few others that crept in, as well.

cryburnCryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold
If Miles Vorkosigan novels used to tick all your boxes, then don’t worry. Cryoburn still has plenty of the old magic. I’ve always enjoyed Bujold’s writing, so have read both her Chalion and The Sharing Knife series with huge enjoyment, appreciating her deft characterisation, intriguing worlds and the Bujold ability to evolve realistic human difficulties and tensions out of the surrounding circumstances. Nobody does it better…

However, something magical happens to her writing when Miles leaps into the fray. Bujold’s prose sizzles with extra three-dimensional depth and agility as she plunges her hero into yet another adventure.

Revelation – C.J. Sansomrevelation
Like your whodunit with a twist of history? Well, look no further than one of our local authors, Chris Sansom. His sleuth of choice is Matthew Shardlake, who should have some sort of medal as the unlikeliest P.I. in the history of the genre. Master Shardlake is a hunchback, who has battled against his disability to become a lawyer – which is a greater achievement than you might think, considering that Sansom’s detective series is set in King Henry VIII’s turbulent reign. I have just finished reading the fourth book in the series, Revelation, and in my opinion it’s right up there with Dark Fire, my favourite.

attackofunskinkableAttack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – Christopher Brookmyre
I came across this gem in the library one rainy day in November and it brightened my life. Do you believe in ghosts? Do we really live on in some conscious form after we die, capable of communicating with the world of the living?

The investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane, who sort of solves this crime, has appeared in four previous Brookmyre novels. He leaps off the page with all the force of Robbie Coltrayne’s Cracker – and with as many opinions, which he doesn’t shy away from sharing with the rest of us. So, in addition to enjoying a really well-crafted thriller with a number of BIG surprises that I didn’t see coming, I was also treated to a series of intelligent discussions on the nature of belief, its impact on society and how it can be used to exploit victims when they are extremely vulnerable.

Sum: Tales from the Afterlives – David Eaglemansum
This little book was published in 2009 and very quickly garnered a fistful of rave reviews, emphasising its originality, charm and inventive. The word ‘genius’ has even been slung around… While I wouldn’t go quite that far, I’ll happily endorse anyone claiming it is unlike anything else you’ve ever come across. As for originality – you start really examining some of the forty ideas and you’ll find you are being pushed into brain-bulging places. Meat and drink for those of us who like our ideas and fiction on the weirder side.

As with any anthology, some of the stories work better than others. Sum is one of the better ones – but it is by no means my favourite. A word of caution, though. It might be a very small book and you could easily whizz through it in one sitting. Don’t. My advice is never to read more than two of these little stories at a time because to do so is to risk becoming inured to the sheer amazing leaps of imagination Eagleman is asking you to take.

invisiblegorillaThe Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways our Intuition Deceives Us – Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons
The authors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, won the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology for Gorillas in Our Midst, a groundbreaking and world-famous experiment where they asked volunteers to watch a 60 second film of students playing basketball and told them to count the number of passes made. About halfway through, a woman dressed in a gorilla outfit strolled to the centre of the screen, beat her chest at the camera and then walked away. Half the volunteers missed seeing the gorilla…

Yep. It made my jaw drop, too. Unless you’ve already heard of the experiment, of course. Many people have, by all accounts. But before you shrug your shoulders and dismiss it as yet another oddball piece of human behaviour that doesn’t really apply to everyday life, just stop and think of the ramifications for a long moment. And if your imagination still fails you, then pick up this book and read on. You need to know what it has to say. Really.

Mindscan – Robert J. Sawyermindscan
Sawyer’s hero, Jake Sullivan, is struggling with a life-shortening, inoperable brain condition which could also leave him a vegetable – his father’s fate. So when he gets the opportunity to upload his consciousness into an android body, he takes it. At this point, we follow both Jakes. Sawyer’s unfussy, clear prose gives us a powerful insight into many of the emotional and practical problems following such a life-changing decision as both versions of his protagonist struggle to come to terms with their new status. His situation is alleviated by friendship with a feisty octogenarian, Karen, who also undergoes the same process. So far, the book is a masterful piece of storytelling that intelligently examines an issue that may well be confronting our grandchildren. But when Karen’s son sues, claiming that he has been cheated out of his rightful inheritance, Sawyer’s handling of the courtroom arguments for and against transferring human consciousness elevates this book from a good piece of science fiction to greatness.

thecommonsThe Commons – Matthew Hughes
This book charts Guth Bandar’s adventures in the Commons – the name for the collective unconscious – from his time as a young student trying to prove himself, to the climax of the story when he is in his middle years, still trying to prove himself. The protagonist is extremely well-drawn and likeable, as much for his failings that are charted in witty, unblinking detail – along with his strengths. So as he stumbles into yet another mind-threatening adventure, I was right alongside, hoping that he would prevail.

Despite the fact that the focus and subject matter is all about human psychology, there is plenty of visceral action here. The archetypes are ever-hungry for new people to populate their constant enactments of Situations and Events, even if the outcome leads to violent death. Which, being the human unconscious, happens only too often. However, don’t expect to be whipped along at breakneck speed a la David Gunn or Simon R Green, from one gore-drenched episode to the next. Hughes is offering so much more. The writing style is literate and restrained, even when the action gets bloodily heated – and there are constant shafts of witty humour.

Enduring Love – Ian McIwanenduringlove
Joe Rose has planned a romantic picnic with his lover Clarissa after having been away on business. However, the delightful idyll is horribly interrupted when a hot air balloon, attempting a landing, starts to break away from its moorings with a ten year old boy inside. Joe, along with a number of other men, rush to try and anchor it. But when the sudden wind strengthens and Joe finds himself suddenly jerked off his feet as someone else lets go, he follows suit – until only one man, John Logan, is left hanging on – until he plunges to his death… Shocked at the terrible accident and feeling guilty for letting go, Joe rushes to the spot where the dead man is lying and encounters Jed Parry. They exchange a passing glance and Jed, suffering from de Clerambault’s syndrome, immediately falls passionately in love with Joe, with dire consequences.

dragonkeeperThe Dragon Keeper – Robin Hobb
To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job; their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils. Not only are they not expected to return – no one wants them back… I, for one, was delighted when I realised that this book would pick up the adventures of the tangle of serpents as I’d found the whole storyline surrounding them and the liveships a really satisfying tale. So I started The Dragon Keeper with high expectations – and it did not disappoint.

The characters in Hobb’s stories are always strong and in this story we have several protagonists, all in third person viewpoint. The two that stand out for me are Alise and Thymara – but the whole cast are entertaining and once more, Hobbs gradually unwraps her plot with the deft skill we’ve all come to expect. Her world building is pitch perfect as the inhospitable Rain Wilds take its toll on man and beast alike – in contrast to the stifling confines of Bingtown’s society.

Turn Coat – Jim Butcherturncoat
This is the eleventh novel in the Harry Dresden files series. Has Butcher managed to keep the characters fresh and surprising? Are the plots getting increasingly entangled and mangled in an effort to breathe some new life into a threadbare scenario? Has the fact that the TV series was such a crock adversely affected Butcher’s enthusiasm for his wizard detective? For the record – yes, no and no. Butcher has managed to breathe new life into these characters, giving some of them a surprising twist. And no, there is no sense that this world is running dry of creative juice.

We have encountered the Council from time to time in Dresden’s adventures, but this further insight into their politics and the characters made for an entertaining read. Butcher manages to give all the major protagonists surrounding Harry Dresden an equally complicated and tortuous personal journey, which is probably one of the secrets of this series successful longevity.

I'mthekingoftheI’m the King of the Castle – Susan Hill
This book is parked on the library shelf marked Horror. Having said that, there isn’t a vampire, zombie or sword-waving anything in sight. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of blood and gore or even a decent fight (sorry…). So why is it here? Because the book lodged in my brain like a burr since I read it years ago and having recently reread it, it’s every bit as good as I remember.

There might not be much in the way of supernatural mayhem, but a real sense of dread pervades as Hill carefully crafts a gothic, creepy feel in this tale of anger, longing, loneliness and brutality. The exquisite writing charts the struggles of the four major characters coming to terms with their loveless lives and the toll it takes on all of them. And if it sounds like it isn’t a barrel of laughs – you’d be right. But if you enjoy reading a gripping tale written by a highly accomplished author at the height of her unsettling powers, then this is a must-read book.

The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkawaygoneaway
If you like your speculative fiction bubbling over with energy – part science fiction, part swashbuckler with plenty of fight action including ninjas, pirates and all-round hard men, then don’t miss this book. Harkaway’s exuberant literary style and sharp humorous observations gives his grim subject matter a rollicking feel as we experience the end of the world as we know it – and the start of something else.

The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch and his fellow trouble-shooters have been hired to put the fire out. But this isn’t the straightforwardly dangerous job that Jorgmund’s boss, Humbert Pestle, has depicted. Gonzo and his best friend will have to go right back to their own beginnings to unravel the dark mystery that lies at the heart of the Jorgmund Company… For those of you interested in such things, Nick Harkaway is the son of the celebrated spy novelist John le Carré – and the writing talent certainly runs in the family.

grimspaceGrimspace – Book 1 of the Sirantha Jax trilogy – Ann Aguirre
This enjoyable space opera romp features a feisty, no-holds-barred heroine with a troubled past and an unusual ability that puts her in a variety of life-threatening and difficult situations. Sounds familiar? It should do — unless you’ve been walking into bookshops and libraries with your eyes shut for the past couple of years. Take away the vampiric/werewolf trappings and the urban settings; and you’re looking at a science fiction version of the dark urban fantasy that has become so popular. Indeed, Aguirre has also written an urban fantasy series featuring a feisty, no-holds-barred… you get the idea.

As the carrier of a rare gene, Sirantha Jax has the ability to jump ships through grimspace — a talent that cuts into her life expectancy but makes her a highly prized navigator for the Corp. But then the ship she’s navigating crash-lands, and she’s accused of killing everyone on board. It’s hard for Jax to defend herself: she has no memory of the crash.

A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffinamadnessofangels
Griffin grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the last with her taut, poetic prose and action-packed story. Matthew Swift’s thirst for revenge against the terrible being preying on urban sorcerers leads him into dark places – and we are yanked along with him. There are one or two really bloody moments. Not to mention some scenes that score high on the ‘yuck’ factor – an attack by a litter monster being one of them. However, this book is so much more than a guts’n gore fest. Griffin’s ability to weave her action amongst the densely depicted London scenes that she clearly knows extremely well, gives the story an almost literary feel. And Swift is an amazing creation. Only half human, his instability while teetering on the edge of something terrible creates plenty of dynamic tension as he tries to pick up the pieces of his old life. And – yes – Griffin manages to conclude the story with a satisfactorily climatic ending, leaving enough interest dangling for another adventure.

slowlightningSlow Lightning – Jack McDevitt
This sci-fi thriller is a fascinating take on how we might just blunder into another space-travelling civilisation. McDevitt also examines the idea of loss and grief in a time when the bereaved can summon up images of their loved ones and talk to them. His main protagonist never recovers from the death of her charismatic sister – and Kim’s investigation into what exactly happened on that last, mysterious mission, is as much an attempt to deal with her feelings about Emily.

McDevitt’s narrative sweeps Kim along into a morass of cover-ups, lies and sheer happenstance that I found compelling and believable. The world is beautifully depicted, with flashes of wry humour that give the moments of horror an extra dimension. The layers of futuristic detail were a joy to read – placing the story solidly in the McDevitt’s world without slowing the narrative or impeding a very tightly plotted storyline. It takes a confident writer very sure of his ability to pull off the steady build-up of suspense that characterises the first half of the book. There is action aplenty for the reader – but you have to work for it. McDevitt isn’t in the business of gun-toting heroes blasting away at one-dimensional villains three lines into the first chapter.

modernworldThe Modern World – Steph Swainston – Book 3 of The Castle series
I picked up this book (known in America as Dangerous Offspring) because I’d heard some interesting things about Swainston as an author – people either seemed to love or loathe her – and I decided it was time I made up my own mind.

What is undeniable is that she is an outstanding writer. I didn’t start this book with joy in my heart. Being the shallow sort, I’m unduly influenced by book covers – and the UK cover of this one has to qualify as one of the dreariest offerings, ever. Once I opened it, the tiny font didn’t enthuse me, either. However, I persevered – and I’m very glad I did. Because this is one of the best written fantasy books I’ve ever read.

forgottenbeastsThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld – Patricia A. McKillip
I’m not much into nostalgia. Yes – I thoroughly enjoyed reading the likes of Tolkien, Clarke and Heinlein way back, whenever. But I don’t look back fondly on any particular era as a ‘golden time’ because I’m too busy wading through current books piled up beside my bed. However, I do enjoy dipping into the Fantasy Masterworks series as I’ve come across some cracking reads in the process – and this is one of them.

For those of you who haven’t cut your teeth on Tolkein, the prose style will strike you as somewhat odd – while the rest of us will immediately recognise it as silmarillionese. I would urge you to persevere past the first few pages when it is particularly obtrusive if you do find it a problem; personally, it was like meeting up with a long-lost relation… But if you can grit your teeth at the start, I would hope that the story sweeps you up and takes you for a wonderful ride into a past when Fantasy didn’t mean conflicted vamps and weres prowling in search for blood, sex or both…

The Empress of Mars – Kage Bakerempressofmars
Your gaze rests lovingly on your battered copy of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, wondering why no one writes like that anymore… Well, I’ve uncovered another gem in the same mould, folks. Based on Baker’s Hugo-nominated novella of the same name, this is space opera at its rollicking best. While still set in Baker’s world of The Company – her series about time-travelling immortals plundering Earth’s history – it is entirely stand-alone to the extent that you don’t need to be aware Baker has written anything else, in order to appreciate the story.

A classic frontier tale of rugged individualistic grit pitted against shadowy religious and corporate ambition, Baker is very upfront about the influence of the Wild West in this book. This emphasis on the individual allows Baker free rein in her depiction of the gloriously mapcap characters peopling Mars as the plot weaves through a series of hurdles that Mary and her family have to scramble under and over. The characters leap off the page as the action sweeps them through edgy tense drama to humorous interludes verging on farce – classic Baker, in other words.

IshallwearI Shall Wear Midnight – Terry Pratchett
This is the fourth Tiffany Aching book from The Great Man and his thirty-eighth Discworld novel. If you are a fan, then you’re in for a treat – this is classic Pratchett, complete with all the special individual touches we enjoy from this unique author, including the famous footnotes.

Tiffany is older, but Life isn’t getting any easier. She is working flatout in treating the sick – both animal and human, laying out the dead and interceding in local quarrels. In short, the duties of a typically busy witch. It doesn’t help when Roland announces his engagement to a highborn girl with blonde hair and delicate features. Neither does it help when the Nac MacFeegle, who insist on shadowing her every move, decide that she needs their help. Because something has been awakened. Something foul smelling and evil – something that moves amongst people and turns them against witches. Once more, it is down to Tiffany to save the day. But despite the fact that she is older and wiser, there’s every chance she’ll not succeed…