Tag Archives: book review

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Flightless Afternoon – Book 5 of the Ageless Mysteries by Vanessa Nelson #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #FlightlessAfternoonbookreview

Standard

Vanessa Nelson is one of the excellent indie authors I’ve discovered since I started my battle with Long Covid. And this book dropped onto my Kindle as I pre-ordered it – something I very rarely do.

BLURB: The unthinkable has happened. One of the Ageless has been killed, their body left in a public space, displayed for all to see. The Archon is furious and threatens to burn the entire city, unless the person responsible is found and turned over to her for justice.

Thea March is called on to investigate again. As little as she wants to turn anyone over to the Archon, she also knows that the Ageless could burn the city to the ground and not care about the death and destruction they cause. Working with Niath, can Thea find the person responsible for the Ageless’ death? And, if she finds them, can she bring herself to turn them over to the Archon?

REVIEW: My first piece of advice – don’t start your Ageless Mysteries experience with the fifth book in the series. While Nelson is far too skilful to allow you to flounder for very long, there is an overarching narrative arc that is worth following by reading these in the correct order. So if you have encountered this one without having had the pleasure of reading the previous four books, instead tuck into Deadly Night, the first book in the series.

While I’m aware there are huge numbers of crime fantasy books out there – Nelson’s take is somewhat different. Her setting is a Medieval/Early Modern era with all sorts of non-human magical beings living in the large city, Accanter, alongside the humans. The world is ruled by the Ageless, long-lived, angel-like beings who inhabit the Citadel and can fly. That said, there’s nothing angelic about their behaviour – they are fearsome warriors and supremely arrogant, who think nothing of savagely punishing other races who get in their way. Our plucky heroine, Thea, works for The Watch, which is Accanter’s equivalent to the police, so it’s her task to track down wrong-doers. Which makes this series an essentially a police procedural set within an epic fantasy world.

I love the dynamic, especially as Nelson does it very well. Thea and her mother have a troubled backstory that is gradually revealed throughout the series, which impacts on her ability to do her job, at times. For Thea doesn’t want to attract the attention of the Ageless, something that becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. And in this book, that attention becomes lethal as the mentally unstable Archon, supreme ruler of the Ageless and the rest of the world, tasks Thea with discovering who has murdered two of her warriors in two days. Her life will be forfeit if she doesn’t and then the city will burn.

So Thea has a savage double murder to solve against the backdrop of a ticking clock. Fortunately, she also has a loyal team of investigators around her who are equally desperate to solve the case. The pages flew by, even as I tried to eke out the story knowing only too well that I’d end up with a miserable book hangover once I came to the end of this gripping story. And I was right. I love the world, the setting and the characters – particularly Thea’s dogged determination to see justice done for those who cannot help themselves. There are some dangling plotpoints, as the story isn’t wholly resolved and I’m now waiting for the next book in the series. Except, I’m also dreading it, as Nelson has announced it’s the final Ageless Mysteries book. Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy mystery murders.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Veiled Masters: a Twilight Imperium novel by Tim Pratt #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheVeiledMastersbookreview

Standard

I enjoy Pratt’s writing – his delightful duology made up of Doors of Sleep and Prison of Sleep provides an original spin on the portal adventure premise that has me hoping for more in this intriguing world. And as I’ve also read another Twilight Imperium adventure – The Necropolis Empire – I was more than happy to revisit this entertaining world.

BLURB: The balance of power is shifting, with bold new alliances, unknown invaders, and the rumored return of the galaxy’s ancient masters. When black-ops spy Amina Azad saves a Hacan ambassador from assassination, she draws him into her investigation of a vast conspiracy: unseen forces are destabilizing the whole galaxy, at the worst possible time. Pursued by agents from dozens of other factions, they can only make progress by allying with their apparent enemies. But even they might be compromised – duped into action by a secret puppet-master. How can they trust an alliance when they can’t trust themselves?

REVIEW: The first thing to get out of the way is the Twilight Imperium aspect. Apparently, this entertaining series of space opera adventure books is a spin-off from a popular board game, Twilight Imperium. I mention this in case some fans of the game are prompted to pick up the books. However, if you are a reader who generally avoids reading books connected to TV series, films and games (like me!) you can ignore this nugget of information. If I hadn’t told you the origin of the novel, there’s nothing in the storytelling, characterisation or worldbuilding that would give it away.

One of the aspects that I really like is that although this book is set within the same world as The Necropolis Empire, it is essentially a standalone, even though there are characters from previous adventures that pop up, giving us further insights into their motivations and vulnerabilities. This time, the conspiracy our plucky black-ops heroine is scrambling to head off is truly horrific. Space opera is difficult to write well, as the storyline is often pan-galactic in scope and requires frequent changes of scene and character in order to fully explore all aspects and consequences of the narrative arc. Pratt’s upbeat, energetic style skilfully avoids all the pitfalls, instead giving us intriguing, layered characters, despite the necessary scene changes; and a clear plotline that emerges from the twisty conspiring which held me from the beginning.

I very much like that fact that Pratt’s characters are morally ambiguous. Our protagonists are often self-serving and a bit dodgy. While the ultimate antagonists are not necessarily evil monsters – even though the fate they have in mind is a terrible one for millions of unsuspecting sentient beings. One of the big attractions of Pratt’s writing is that while he is often dealing with dark deeds, the tone of his books tends not to get overly grim, as there are some nice touches of humour throughout to leaven the enormity of the threat. I understand that this is the last of his Twilight Imperium novels – which I very much regret. As ever, tucking into this adventure was a blast and I look forward to reading more from this skilful, entertaining author. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Peacekeeper – Book 1 of The Good Lands series by B.L. Blanchard #BrainfluffKINDLEbookreview #ThePeacekeeperbookreview

Standard

I read Maddalena’s excellent review of this one at Space and Sorcery – and immediately nipped across and got hold of a copy. I really love the premise as I’m always a sucker for a good whodunit in an unusual setting.

BLURB: North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

REVIEW: Yes… I do enjoy well-constructed thrillers, yes… I do appreciate complicated protagonists with a whole suite of luggage that skews their attitude towards the world. But for me, the highlight of this book – what makes it memorable and really stand out – is the setting. This is an alternate world, where the likes of Columbus and the hungry tide of conquistadors never landed on the shores of the Americas, so the indigenous people had the opportunity to develop on their own terms, with their own cultures largely intact. And while the inhabitants of the small village where the crimes occur still live in wigwams, this is a contemporary setting, so there are also mobile phones and high-speed trains. However, there is also a regard for the natural world that is woven alongside everyday life and I am delighted that Blanchard gives examples of how that works. I’d LOVE someone to make a film of this book – the twisty plot and anguished protagonist would work well on the big screen, but overwhelmingly, I think seeing Blanchard’s evocation of how modern life could work alongside Nature would be marvellous.

Getting back to the book, I did find it initially something of a challenge. Chibenashi, the main protagonist, isn’t someone I found easy to like – although learning of the terrible events that have destabilised his life did have me warming to him. Necessarily, the pacing at the start is a bit slow as the world also needs a lot of description. That said, I was never tempted to DNF it as the worldbuilding held me throughout.

Watching Chibenashi struggling to cope was also interesting – he isn’t a classic hero by any means and makes some really dodgy decisions – one in particular had me shaking my head at the time. I had guessed the murderer about two-thirds of the way through, but this time around that didn’t bother me all that much. In the event, the denouement was still shocking especially as the fallout was a bit heart-wrenching and messy, contributing towards making this one a very memorable read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series to find out where it goes next. Highly recommended for fans of murder mysteries with unusual settings.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Alexander X – Book 1 of the Battle for Forever series by Edward Savio #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIObookreview #AlexanderXbookreview

Standard

I thought the premise of this one was intriguing – and when I noticed that Wil Wheaton was the narrator, I immediately requested it.

BLURB: Alexander Grant is about to take his 3000th history test. You know how you feel like you’ve been going to school for a thousand years? Well, he actually has. Although he looks like a normal teenager, no one knows he’s actually 1500 years old. Not the girl he likes. Not his best friend. No one. That is until someone tries to kidnap Alexander and use him as bait to catch his father, the only man capable of stopping a plan that would change humanity forever. And the start of a journey that will take him far from the sleepy town he’s been hiding out in.

REVIEW: This YA adventure thriller starts out tamely enough – our long-suffering protagonist is taking yet another History test. And given that he’s been going to school for a very, very long time, this is actually his three-thousandth test. Savio nicely captures the tone of a perpetual teen, without making him obnoxious which is quite an achievement. It doesn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton does an outstanding job as narrator, so that I even enjoyed the regular rants on how History is wrong. The only time I felt this monologue verged on being a bit self-indulgent and significantly interfered with the ongoing action was the piece about Paul Revere. I also appreciated the explanations on why and how Alexander is ageing so slowly, which made sense and gave a solid reason for the near-immortality of a very small sample of the population.

The story takes a bit of time to get going, which gave me a chance to fully bond with the main character. That’s important, because if I hadn’t cared about Alexander then most of the book wouldn’t have mattered. And once the action kicks off, it’s foot to the floor all the way. Alexander and his hapless companions find themselves facing a number of powerful and determined antagonists who apparently want to capture him to use against his father. Though they don’t seem to worry too much if he’s seriously hurt in the process. It certainly makes for a series of desperate chases in a variety of vividly described settings. Savio writes action well. There is plenty of tension, along with strong pacing so that he continues to up the stakes, other than the occasional monologue about the past – which I would expect from a near-immortal teenager.

The romantic thread is well handled, showing a more vulnerable side to Alexander without derailing the pace or taking over from the overall narrative. All in all, I enjoyed this YA science fantasy thriller and recommend it for fans of the genre, particularly this audiobook version. While I obtained an arc of Alexander X from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Death and Hard Cider – Book 19 of the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #DeathandHardCiderbookreview

Standard

The title grabbed my attention – what is hard cider? And after I read the blurb, I was hooked. I like historical whodunits – and what especially snagged my attention with this story is the political backdrop. Set in New Orleans in the febrile period some thirty years before the American Civil War, tensions are rising as French and American interests collide, along with increasing unease regarding the tricky issue of slavery. So freeman Benjamin January has to tread carefully at all times.

BLURB: September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meagre pay is sorely needed.

Soon, however, January has more to worry about than keeping his beloved family fed and safe. During an elegant reception thrown by New Orleans’ local Whig notables, the son of a prominent politician gets into a fist-fight with a rival over beautiful young flirt Marie-Joyeuse Maginot – and, the day after the rally is over, Marie-Joyeuse turns up dead. The only black person amongst the initial suspects is arrested immediately: January’s dear friend, Catherine Clisson. With Catherine’s life on the line, January is determined to uncover the truth and prove her innocence. But his adversaries are powerful politicians, and the clock is ticking . . .

REVIEW: Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Knave of Secrets By Alex Livingston #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheKnaveofSecretsbookreview

Standard

I was intrigued by the premise. After suffering withdrawal symptoms after the completion of Sebastian de Castell’s wonderful Spellslinger series – see my reviews of Spellslinger, Shadowblack , Charmcaster, Soulbinder, Queenslayer and Crownbreaker – I thought another fantasy adventure involving card games and magic would be fun.

BLURB: Never stake more than you can afford to lose.

When failed magician turned cardsharp Valen Quinol is given the chance to play in the Forbearance Game—the invitation-only tournament where players gamble with secrets—he can’t resist. Or refuse, for that matter, according to the petty gangster sponsoring his seat at the table. Valen beats the man he was sent to play, and wins the most valuable secret ever staked in the history of the tournament.

Now Valen and his motley crew are being hunted by thieves, gangsters, spies and wizards, all with their own reasons for wanting what’s in that envelope. It’s a game of nations where Valen doesn’t know all the rules or who all the players are, and can’t see all the moves. But he does know if the secret falls into the wrong hands, it could plunge the whole world into war…

REVIEW: I’ll be honest – I wanted to love this one more than I actually did. There is a huge amount of explanation regarding the world, which is full of complicated names, a tangled and even more complicated political situation and characters who all have complicated backstories. Livingston’s insistence of giving a lot of the information in big lumps throughout, rather than letting the reader absorb it alongside the unfolding action meant that I always felt distanced from the characters.

The writing style favours telling over showing, which isn’t my personal preference. And while the characters are all layered and nicely ambiguous, I didn’t ever feel particularly close to them as Livingston tends to keep them at one remove from the reader. The same applies to the action scenes – while they were vividly depicted, some of the urgency and snap was diluted by yet more explanation that should really have gone elsewhere. The overall plot, which was suitably twisty and surprising, worked well and came to a solidly good conclusion – although I did feel the ending was a tad abrupt.

That said, for those who are fans of detailed worlds with huge amounts of background detail, including maps, historical events and long explanations of a variety of fantasy card games – this is a solid treat. I was particularly impressed at the sheer intricacy of the games Livingston constructed and the appendices make fascinating reading. While I obtained an arc of The Knave of Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
7/10

Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Wolfbane – Book 9 of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver #BrainfluffNEGALLEYAUDIObookreview #Wolfbanebookreview

Standard

I have read a couple of books in this well-known and captivating series – see my review of Spirit Walker. While it’s labelled as a YA/children’s read, it has captured the hearts of many adults over the years, including me. So I was delighted when the audiobook for the latest book in the series popped up.

BLURB: It is early spring, a turbulent, perilous time of sudden storms, frozen river fractures and drifting ice. Fleeing from a demon intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to Sea far from the Forest and his pack. The ocean too teems with danger: sea wolves, sharks and hunters of the deep, and the demon is gaining ground. Torak and Renn must race to save their pack-brother, battling the harsh, icy waves and merciless torrents. If they can’t find Wolf in time, the bond between them will be severed for ever…

REVIEW: This is a compelling adventure set in prehistory, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to be clever, brave and highly skilled at a multitude of tasks just to get through an average day. They lived in close contact with the natural world surrounding them, from which they derived their food, clothes and shelter. Small wonder they also formed a strong spiritual attachment to the animals and plants that impacted their lives. I love how Paver has characterised that attachment, as I listened to this gripping adventure facing Torak and Renn.

Wolf now has a mate and so when he is yanked away by the machinations of a major demon, Torak and Renn are determined to save him. But it’s a perilous journey that takes them far away from their beloved forest, where they encounter other tribes whose customs are different from their own. This is a delight to listen to – partly because the writing style is clean and powerful, but also because Sir Ian McKellan happens to be the narrator. His rendition is masterful – I’d listen spellbound if he recited the football scores, and I hate football…

Paver’s scene setting is vivid – I could easily envisage the landscapes she describes in a world not yet reeling from the environmental damage we’ve inflicted. The story holds real tension – and there is also a very moving scene where a much-loved character is laid to rest. The death rites are fascinating as well as poignant. All in all, this is a treat and highly recommended for fans of prehistorical adventure – though don’t start with this one. Instead track down the first book in this series, Wolf Brother. And a bonus is Paver’s Afterword, where she describes her research into aspects of her characters’ lives – it brought this highly enjoyable book to a fitting end. While I obtained a copy of audiobook Wolfbane from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Herrick’s End – Book 1 of The Neath series by T.M. Blanchet #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #HerricksEndbookreview

Standard

I liked the look of the cover and thought the premise sounded rather unusual – and I wasn’t wrong. This proved to be a story that took me on an unexpected and entertaining journey.

BLURB: Ollie’s only friend disappeared a few days ago, and now, he’s frantic to find her. But he doesn’t have much to go on until a mysterious note arrives which reads:
“Still looking for your friend? I know where she is.”
Unfortunately for Ollie, the trail leads to the last place he’d ever expect.

Somewhere dark.
Somewhere deep.
The kind of place where magic spills like blood, vengeance is merciless, and escape seems all but impossible.

Worse still, it soon becomes clear that someone-or something-was expecting him.
Now, time is running out. If Ollie has any hope of ever seeing home again, he’s going to have to summon every last scrap of courage, smarts, and tenacity he can find. And none of it will matter if he can’t get some help. Fast.

REVIEW: This book is labelled on Goodreads as a YA read. Now I know that YA can be a bit tricky to exactly pin down – but I was a tad surprised, because this didn’t feel like a book particularly aimed at younger readers. Which isn’t to say that they wouldn’t enjoy it, but there are more mature readers who tend to avoid stories where emotions are dialled up high and the romance is the narrative engine that drives the action. This isn’t one of those.

Which begs the question as to exactly what it is… To be honest, it reminded me a bit of The Pilgrim’s Progress minus the religious component. There is a strong sense of morality running through the book – very bad things happen to those who set out to hurt others. And even those who don’t transgress, but simply are aware and do nothing – they don’t fare all that well, either. I rather enjoyed that aspect, particularly as it ends up being more nuanced and sophisticated as the story progresses. It took me a while to completely bond with Ollie. I suspect that’s because right now I’m significantly overweight after over a year of illness and I found his obsession with his weight rather annoying. However, once he’s up to his neck in all sorts of trouble, he turns out to be a thoroughly endearing hero.

Overall, this is a quirky read that starts off rather downbeat but ends up being inspirational with a strong message for all of us. Recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of Herrick’s End from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #UnderFortunateStarsbookreview

Standard

It was the cover of this one that initially drew my attention – I’m always a sucker for a beautiful spacescape. And then I was further intrigued by reading the blurb…

BLURB: Fleeing the final days of the generations-long war with the alien Felen, smuggler Jereth Keeven’s freighter the Jonah breaks down in a strange rift in deep space, with little chance of rescue—until they encounter the research vessel Gallion, which claims to be from 152 years in the future.

The Gallion’s chief engineer Uma Ozakka has always been fascinated with the past, especially the tale of the Fortunate Five, who ended the war with the Felen. When the Gallion rescues a run-down junk freighter, Ozakka is shocked to recognize the Five’s legendary ship—and the Five’s famed leader, Eldric Leesongronski, among the crew. But nothing else about Leesongronski and his crewmates seems to match up with the historical record. With their ships running out of power in the rift, more than the lives of both crews may be at stake.

REVIEW: This is an intriguing premise. Two ships separated by 150 years get caught up in a mysterious rift where nothing is getting in or out. So far, so average. What has everyone on the Gallion completely freaked out is that the battered little trader they eventually haul aboard is the most famous ship in recent history – the Jonah. It played a crucial role in saving two species from destroying themselves. However… the crew aren’t remotely similar to the brave Five depicted in the history books. In fact, several key figures appear to be missing.

I really enjoyed where this one goes, particularly as I am a bit of a History buff. This book skips between timelines, as we gradually build up a more complete picture of the main characters involved in this key event – and what actually has happened to them, as opposed to what the history books say about them. There are also some nice touches of humour – I particularly like Hutchings’ depiction of the corporate space liner and its risk-averse policy.

The descriptions of the ships, the steadily building tension as time runs out, the characterisation of the main protagonists – these aspects of the story are all very well handled. But I did have a problem with the pacing. Right at the start of the story, we learn of the crucial role of the Jonah and its five crew members, so the reader is ahead of the little ship’s crew for quite a chunk of the book. While I was never tempted to DNF this one, as I enjoyed the overall premise, there was a middle section when I wanted to story to speed up. Once we got past a certain stage where I no longer could predict what would happen, I once again found the story a wholly engrossing and pleasurable read. And the ending packs a real emotional punch which I found very moving. Recommended for space opera fans who appreciate something a bit different in their alien encounters. While I obtained an arc of Under Fortunate Stars from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Hummingbird – Book 1 of A Charade of Magic series by Helen Harper #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Hummingbirdbookreview

Standard

I’m a fan of Helen Harper’s writing – see my reviews of Bloodfire and the Lazy Witch series – Slouch Witch, Star Witch and Spirit Witch. So when this one popped up on Netgalley I immediately requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: The best way to live in the Mage ruled city of Glasgow is to keep your head down and your mouth closed. That’s not usually a problem for Mairi Wallace. By day she works at a small shop selling tartan and by night she studies to become an apothecary. She knows her place and her limitations. All that changes, however, when her old childhood friend sends her a desperate message seeking her help – and the Mages themselves cross Mairi’s path. Suddenly, remaining unnoticed is no longer an option.

There’s more to Mairi than she realises but, if she wants to fulfil her full potential, she’s going to have to fight to stay alive – and only time will tell if she can beat the Mages at their own game. From twisted wynds and tartan shops to a dangerous daemon and the magic infused City Chambers, the future of a nation might lie with one solitary woman.

REVIEW: This fantasy magic-based class struggle adventure is set in a version of Glasgow in an approximation of the early Victorian period. Harper’s feisty heroine, Mairi, has had a tough time of it. Raised in an orphanage and determined to better herself, she is currently working as a shopgirl/general servant to an unpleasant couple who run a shop selling tartan cloth. The other thing to know about her is that she cannot speak.

Having a mute heroine could have really got in the way. But Harper’s clever writing and skill in getting us to care about her main character meant that it didn’t in any way slow down the action. The scene setting is excellent. Tension crackled off the pages as Mairi tries to keep a low profile in a city where anyone different is immediately at risk.

There is a zombie element – the Afflicted who roam the streets at night looking for anyone to snack on. Obviously there is also a curfew in place for the protection of everyday folk, who are understandably terrified of the Afflicted. Especially as no one really knows how they are made. Do they become infected by being scratched or bitten by an Afflicted? Is it an illness? Or is it magic? The Mages claim to protect the general population, but then they claim to work for the service of the city. And as far as everyone else is concerned, they live a life of luxury shrouded in secrecy and if anyone tries to get too close – the consequences are dire.

This one grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go until the end. And now, I’m desperate to know what is going to happen next. Very highly recommended for fans of gripping historical fantasy stories featuring a gutsy heroine. While I obtained an arc of Hummingbird from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10