I realised that I’d read the first book of this gripping historical series, The Ashes of London – see my review – so was delighted when I got hold of the arc of this one…
BLURB: Brother against brother. Father against son. Friends turned into enemies. No one in England wants a return to the bloody days of the Civil War. But Oliver Cromwell’s son, Richard, has abandoned his exile and slipped back into England. The consequences could be catastrophic. James Marwood, a traitor’s son turned government agent, is tasked with uncovering Cromwell’s motives. But his assignment is complicated by his friend – the regicide’s daughter, Cat Lovett – who knew the Cromwells as a child, and who now seems to be hiding a secret of her own about the family…
You don’t need to have read any of the previous books, but I would recommend getting hold of at least one of them – I can personally recommend The Ashes of London. Andrew Marwood works on behalf of the King through the system of patronage that was popular back then. So while he enjoys the protection of Joseph Williamson, Undersecretary of State and Lord Arlington, Secretary of State, he has incurred the enmity of the Duke of Buckingham, who is a powerful courtier and favourite of Charles II. When a duel is fought and Marwood is sent along to provide an eye-witness account of the outcome, he becomes the target for Buckingham’s henchmen.
While Cat Lovett, now married to the elderly and increasingly frail Simon Hakesby, is worried when a girl she knew only vaguely as a child, accosts her on the street, claiming a warm friendship and wanting to renew it. But Cat is having enough problems without Elizabeth Cromwell, granddaughter to the Protector and traitor, crashing into her life. I love the dynamic. This is the aftermath of the Civil War, during which families were torn apart as loyalties were divided and though time has passed, there are those with long memories who look back on the Protectorate with wistfulness, on seeing the King’s extravagant and ungodly lifestyle.
Taylor has depicted the time really well. Both main protagonists are sympathetic and behave appropriately within the constraints of their time. And as we also get a ringside seat into the wretched life of poor Ferrus, born with some congenital defect, the tension slowly winds up as the stakes continue to increase. The climax is brutal and explosive – I couldn’t put this one down until I’d finished it. And I’ve now got hold of the second book in the series, needing more of Cat and Andrew in my life. The quality of the writing and immersive, vivid feel of 17th century London reminds me of C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series. Highly recommended for fans of good quality historical murder mysteries. The ebook arc copy of The Last Protector was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
Once I’d listened to the wonderful audio version of Mythos, see my review – I was keen to get hold of this sequel, which takes the story on from featuring mostly on the Greek pantheon of gods, to the mortals and demi-mortals that people this mythology.
BLURB: There are Heroes – and then there are Greek Heroes.
Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes. In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales. Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta – who was raised by bears – outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera. Filled with white-knuckle chases and battles, impossible puzzles and riddles, acts of base cowardice and real bravery, not to mention murders and selfless sacrifices, Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of – at our worst and our very best.
I’ve included the whole blurb – something I rarely do – because it pretty much sums up what the book is about. Fry clearly knows his stuff and has gone back to the available source material to pick his way through the various versions and delivers these timeless stories in an accessible, conversational style that I very much enjoyed. We have most of the familiar names such as Heracles and Theseus, as well as many of the monsters they tangled with. What came across very strongly – and why I was so grateful for Fry’s light touch – was how most of them ended in tragedy. If you wanted to have any kind of happiness in your life as an ancient Greek, whatever you do – don’t be beautiful or remarkable in any way, so as to catch the attention of the gods. Even those who managed to survive a series of harrowing adventures and fights against impossible odds invariably ended in ignominy and a bitter old age.
To be honest, I don’t think I would have been able to continue listening if Fry had been remotely heavy-handed in his treatment of this fascinating, but ultimately depressing series of stories where the price of any kind of talent or beauty was to suffer a series of terrible fates. And that would have been a shame – because, whether we like it or not, these stories are part of the bedrock of our western civilisation and many of the ideals and beliefs have been unconsciously absorbed into our collective psyche. For anyone interested in the subject, I would recommend the audiobook, where Fry’s handling of all those unfriendly Greek names makes it a lot easier to absorb.
I am a real fan of Brennan’s work, especially her wonderful Lady Trent series – see my review of A Natural History of Dragons, The Tropic of Serpents, The Voyage of the Basilisk, and Within the Sanctuary of Wings and the first book the spinoff series, Turning Darkness into Light. Also her intriguing historical fantasy The Onyx Court series – see my review of Midnight Never Come and In Ashes Lie, as well as the novella Cold-Forged Flame. So I was delighted to discover that Himself had bought this offering, along with the second book. He really is a keeper…
BLURB: Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic. Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.
I was just in the mood for this intriguing fantasy story all about identity in a world where both witches and bounty hunters are brought up in sequestered surroundings involving intensive training. Clearly both professions allow women above average freedom in this medieval-sounding era where horseback is the main form of transport, while swords and arrows the main type of weapons.
Brennan manages to give each young woman a distinct identity in this dual narrative, which is harder to do than you might think, given the strong similarities between them. I loved the premise and was interested to see where the author would take this one. Full of incident, with plenty of intrigue and surprises, the pages flew past as I wanted to know what would happen next. And – no… I certainly didn’t see that ending coming! There is also a strong supporting cast, particularly Eclipse, who is a companion and graduated alongside Mirage. The fight scenes are enjoyable and clearly written. I liked the fact that neither Mirage or Miryo took deaths for granted, although they are a regular part of Mirage’s job. Recommended for fans of entertaining and well written swords and sorcery.
I’d read and enjoyed the previous two books in this series, The Midnight Queen and Lady of Magick, so was pleased to see this third one was available – I love the depth of this enchanting world, where Christianity didn’t sweep through and wipe out all the pagan religions, which now exist in this Regency era alternate history.
BLURB: Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison…
And that’s as much of the chatty blurb I’m prepared to include. I firmly advise you to read the previous two books in this series before attempting this one. The world where the UK and France are still fractured into a number of states, where the Roman and pagan gods exist side by side, which provides a complex backdrop to the action.
Things have moved on for Sophie and Gray and in this book, there is far more in the viewpoint of Joanna, Sophie’s feisty younger sister and her very close friend and the love of her life, Gwendolyn. I really liked their relationship, which is sparky as they also have to negotiate the social norms of the time, which does not approve of, or acknowledge their love.
What worked really well for me was how Lucia and Roland’s relationship had to unfold. It’s an arranged marriage, providing peace, stability and more prosperity for the population of two kingdoms and it’s unthinkable that it won’t go ahead. But when they meet, Roland in particular, is underwhelmed at Lucia’s attitude. Reading how they had to negotiate this issue, I was aware that it isn’t often an arranged union is looked upon as anything other than a bad thing in fantasy novels. I also was delighted just to once more sink into this unique world Hunter has created and which I really love, given the care and detail she provides in her magic-making and the political strains that a fractured kingdom causes – nicely done.
Any niggles? I’ll own to being a tad frustrated that poor old Gray and Sophie were once more wrenched apart – I do enjoy seeing them together. Though it did underline just what danger everyone is facing when the threat from the continent becomes clear, that he is sent on such a hazardous mission. I also found the pacing towards the end of the story a tad uneven, in that the build-up was brimful of tension and the denouement did wrap everything up rather rapidly. However, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. And if Hunter decides to turn this trilogy into a quartet, I’ll happily read the next one, too. I just love the world she has created. Recommended for those who enjoy interesting alternate historical settings with their fantasy adventures.
I was delighted to see this offering on Netgalley, as Paul McAuley is always worth reading – I thoroughly enjoyed his cli-fi thriller Austral and the first book in his sci fi series The Quiet War.
BLURB: On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The worldbuilding, as ever with McAuley, was both detailed and plausible. But what I liked most of all about this story was that we mostly stayed in the viewpoint of the lawman, known as a lucidor, who is determined to track down a truly horrible antagonist – a murderer who casually commits atrocities, and enjoying watching his victims suffer. Unfortunately, he is also one of the foremost scientific thinkers on the planet who is able to help fight the influx of mutated creatures engulfing villages, countryside and towns, slaughtering humanity, domestic animals and wildlife alike. There are some gripping passages of the ruined landscape where no birds or insects break the silence…
So, who is right – the dogged lucidor who is convinced that Remfrey He should account for the lives he has torn apart? Or the authorities who feel that, in this extremely unusual case, Remfrey He should be allowed to atone for his misdeeds by travelling to the site of the suffering land to assist in beating back the alter women? These grotesque mutations have a social structure resembling ants and gather everything in their path to tear up and reuse it for their own purposes – including people.
Remfrey He is one of the most satisfyingly nasty characters I’ve encountered in a while, and by contrast, I grew to love the lucidor, whose name we hardly ever see. He has adopted his birth name, Thorn, after he retired from his profession of tracking down lawbreakers, when he was known as Lucidor Kyl. He is elderly, tough, resourceful and trusts no one and we’re in his head for a large chunk of the narrative. This story starts off as one man tracking another through an increasingly dangerous landscape, and broadens out as the lucidor is sucked into some of the upheavals caused by the dangerous mutations.
One of the intriguing details is that some people are gifted with particular talents, such as scrying. As well as being brilliant and resourceful, Remfrey He is a silvertongue, with the gift of persuading most people to become his disciples. And the reason why the lucidor was sent after him, is that his gift nullifies the talents of those in close proximity. I liked how that played out, because the consequence is that other people who might be able to successfully apprehend Remfrey He don’t want to work with the lucidor, as he sucks their gift dry.
This isn’t a fast-paced book. McAuley’s habit of writing dense description about every step of the way ensures that we see the world through the lucidor’s eyes and his days of plunging headlong into adventures are well and truly over. But I not only could see the world, I could taste and hear it, as this book swallowed me up and had me engrossed until right up to the end. It’s a gem that deserves to be far better known than it is. Highly recommended by fans of well-written intelligent colony world adventures and epic fantasy. The ebook arc copy of War of the Maps was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I’d read the hardback version of this book when it first was released and thoroughly enjoyed it – I love Tiffany Aching – and also read it aloud to the oldest grandchild. But this was the first time I’d had the pleasure of listening to the story…
BLURB: No real witch would casually step out of their body, leaving it empty. Tiffany Aching does. And there’s something just waiting for a handy body to take over. Something ancient and horrible, which can’t die. To deal with it, Tiffany has to go to the very heart of what makes her a witch . . .
While this book can be read as a standalone, it will make more sense if you have read the previous Tiffany Aching book, The Wee Free Men, which also features the little blue-skinned, tartan-wearing, fight-loving fae folk who live on the chalk. What you don’t have to do is read the previous thirty-one Discworld books to enjoy this offering, as it is part of a spin-off series more precisely aimed at younger readers. This adult, like many others, absolutely loved it.
I had registered, when reading, what a quirky authorial viewpoint Pratchett adopts but listening to it really brought home just how much he tends to cover in semi-omniscience, so that we get the author as storyteller nested within the narrative. I’m still trying to work out why it doesn’t grate with me, when generally it’s a point of view I hate. It probably helps that it is often very funny – which was the other aspect that struck me while listening. I was regularly laughing aloud at the exchanges between Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegles and on one particular occasion, Tiffany and Granny Weatherwax.
The Nac Mac Feegle have adopted Tiffany as their ‘wee hag’ – their witch – and when they realise she is in danger, a hand-picked band of tiny warriors led by the brave Rob Anybody set off after her to try and save her. Their adventures are both hilarious and full of tension, something Pratchett does very well.
Tiffany is a wonderful character, yet reading this one reminded me all over again just how awesome Granny Weatherwax is – I’m aiming to use her as my role model. Though perhaps without the faded, tatty black dress, hand-made hat and hobnailed boots. I love Pratchett’s take on witchcraft and suspect, somewhat sadly, that many elderly women burnt in previous centuries as witches had adopted the role of doctor and agony aunt in the manner of hardworking Mistress Level, the witch to whom Tiffany is apprenticed. Because under the jokes and humour are some important messages – that there is power in giving, as well as taking and that often cruelty and aggression is often born of fear, rather than strength.
This read is definitely a mood-boosting book and comes highly recommended to fans of quirky, enjoyable writing – Pratchett is one of those rare authors who defies genre boundaries.
I read and enjoyed Termination Shock – see my review – so I was pleased to see Interdicted Space available at Netgalley and was delighted to be approved to read and review it.
BLURB: The universe needs saving, but is this makeshift crew really the stuff of superheroes?
Nivala’s first interstellar patrol is interrupted by extremely unwelcome visitors. Mallivan may have to take them on board; he doesn’t have to like it. His vociferous crewmembers certainly don’t. He is right to be concerned. The youngest member of the team is in imminent, grave danger. People covet her privileged link to the mighty Chakran aliens, who can unlock spacetime itself…
While I enjoyed the first book, this is the one where Andrews hits her stride. Mallivan has always been good at thinking on his feet, but we see him continue to grow in experience as he continually gets pitchforked into the middle of life or death situations. I like the fact that he finds himself having to cope with the fact that some of those he leads into fights don’t return – the fact that people die matter in this adventure. And we also have Bull Cunningham making a reappearance – the antagonist I particularly love to hate. He’s well drawn. Charming and persuasive, he manages to make his stance sound very plausible – and it’s an interesting change to see the representatives for humanity on the wrong side, morally, which puts Mallivan at odds with his own species…
There is an interesting mix of aliens serving alongside Mallivan, mostly having been thrown together in the former book – particularly featuring young Zenzie, the eight-year-old who is bound to Mallivan by the ‘Savior Protocols’ after he saved her life, for as long as she lives. An offspring of a formidably gifted race, she was frankly something of an unbearable brat in the first book – however, this time around, while she still has her smug moments, there is a major plotline involving her and I was a bit shaken at just how emotionally invested I was in her continued wellbeing. It takes some writing chops to turn around a reader’s initial perception of a character to the degree that Andrews manages during the course of Interdicted Space.
I also liked the fact that Andrews clearly knows her science – in amongst the mayhem, we get plenty of slices of techie information that satisfied my inner nerd, without slowing the pace or throwing us out of the story. The only sticky point in this pleasing adventure, was the info dump right at the beginning, which I could have done without. Once that was out of the way, the pace picked up and I was swept away by the problems of Nivala and her plucky crew. I’m delighted that the third book in the series was published in January – I’ll be getting hold of it. Space opera this entertainingly enjoyable is not to be passed up when I’m this desperate for escapist adventure. Highly recommended for space opera fans – though I’d advise you to get hold of Termination Shock first. Like many indie books, these are very reasonably price and represent excellent value for money. The ebook arc copy of Interdicted Space was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
I liked the look of the cover and the premise intrigued me, so I was delighted to read and review this one…
BLURB: A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work. On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.
This was an interesting read. There was a lot about this book that was very familiar – the dystopian neo-future world, where large corporate firms, in this case, drug companies, were producing all sorts of drugs which were less about healing and more about extracting the maximum amount of efficiency from workers. Capitalism is red in tooth and claw, throwing away people when they no longer serve the bottom line, as in the profit margin. Slavery has become acceptable, both of cyborgs and by extension, humans, although they are known as indentured.
Jack, a former research scientist, who has crossed to many lines to be regarded as a legal citizen, now produces bootleg drugs for those who cannot afford the real thing. But when one of those drugs proves to be lethal, she finds that she has drawn down unwelcome attention. The team sent out to reel her in and put a stop to her activities is a partnership between experienced Elias and Paladin, a newly built military-grade cyborg which contains a human brain. However, his memory has been compromised and he is having to learn the craft of interacting with humans and putting the skills he’s learnt in a training programme to use in the field.
It took me a while to warm to this one. The characters are not innately likeable or easy to get to know. However, as we gradually learn more about Jack and her past, I became far more sympathetic to her stance. The interesting aspect of this book is the attitude to sex. It isn’t unusual for there to be a protagonist with a casual attitude towards sex, which Jack certainly demonstrates in her relationship with Threezed. However, it isn’t an equal relationship and although it is the young runaway who instigates sex, Newitz makes it clear that because the power relationship between the two characters is so unequal, the sexual relationship is almost inevitably abusive – something Jack would not perceive to be the case. The relationship between the experienced, not-quite-burnt-out human field agent and the raw, newbie cyborg is also an uncomfortable one. Paladin picks up the fact that Elias finds him physically attractive, despite struggling with the fact that he is defined as male. So Paladin decides to reinvent herself as female, in order to please him. It’s taken me a while to work out my thoughts on this interesting book.
Overall, it is an examination of power relationships. Not just those that go to make a dystopian society where selling children for sex and working people to death is the ultimate consequence of using profit margins and market forces to run society – but how such inequalities play out on a personal level. I enjoyed the world building and tech in this near-future world which I thought worked well. However, the pacing was a bit lumpy in places, particularly at the beginning. Overall, though, I enjoyed this one and recommend it to fans of dystopian near-future adventures.
I thoroughly enjoyed Crouch’s super-charged sci fi thriller Dark Matter – see my review – and so was keen to get hold of this one, as many folks whose opinion I respect said Recursion was better than Dark Matter. So I was absolutely delighted to discover that I’d won a beautiful hardback copy in a giveaway organised by Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy.
BLURB: What if someone could rewrite your entire life?
‘My son has been erased.’
Those are the last words the woman tells Barry Sutton before she leaps from the Manhattan rooftop. Deeply unnerved, Barry begins to investigate her death only to learn that this wasn’t an isolated case. All across the country, people are waking up to lives different from the ones they fell asleep to. Are they suffering from False Memory Syndrome, a mysterious, new disease that afflicts people with vivid memories of a life they never lived? Or is something far more sinister behind the fracturing of reality all around him?
This one starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Like Dark Matter, Crouch gives his sci fi premise a real contemporary thriller feel with the punchy pacing and driving narrative. The surprise-filled, twisting plot sucks you in and doesn’t let go until the last page, so that I read this one in two greedy gulps and judging from the comments of other reviewers, I’m not alone in being unable to put this one down until the end. One of Crouch’s strengths is that I really cared about the two main protagonists. Both Barry and Helena are good people, trying to do their best in increasingly dreadful circumstances and I held my breath, hoping against hope that – somehow – they’d prevail.
I was pleased to see that even the main antagonist had strong reasons for doing what he’d done, so that while I couldn’t condone his actions, I could at least understand them. I really liked the way the stakes around this huge discovery kept getting greater, until that terrible climactic scene in the middle of New York… I had to put the book down for a while at that point, as I needed to draw breath.
Of course, the catch with raising the stakes so very high, is that the denouement and ending have to be able to match them. While it hadn’t been a dealbreaker, I wasn’t wholly happy with the end of Dark Matter. However this time around, Crouch brings the story to a great conclusion, with plenty of poignancy and heartache along the way. Far too often, apocalyptic sci fi focuses on the geeky consequences of the catastrophe, leaving characters with all the charisma of cardboard cutouts – not so Crouch. I minded what happened to these people and felt very invested in their ultimate wellbeing. As I rather shakily closed this book for the last time, I took a couple of deep breaths, feeling very relieved that I wasn’t a character in one of Crouch’s worlds.
It was the title of this one that caught my eye – and the thought that it might appeal to my rather picky grandson, given his love of the Lemony Snickett series. But I was also keen to tuck into this rather gothic-sounding children’s adventure…
BLURB: April didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t even the one who broke the vase. She had absolutely no intention of becoming the only person who knows that Gabriel Winterborne, the missing-and-presumed-dead billionaire, is neither missing nor dead and is actually living in the basement of Winterborne House, sharpening his swords and looking for vengeance. Now that April knows Gabriel Winterborne is alive, it’s up to her to keep him that way. But there’s only so much a twelve-year-old girl can do, so April must turn to the other orphans for help. Together, they’ll have to unravel the riddle of a missing heir and a creepy legend, and find a secret key, before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.
This book starts with a bang as April finds herself caught up in a museum fire, giving us a good opportunity to bond with the main protagonist. I found April to be very engaging – she’s an orphan who has bounced around the highly unsatisfactory care system and been with a number of foster-families. She could so easily have been a victim, but is far too tough and wary – although her dogged belief that her mother will, one day, come for her is a poignant reminder of her vulnerability.
After finding herself living in the Winterborne House with the lovely, generous Ms Nelson and a group of other orphans, April becomes aware that all is not what it seems – and the adventure takes off from there. Fast-paced and occasionally taking the children’s ingenuity and stamina beyond the bounds of belief, I nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed the rollicking story.
However, my main grizzle is that this story was left on something of a cliffhanger ending, and neither Goodreads nor Amazon have indicated that this is the first in a series. Obviously Carter is assuming there will be another book, but it would be nice if her young readers had some reassurance of that fact, too. And yes… I have knocked a point off, as I happen to think it’s important. The ebook arc copy of Winterborne House for Vengeance and Valor was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.