Tag Archives: coming of age

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Nophek Gloss – Book 1 of The Graven series by Essa Hansen #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #NophekGlossbookreview #SciFiMonth2020

Standard

It was the cover of this one that caught my eye – it looked intriguing and the premise was great. So I was delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy it – I’ve been a bit disappointed with some of the space opera I’ve been reading, recently. And I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.

BLURB: Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans. He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

REVIEW: Well this one started with a bang! The book starts with the terrifying experience in young Caiden’s life that defines most of the resultant action within the story – I liked that. It meant that I knew exactly what had driven him.

While there are the usual tropes that occur within the genre, Hansen takes them and gives them an interesting spin. I liked the idea of the various universes – and an alien race whose relationship with them is quite different. I also liked the fact that rampant capitalism, which is a staple of this genre, is more nuanced and complicated within this world. In fact the worldbuilding works really well, which isn’t always the case in a book where the character development is so well done. I loved the crew of the ship that rescues Caiden. Each one of them has dark backstories of their own and were either able to use their own experiences to help the boy – or found interacting with him simply too painful.
Hansen’s layered characterisation, so that none of the protagonists are completely good or bad, shone through. As for Threi – Caiden’s initial antagonist – he has to be one of the standout villains of the year, for me.

One of the major themes in this book is how to cope with a terrible trauma. How do you avoid being twisted into a ball of vengeful fury? How do you overcome the pain and anger of injustice so you don’t go on reproducing that on others you interact with? And no… Hansen doesn’t fall back on Pollyanna-ish truisms to help Caiden fight his inner demons.

The plotting in this one is also spot on. I always love it when you are introduced to a person or creature at the beginning of the book as one thing, to find that actually, it is something quite different. Hansen uses this throughout the story to continue producing fresh plot twists throughout. In short, this is one of my favourite space opera adventures of the year – accomplished, well-crafted and packed full of action. It held me throughout and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next in the series. Highly recommended for fans of well written, character-led space opera set in a strong world.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Deadly Education – Book 1 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik #Brainfluffbookreview #ADeadlyEducationbookreview

Standard

I am a fan of Novik’s writing – see my reviews of Spinning Silver, Uprooted and Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, Blood of Tyrants and League of Dragons of the Temeraire series, so when I saw that she’d written a school-based fantasy, which I have a real fondness for – we pre-ordered it…

BLURB: A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.


REVIEW: Galadriel Higgins is a hard case. Having been rejected for what she has the potential to do – and an unfortunately bleak prophesy by her dead father’s mother – all her life, she grits her teeth, hunkers down and gets on with it. And what she is getting on with, is getting an education in a magical school, where there are no teachers and the place crawls with deeply unpleasant monsters. Yes… I know – the business with no teachers bothered me when I first heard about it, but Novik makes it work.

However, the problem is that there are unpleasant monsters outside the school, too, where they tend to seek out magically gifted youngsters. At least within the school, there are some protections. And if you’re a member of an enclave, you also have a ready-made team to watch your back – although El, as she is known, doesn’t have that either… She is a gloriously spiky, bad tempered protagonist, whose contrariness is a joy to read. Novik weaves past and present details of her life in the first-person narrative really effectively and I was drawn in from the first page, and didn’t want to stop reading until I reached the end.

The story works well, with plenty of adventure and action – and throughout the story, El finally manages to gather a small team around her, who are also well depicted. I liked the fact that amongst the mayhem and deaths, there are some lovely humorous moments. The crisis point is deftly handled, with plenty of tension such that I read faaar into the early morning to discover what happens to whom. But what now has me itching to read the next book, The Last Graduate, is the final plot twist – which both Himself and I agree is a gamechanger and has us both impatient to get our hands on the sequel. Highly recommended for fans of magical school series.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Unconquerable Sun – Book 1 of The Sun Chronicles by Kate Elliott #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #UnconquerableSunbookreview

Standard

I have been a fan of Kate Elliott’s writing for a long time – see my reviews of the Crown of Stars series and Cold Magic. So when I heard that she was writing a space opera, reverse-gender version of Alexander the Great’s life – I was extremely excited.

BLURB: GENDER-SWAPPED ALEXANDER THE GREAT ON AN INTERSTELLAR SCALE
Princess Sun has finally come of age. Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared. But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

REVIEW: I don’t know all that much about Alexander the Great’s life, especially his upbringing. But if he had even half of the issues to deal with when growing up that poor Sun is confronted with, then it’s hardly surprising that he grew up to conquer a goodly chunk of the known world. After all, it would be the only way to keep himself and those he cared about safe.

This full-scale adventure set in space has a fairly complicated setup, and I needed to pay attention, as Elliott doesn’t do large info-dumps (yippee!). It is also in multiple point of view, though the first-person viewpoint is in Persephone Lee, who is trying to escape from a toxic upbringing, where love and approval are in short supply.

Sun, the fiery and charismatic heir of a charismatic and fiery ruler, isn’t in any danger of getting too much parental praise, either. Her mother, the legendary queen-marshal, who managed to stabilise Chaonia and turn it into a state to be reckoned with, tends to spectacularly butt heads with her daughter. And there are plenty around her who are only too willing to see Sun disinherited and disgraced for their own political ends. Initially, I had thought this was going to be one of those tense, court intrigues where a single misstep or unguarded remark can have dire consequences. I wasn’t unhappy with the prospect as I rather enjoy that dynamic – but when it all kicked off, the full-tilt forward momentum was breathless, sharpened when several of Sun’s beloved and trusted companions die.

I loved this one. It’s over 500 pages long, but it certainly didn’t feel like it and I reached the climactic and satisfying ending with a sense of loss. I wanted more, which is always a good sign. Elliott hits all the main tropes of space opera with panache, including a cracking space battle that had me holding my breath as I turned the pages – and I’m now really, really looking forward to the next book in the series.

Very highly recommended for fans of fast-moving space opera with dynamic characters and plenty of plot twists. While I obtained an arc of Unconquerable Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 23rd August, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

This week has been a lot cooler, with lots of rain, which Himself has found a huge relief. On Thursday, I spent the day with the grandchildren, looking after them during the afternoon while my daughter went to meet a friend. I took them to the swing park and spent the time running around after Eliza like a bothered hen. She’s just at the stage where she’s mobile enough to get into serious trouble and too young to understand any danger… However, the elder two are brilliant with her – she is so lucky to have such lovely brothers! It was a treat to be able to spend so much time with them.

On Saturday, my sister and I were all set to go shopping, but the aftermath of the storm on Friday night meant we still had gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Neither of us were in the mood to hustle through the wind and rain in sodden masks, so we postponed our outing and instead had a cuppa and a sticky bun together at my place. This morning Himself and I went for a walk along the beach, which where this week’s photos were taken – we were lucky enough to dodge the rain.

My website www.sjhigbee.com has had a makeover! Ian has done a wonderful job of making it a lot spiffier and easy to load – and tidied it up so that my growing number of books aren’t making it look too cluttered. I’ve started working on the video clips I’m producing in conjunction with my book How to Write Compelling Characters. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. But I must get back to writing, as I’m definitely getting a bit antsy and short-tempered…

Last week I read:
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court…
This tense, political thriller is a joy – I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it and now I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the next book. The tight focus on the main character reminds me of C.J. Cherryh’s writing… Review to follow.

Afterland by Lauren Beukes
They’ll call her a bad mother.
Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back.
She’s setting him free.
Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible.
It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son.
I struggled with this one a bit – partly because of the subject matter. But mostly because I didn’t like Cole, or anyone else all that much – other than poor, manipulated Miles. Review to follow.

NOVELLA Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules… Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life. Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
This was the perfect read after the intensity of Afterland, and thoroughly enjoyable, the only drawback being that the end came far too quickly. Mini-review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.
Another stormingly good read – I absolutely loved Khai and Zariya, who both tried their hardest to be the best they could be, without coming across as unduly good or sickeningly perfect. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Musings

Review of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished – Book 3 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

A Déjà vu Review of A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Friday Face-off featuring The Potion Diaries – Book 1 of The Potion Diaries series by Amy Alward

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Fearless by Allen Stroud

Tuesday Treasures – 9

Cover Love #1 featuring the covers of Marie Brennan’s books

Review of Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 16th August 2020

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

When will nineteenth-century Frenchman learn that hot air balloon duels are a BAD IDEA
https://twitter.com/DigiVictorian/status/1297202584520986624https://sjhigbee.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/sunday-post-16th-august-2020-brainfluffbookblog-sundaypost/ For sheer whackiness, this takes some beating – especially if you read the article…

In a world where you can be anything, be kind… https://twitter.com/DaviesWriter/status/1296217576436051969 I would add, looking at this clip, you also need to be knowledgeable about how to restrain such a powerful bird – and brave.

I Saw 5 How Many Faces Do You See? https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 For those among you who like puzzles. I saw 6 by the way…

Midsummer 2020 https://twitter.com/PopMathobela/status/1296824378618007559 I am so thrilled that Inese is back with her fabulous photos – even if I am a tad late with that realisation!

This is a good technique if you’re a complete psycho… https://twitter.com/AlisonMossCI/status/1295338698381418496 Poorly titled, I think. Because this is a LIFESAVER if you’re drowning in faaar too many plastic bags you daren’t throw away on account of not wanting to destroy the planet…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheSinEaterbookreview

Standard


It was the cover that did it for me with this one – isn’t it sumptuous? I’ve also recently been enjoying my SFF with a serving of history in some form. So I requested this one and was delighted when I received the arc.

BLURB: Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?

A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town. Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.

REVIEW: It took me a while to really get into this one, chiefly because I was slightly irritated at the sheer thinness of the disguise regarding the world. The names of the kings and queens were very nearly taken from the Tudor dynasty and the religious turmoil was depicted, but with different names. The Old King even had six wives… I found it distracting and a tad annoying that this fantasy version followed the actual world so very closely – but the town where May lives didn’t feel large or sufficiently varied to be the London of Elizabeth I. The court didn’t feel right, either.

However, as I continued reading and became more emotionally invested in May and engrossed in the story, I ceased minding so much. I have, however, knocked a point off because it initially did affect my pleasure and the speed with which I became invested in the story. That said, once I got over my issues with the scene setting, I really cared about May and really enjoyed her progression through the story. She starts out as a half-starved waif, still reeling from the death of her father, and then finds herself in a terrible situation – that of a Sin Eater. I was aware of the custom, but Campisi makes it far more widespread than it actually was, by also having specific foodstuffs representing particular sins, which is something May has to learn. I also enjoyed how Campisi tweaked several old nursery rhymes to allude to rite of sin-eating.

The distressing aspect of becoming a Sin Eater is how ostracised May becomes. No one will look at her, speak to hear or touch her. She is treated as a leper. Campisi deals well with May’s shock and sense of loss very well, and as we see her start to become acclimatised to her new status, I also appreciated her innate gutsy outlook and instinct for survival. However, despite being a social outcast, the Sin Eater also has access to the best houses in the land, once someone is dying or has died. And May discovers this is a very mixed blessing when that access means she becomes inadvertently caught up in a high-level plot.

Throughout the book, she is constantly trying to work out whether she is a pious, upstanding young woman her father would be proud of – or essentially wicked like her mother’s family. How should she cope with the temptations that come her way? I really appreciated that Campisi gave May the opportunity to tussle over these questions – because it is exactly what would have occupied a girl in the 16th century, who would have been very concerned about the state of her soul and whether she would suffer the agonies of everlasting fire, or at last find her way to heaven.

In amongst the steady growth of May’s confidence in her way of life, there is also that plot concerning the Queen’s attendants. I did know of the stories that this alludes to, though I think it was well handled and provided a climactic and suitably dramatic ending to what proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. While I obtained an arc of The Sin Eater from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10










*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi #Brainfluffbookreview #ScarletOdysseybookreview

Standard


This one was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies and I scampered across and pre-ordered it. I’m so sorry – I cannot recall who it was who suggested it! So… did I enjoy it?

BLURB: Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.

REVIEW: This epic fantasy is set in an African landscape, where the warring tribes and kingdoms are firmly nested within the culture and magic of the continent. I absolutely loved it, particularly as Rwizi tips us into the world and expects the reader to work a bit to put it all together. I always enjoy SFF that presents a strong three-dimensional world, full of nuances and strong characters – and if I have to pay attention to work out exactly how it all fits together, then that’s fine.

I quickly fell in love with Salo, the apparently timid boy who is paralysed with fear when facing dangerous creatures and can’t fight all that well. Having become very familiar with the dynamic where women and girls are ostracised for wanting to move out of the domestic sphere, I found it a refreshing change that Salo is shunned for not being a warrior, instead being drawn to magic – normally the preserve of the women of the tribe.

Though this form of sorcery isn’t for the faint-hearted. Mastery of magic requires pain and sacrifice and in order to access some of the more powerful layers, lines have to be crossed. It rapidly becomes a lot darker, when the requirement becomes what you have to offer up what you love most… and no, we’re not talking about your favourite item of clothing or jewellery. I was a bit shaken at the brutal cost of it. However, I thought about my reaction and wondered why this magical system struck me as particularly violent. Because it’s not as if European fantasy is remotely cosy, either – but I’ve grown up with that dynamic and am accustomed to how it works. Ditto the stories of sand and sorcery I’ve been reading recently, such as the Daevabad trilogy – just think of Dara’s bloody backstory – but I was acclimatised to tales about djinn since I was a girl. Not so with African magic, which I know very little about. Aspects of it are bloody, coercive and thoroughly dark – like magic systems everywhere else and I think it’s the unfamiliarity of its workings that makes it seem particularly grim.

My mention of S.A. Chakrobarty’s Daevabad trilogy isn’t accidental – the immersive worldbuilding, strong characterisation and complex magical system in Scarlet Odyssey reminded me of many aspects of The City of Brasssee my review – including the long, eventful journey. The major difference is the lack of a romantic thread, which I don’t mind at all. I am so impressed with this debut novel – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in an African setting.
9/10


Review of INDIE Ebook Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik #Brainfluffbookreview #RelativelyStrangebookreview

Standard

I suffered a real book hangover after reading Witch Dust – see my review – so I was delighted when I discovered this paranormal psi-fi adventure. And right now I had no problem in bouncing it right to the stop of my very long TBR list…

BLURB: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man.
Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

It’s hard to know what’s normal, if you’re not, and it takes Stella a while to realise she’s in the definitely ‘not’ drawer. But we are who we are and we make adjustments to fit in – most of the time – and it’s only when she finds she’s not quite as unique as she thought, that things begin to acquire a whole new dimension. Forced to call on resources she didn’t know she possessed and thrust headlong into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, Stella is suddenly face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.

REVIEW: As in Witch Dust, it is the strong first-person narrative voice that beguiled me from the first line and held me throughout. It doesn’t hurt that Messik also had the pacing nailed and took us through the very conventional timeline of her infancy, youth and into her early adulthood with a mixture of anecdotes, scenes and humorous asides that pulled me right into her world. This story could have been presented with the emotional tone dialled up to the max, full of angst and pain – Stella has plenty of scary moments that had the capacity to knock her endways, after all. But that gutsy, determined toughness that characterised her grandmother and her great-aunts and their eccentricities has given her resilience and a self-belief nourished by her parents. I completely believed that her family successfully managed to keep her abilities shielded from prying eyes, while persuading her to keep them hidden, without overly daunting her.

The unfolding story of how she discovers that there are those who are far too interested into her and her abilities kept me turning the pages. Stella is a baby-boomer, born in the 1950s, and I completely believed the worldbuilding and historical era – and I’d have known if there had been any false notes, as I was also born just a few years later. The other characters who people this gripping adventure are vividly drawn. And although there are some shocking events, Stella’s narrative voice both manages to effectively depict the seriousness of what happens, yet offer a sense of hope – which I really need in my reading matter, these days.

I also like her trick of producing a number of plot twists that change up the stakes and pull Stella into a rescue mission that will place her in danger to the extent that she is exposed to a fate worse than death. And no – we’re not talking about any kind of sexual encounter – we’re talking about a real fate that would be worse than dying… Hamlet the dog is also awesome, by the way. I’m conscious that in my determination not to provide any kind of Spoiler, I have sold this book short, but the pacing, narrative voice and twisty plot provided one of the most satisfying reads of the year to date – and I’m delighted that I have two more books in this series waiting for me on my Kindle. Highly recommended.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Silhouettes are reductions… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffsilhouettecovers #WyrdandWonder2020

Standard

 

This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with SILHOUETTES. I’ve selected Dark Lord of Derkholm – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones – see my review. I am linking this post to Wyrd and Wonder 2020.

 

This offering was produced by HarperCollins Children’s Books in August 2013 – though as far as I’m concerned, this is NOT a children’s book as it has a scene including rape and sexual exploitation, even though it isn’t at all graphic and in places is very funny. Back to the cover – this is the one that came to mind when I thought of silhouettes and I think it is an enjoyable effort, although probably just a tad too cluttered to be truly effective. With such a genre mash-up, it’s often difficult to encompass the mood and themes, but I think this cover succeeds in giving a sense of the book.

 

Published in April 2001 by HarperTeen, this cover features Kit the Griffin and Derk enacting one of their more dramatic battle scenes. It’s a lovely and accomplished cover, full of action – but my quibble is that I’m not sure you get a true sense of what is really going on. The book is a satire, using fantastical tropes to highlight what is happening to some of the most beautiful parts of our planet and there isn’t a hint of that in this cover.

 

This German edition, published by Knaur in April 2018, is another dramatic offering, though I also get a sense of the humour on the expression of that magnificent dragon. I also love the overall design – and while not usually a huge fan of borders, the way this one evolves out of the flames engulfing the castle against the night sky is eye-catching and effective. It is so nearly my favourite…

 

This edition, published in 2000 by Millennium is another beautiful cover – and unusual in that the five-star treatment has been given to the author name, rather than the title. The glowing backlighting sings out – although the actual lettering rather fades into the textured background – I’m guessing the print version of this cover looked stunning. However in thumbnail it isn’t quite so successful – though that doesn’t stop the artwork being fabulous.


This Japanese edition, published by 東京創元社 in 2002 is glorious. It has taken the book and nested the author’s amazing fantastical animals within a Japanese setting, which works perfectly. So the design is beautiful as well as giving a sense of the parody and satire of the book. This is my favourite cover. Which one do you prefer?

Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles is now FREE!

Standard

From today and throughout the weekend, Mantivore Dreams is FREE. Just click on the cover below, or the cover in the sidebar and it will take you to your Amazon outlet.



BLURB: On a colony planet, in a hot, dusty village where no one wants to live, is someone who was exiled there a long time ago. Someone who stole something so precious, others are prepared to lie, kidnap and murder to get it back.

Drawn into this web of deceit is Kyrillia, a teenager who dreams of running the village’s branch of the Node, the planetwide organic information system, but instead drudges for her mother…

Seth, member of the disgraced Priest family who can read and write, but instead toils as a day labourer on the smelliest, most thankless jobs in the village, in exchange for scraps of food and temporary shelter…

And Vrox, an ancient, sentient alien who lives only in Kyrillia’s imagination, or so she thinks…

When Kyrillia sneaks into the Node and opens up a forbidden site, she triggers a chain of events that not only rips through her own life, but affects those living thousands of miles away in the capital. For when something so precious goes missing, others will stop at nothing to get it back.

What inspired me to write this series were a couple of ideas that I wanted to explore. I have always been interested in the concept of power – who wants it; who thinks they have it; and who actually has it. Most stories are about power, I think. This time, I wanted to put it right at the forefront of the narrative, because it is often disguised as something else.

Another notion that fascinates me is what defines an alien – and the answer ultimately has to be their difference. But what if they aren’t quite as different as we all thought they were? Particularly if that alien species is telepathic and can lock onto human thoughts under special circumstances, especially those of young children. And what if a vulnerable child comes to rely on the comfort and love provided by an elderly alien who lives half a world away? What if she grows up as a Cinderella figure? And her Prince Charming isn’t someone who can whisk her away from the drudgery and shield her from the danger, because he, too, has fallen through the cracks that are supposed to keep youngsters safe.

So that is the dynamic I started with, which is why this story is something of a mash-up. It’s not a classic alien story, but neither does the romance power the narrative – it’s about someone powerful hunting for something they want. However the answer is far more complicated and tricky than they know. Than anyone knows…


Below is a sneak peek at the beginning of CHAPTER ONE…

I held my breath. At last! I’d begun to think I’d never track down this music site. A picklist unfolded and I gawked at the strange words. Classical. Youth Cultures. Popular Cultures. Devotional. Ethnic.
What did they mean? Surely music was just a dance tune, or a song? I jabbed at the first one. Yet another picklist unpeeled onto the mat. Much longer. The words tasted strange as I sounded the musicians’ names aloud. “Beethave- no -hoven… Mozz-art…Ta-ch— simply don’t have the time to sound that one out.” I went for a short name – Bach. What did his Family do, to earn a Name like that?
My eyes slid down the picklist of his tunes and found a piece about organs with something about a minor D. Probably a comedy. I hoped so – I could do with a laugh.
“Play.” I breathed in the thick, sweet smell, storing up the sensation of Facs-mining on the Node – something I didn’t do nearly enough. Looking across at the bubbling organi-packs glowing in their transparent tanks, I wished I could spend more time here, rather than snatch these forbidden stints when Mother was away.
The sound pealed out. What was the instrument? The notes seemed to stop, then to stack up on each other as they roared around the room, making Mother’s flower vases buzz on the stone floor. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard. Torrents of melody attacked, drowning me in a rush of yearning. Everything seemed bright, and achingly beautiful.
The final crashing chord faded into silence.
Vrox sways, crooning with delight…
“Again.” I closed my eyes as the monumental music thundered around me. I was Tranced by Vrox’s joy as his emotion rolled through me, swept along by the reverberating climax—
I was stunned by a hard blow. And another. My hurt-hot ear rang with the impact. My cheek felt numb and heavy; my mouth filled with blood.
Vrox rears up, startled – sorry he hadn’t noticed her approach…
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Mother shrieked over the music. Her distorted face shivered in my vision for a shock-stalled eternity. Snatches of her rant filtered through Bach’s bone-buzzing crescendo, making her fury seem even worse, “…-icked girl… -ways think you know best… –dare to override my passwor…” The organ tune stopped abruptly, just as she screamed, “…ate you! I hate you…
Her words echoed horribly in the small room.
I jerked to my feet. She’s finally admitted it. Axe-sharp hurt immediately snuffed out the flicker of relief, that I’d been right all these years. “Think I don’t know?” My voice shook, on the edge of tears. But grown girls of seventeen shouldn’t cry in front of their mothers. I spun round, stumbling over a vase, and ran. Out into the hot sunlight. Past the stable, whose sharp smell reminded me I still hadn’t mucked out the camel stall or goat pens. I scrabbled at the keycode on the sidegate, my shaking fingers making a hash of it.
She ran after me, yelling my name. Her panting echoed between the house and high fence, getting closer. Finally, as Vrox focused, I got the sequence right. The gate snicked open as she grabbed for my arm. I twisted away, the burn of her nails raking my skin. Skidding through the gate, I slammed it shut in her face. I sprinted across the front yard and past the first startled Node enquirer of the day, over the village courtyard, heading for Westgate. Heat settled like a greasy coat as I raced down Main Street, dust clotting my nose and throat.
At Westgate, Cupert Peaceman, the village security guard, dodged out of the way. Just as well, because I wasn’t stopping for him, or anyone else. Ignoring several calls, driven by the need to get away, I finally slowed, winded and hurting, on the open road where the verges were widened to discourage hostile wildlife. The sun beat down in a suffocating sheet.
Haven’t got a sunscreen – better find some shade. I tottered along on chewed-string legs, coughing up dust. Mother would say it was my punishment. The thought of her pushed me on.
Turning onto Mantivore Way was a relief. The palm tree clumps offered shade and the smell of the water strengthened my legs. I pushed through the shoulder-high reeds, which used to swish over my head, swallowing me whole. Moist leaves slapped against my sore legs. I broke off a brown-brittled stem, whipping it around and stamping noisily to frighten off any lone jaspers or nemmets sheltering from the sun. River silt seeped through my sandals, soothing my feet as I paddled in the murky water. Reaching my sanctuary – a stranded treetrunk – I sat down and rested my eyes on the river.
Sunslit water glitters through the swaying stalks. Scents of river ooze and crushed leaves tickle Vrox’s nostrils. Wind rocks the reeds with a sighing rattle…
See? I was right. She really hates me… For once Vrox, my imaginary childhood companion, was wrong. He reckoned mothers found their daughters annoying, but that, deep down, they cared.
Vrox croons comfort noises, his vari-colour scales flickering in shades of green and blue.
His image flashed on my inscape, while his sympathy finally broke my resolve not to cry. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed until no more tears would come, while the mantivore paced and huffed his sympathy. Finally, I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and stared across the river, where a cargo boat laden with olives throbbed downstream, headed for Reseda. I watched it disappear around the bend, wishing I was on the deck. But then I’d forfeit my right to be Brarian. Waste Uncle Osmar’s painful effort. Besides, I wanted the job – the Node was the only place I felt truly happy. Other than this place. I stared hungrily at the peaceful patterning of light and water. If I came here more often maybe life would seem worth the effort it takes to breathe.
Vrox churrs a strong agreement…
A swishing of reeds warned me, so he faded from my consciousness before I heard the voice. “Kyrillia?”
I relaxed. “Here, Onice.”
“You braced?”
“I’ve been better.”
She high-stepped into the small space surrounding the treetrunk, and carefully sat on the trunk, lifting her skirts clear of the muddy water. “Saw you pelting down the road, so I figured you’d be here.” Handing me a sunscreen, she added, “You’d better borrow this.”
Typical of Onice to worry about me getting fried to a greasy spot. “Oh! Many thanks. I’ll get it back to you tomorrow.”
“She on to you, again?” Onice’s forehead creased in concern.
Grabbing at a reed stem, I rolled it between my fingers.
I hate you… Mother’s wrath-reddened face blazed through my mind as I opened my mouth to frame the words. And closed it. What could I say? I’d watched Onice bask in her parents’ affection with shocked envy ever since I’d been old enough to understand it. She knew that Mother and I fought – she regularly tangled with her own father. But she’d never make sense of Mother’s loathing for me.
And if she did, maybe she’d realise I wasn’t worth her friendship. I stared at the river. “Found that Music site on the Node and played a song. That was when she caught me.”
Onice clicked her tongue. “Bet what had her steaming was you breaking through her passwords and sneaking onto the Node. Again.”
“Hm.” The reed stem mashed to a papery pulp between my fingers. Onice never understood why I persisted in using the Node, despite Mother’s strict ban. But then, I hadn’t told her about Vrox and his constant longing for the Node, either.
“There’s talk about restarting an inter-village apprentice network, Da says. Some girl drowned herself last month in Pistacia cos of her family’s beatings. Maybe you could get yourself signed up for it.” So Onice figures I’ve angered Mother to breaking point.
I hate you… I pushed the memory away, trying to think straight.
“And if I get apprenticed away from here, what happens to Uncle Osmar? She wouldn’t take proper care of him.” I tore at another reed stem.
Onice shrugged. “You got to live your own life. Your Uncle’s had his chances.”
I sighed. It seemed a hard way to treat the old man, especially after all he’d taught me. But it was a sharp-edged situation and if there’d been an easy option I’d already have taken it.

April 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffApril2020Roundup

Standard


I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.

Reading
I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:

The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi
Shorefall – Book 2 of The Founders Trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Scythe – Dimension Drift prequel NOVELLA #1 by Christina Bauer
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. This is my EBOOK read of the month
Dead Eye – Book 1 of the Tiger’s Eye Mystery series by Alyssa Day
Arkadian Skies – Book 6 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
Q by Christina Dalcher
The Hedgeway SHORT STORY by Vivienne Tuffnell
A Little Bit Witchy – Book 1 of the Riddler’s Edge series by A.A. Albright
The Dark Side of the Road – Book 1 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel. This is my AUDIOBOOK read of the month
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing – Book 2 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
The Palm Tree Messiah by Sarah Palmer – manuscript read
Witch Dust – Book 1 of the Witch series by Marilyn Messik
Girls of Paper and Fire – Book 1 of Girls of Paper and Fire series by Natasha Ngan
After Seth by Caron Garrod

Writing
I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!

I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.

Blogging
I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx