Tag Archives: dark fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Fireskybookreview

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I’m a sucker for dragons – which is rather stating the obvious, given that I’m in the middle of writing a series allll about the trials and tribulations of Castellan the Black. So I loved the cover and the description of this book, and was delighted when I was able to get hold of an arc.

BLURB: Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.

Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…

REVIEW: I hadn’t appreciated that this was the second book in the series until I went looking for the details, as de Jager does a really good job of giving snippets of Stratus’s eventful backstory when it’s necessary. However, I assume that in order to get the best from this draconic adventure – the ideal would be to go and pick up Infernal before tucking into this offering.

While I did enjoy this book, I will mention that it is on the darker side of the fantasy genre. It is liberally splashed with gore throughout – Stratus has a suitably ferocious appetite and his diet isn’t remotely vegetarian. The magic featured is also particularly nasty, as the villainous wizards are necromancers which means they are up to their necks in death spells. While there are flashes of rather dark humour, I did break off in the middle to read something a bit lighter as I found the relentless violence and constant death a bit difficult to cope with. But do bear in mind that I’m dealing with Long Covid, so I’m not really looking for dark and doomy. That said – at no time was I tempted to stop reading this one.

Stratus is a wonderful character. He is in human form, but de Jager nails the aura of difference that surrounds him. At no stage in this longish book (544 pages) did I ever forget that Stratus is a dragon. It’s well done. Indeed, while de Jager isn’t an elegant writer – there were times when I was yanked out of the story because of the odd sentence construction, particularly in the beginning – he writes with passionate conviction. His descriptions of his apocalyptic settings are gripping and viscerally evoked, given that we see them through the filter of Stratus and his perceptions. The other impressive aspect of Stratus’s characterisation is that although his actions are often brutal and unpleasant, I was always firmly on his side. That’s a tricky balance to achieve – and one that de Jager triumphantly pulls off.

I loved the story arc and the fact that the pace and tension never let up throughout. And I also particularly enjoyed the ending. All in all, this is an entertaining, enjoyable read – and if you are a fan of epic fantasy on the darker side, then give this one a go. Stratus is a character that I shan’t forget in a hurry. While I obtained an arc of Firesky from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #6

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This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Review.

Life has been very busy this last fortnight. The good news is that I’ve now recovered from the flu jab and am definitely feeling a lot better. However, on the same day both our washing machine and hairdryer died. This is a major problem as Himself immediately changes out of his uniform and puts it straight into the washing machine as soon as he comes home from work, to cut down the risk of infection. We were able to order one online that arrived two days after our defunct washing machine joined the great laundry in the sky. And now we’ve found the express programme, I’m a lot happier with it. But I wasn’t pleased when the wretched thing took over TWO HOURS to deal with a load of delicates on a cold-water wash.

As for the hair dryer, I went with Himself to get a new one at the local Tesco’s. It was the first time I’ve been inside a supermarket for months – and when Himself went off on a hair dryer hunt, I froze. Suddenly terrified by the onslaught of lights… noises… complete sensory overload. And then I was shaking with fury. I’ve battled so damn hard to get to this stage – how dare Long Covid take away my confidence to go wherever I need to! I managed to haul myself together, but I will confess to having a meltdown once we got home. Himself, as ever, was endlessly kind and patient and suggested that we get out of the house more often to do things other than attend medical appointments. Which seems like a solid plan. Although the reality is a bit more challenging…

On Monday, I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan of my thyroid. And given my supermarket experience the day before – I was very focused on getting there and back without being overwhelmed. I wasn’t thinking at all about what they’d find on the scan – so I was rather blindsided to be told that I’ve nodules on my thyroid, one of which is pressing on my windpipe. The specialist is reasonably confident they are all benign and have been there a while. What has changed, courtesy of covid, is that my thyroid is quite swollen, which is why I’m now feeling the pressure in my throat. He was also concerned that one of my lymph glands is not just swollen but also misshapen, but I’m not surprised, given that it’s on the side where my ear is still constantly draining. He wants to see me in three months to monitor the situation and I need to discuss further options with my GP.

On Tuesday I was back at our local surgery for a chat about my blood pressure. The nurse was very reassuring that while my readings were a bit on the high side, they weren’t too bad given that I’m struggling with Long Covid which will be stressing my system anyway. I’m not keen for my BP medication to be increased, as the last time they did so I quickly felt very unwell. Right now, that isn’t a complication that I need. She also mentioned that I needed to make an appointment for another blood test, which I did. And then on Wednesday, I received a text from the surgery to say they want me to make another appointment to talk about my BP results with my GP. It seems like I’ve a bunch of outings ahead of me that will be allll about my health, given that I’ve also got to make an appointment tomorrow for a booster covid jab.

And on Wednesday, on the way back from seeing the reflexologist, we were involved in a minor accident. A lady parked on the left swung out as we were approaching a T-junction and the corner of her bumper scraped down my passenger door, leaving traces of red paint and several dents. Fortunately it all happened at very low speed and no one was hurt. But it’s a hassle we don’t need right now. And it didn’t exactly help my ongoing anxiety about going out and about…

This week, it was my eldest grandson’s birthday – I cannot believe he’s now turned 17, and today it’s my mother’s birthday. Right now, I’m not in a position to see either of them. But I’ve been thinking of them a lot. It’s months since I’ve seen Frank and the last time I saw Mum was on Mothering Sunday back in 2020. That’s one of the hardest things about this situation – it’s kept families apart at a time when we could all do with a hug from those we love.

In the meantime, I am focusing on changing my sleep patterns, continuing with my activity journal, meditations and taking supplements. It’s all low key and repetitive – but if it helps me stay well enough to avoid another major relapse, then that’s what I’ll do.

This week I’ve read:-
The Alchemical Detective – Book 1 of the Riga Hayworth series by Kristen Weiss
Her gargoyle’s got an attitude. Her magic’s on the blink. Alchemy might be the cure… if Riga can survive long enough to puzzle out its mysteries.

Someone’s killing psychics in bucolic Lake Tahoe, and the police think Riga may be connected to the crimes. They could be right. Riga recognizes the sinister hand of a long-dead enemy in the crime scene. Juggling demons, daimons, and a devilish casino owner, can this metaphysical detective catch a killer before she becomes the next target?
I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty, urban fantasy whodunit. Riga is an experienced practitioner who has recently lost her magic, which gives the story an interesting dynamic – and I loved the French gargoyle. I’ll definitely be reading more about Riga’s adventures. 9/10

Dance of Hearts: A Cinderella Regency Romance Retelling by Byrd Nash
In Regency England, 1816, it is not fashionable to display fairy blood.

Melinda Wychwood managed to stay at her family home after her father’s death by working as her cousin’s unpaid housekeeper. But when a childhood friend returns, playing a game of deception, will she be satisfied acting as the dowdy chaperone? Or will her wild fairy heritage and a magical dress finally win her true happiness?

A Cinderella retelling as a historical romance with a touch of fairytale magic and a happily ever after ending.
I’d seen a book on Netgalley by this author and wanted to check out the writing, so downloaded this KU novella. And it’s exactly what it says on the cover – which is often a strength of indie authors. It is also well written and enjoyably paced, and was a welcome break from the gory intensity of the following book. 8/10

Firesky – Book 2 of The Chronicles of Stratus by Mark de Jager
Relentless. Unstoppable. Dragon.
Desire burns in Stratus’ soul, powerful like an inferno. With his memory returning, he finally knows who—and what—he is. His is a dragon, brought low by the hand of a dark magician known as the Worm King, separated from his true love, tortured for centuries and now trapped inside the body of a human.

But with the memories of his old life comes a return of his true magic, and with it, his true form is slowly returning. And Stratus wants revenge. Bloody and relentless, he slaughters his way through hordes of the undead to reach his archenemy, fighting not only for his own justice but for the whole of humanity…
This is definitely on the darker end of epic fantasy with death magic and piles of bodies. But the characterisation of a cornered dragon, who is increasingly out of options in a hostile world, is spot on. Review to follow. 8/10

Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries Box Set – Book 4 – Go For the Juggler by Leanne Leeds

A jarring homecoming.
An uncertain fate.
To save everyone, one witch must perform the juggling act of a lifetime

When Charlotte returns home with Gunther, Devana, and Ethel Elkins in tow, she doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. But when one of her parents’ Animal Shelter volunteers turns up dead, her control begins to slip as her old human life and her new paranormal life collide.

While racing to come up with a plan to defeat the Witches’ Council, Charlotte must defend her family against an intrusive police investigation that risks exposing their true nature to the human world—an act which will condemn them all.
When I saw this Box Set on KU, I immediately snapped it up and have been spacing out this delightful magical circus series of murder mysteries amongst other books. There is a strong, overarching threat running through the series that works particularly well reading them close together. Peopled with a wonderful cast of eccentric, strong characters, this entertaining and poignant instalment was yet another reason why Leanne Leeds has become a solid favourite with me this year. 8/10

A Spell of Rowans by Byrd Nash
Raised by a narcissistic mother, the Rowan children’s magical talents were twisted to fit her needs. When Rachel dies, her children must confront the past to have a future.

Victoria, whose empathic talent knows everyone’s hidden feelings; Philippa, whose glamour can bewitch; and Liam, the brother who touches objects to reveal their secrets, all find themselves in danger.

When her autistic brother is arrested, Vic needs to discover the truth to set him free. A successful art restorer in the big city, Vic’s made a career of ignoring her past and hiding her strange powers. But with Rachel’s death, she must gamble away her secrets to face down forces determined to destroy her and her siblings. And that hometown boy she dumped way back? He’s in Grimsby, and knows the truth about her.
This is a gripping paranormal murder mystery where the family dynamic is at the heart of much unhappiness and lethal violence. It’s also very well done – and while it’s twisty and full of surprises, it isn’t too dark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading something so very different from the romance novella earlier in the week. Nash is clearly an accomplished and experienced author. Review to follow. 9/10

What the Lady’s Maid Knew – Book 1 of The Riftmagic Saga by E.E. Holmes
Imagine a London where magic is real… real, but feared. This is Eliza Braxton’s London, and she has always accepted her place in it gladly. As one of the Riftborn, her magic has relegated her to the servant class, where she dutifully serves as the lady’s maid in one of the most powerful households in the country. There, she uses her remarkable powers of persuasion to keep Elder Hallewell’s rebellious daughter in the path to an arranged match of power and prosperity. Eliza has never questioned her loyalty… until now.

Currents of discontent are roiling beneath the city’s surface, and Eliza’s comfortable existence is about to be caught up in the tide. A resistance is building, a resistance that covets Eliza’s talents above all else. But can Eliza betray everything she’s ever known for things she never dared to dream?
Think of the class struggle that emerged in the middle of the Industrial Revolution with a magical spin. It’s been done before, but I really enjoyed the below stairs perspective of this dystopian fantasy. A punchy, memorable read. Review to follow. 9/10

Reviews Published Since my Last Sunday Post:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Necropolis Empire: A Twilight Imperium novel – Book 2 of the Twilight Imperium series by Tim Pratt

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Array 2781 – Book 2 of the Draco Tell Dramis Tell series by Janet Edwards

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The King of Koraha – Book 3 of the Archives of the Invisible Sword series by Maria V. Snyder

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

SUNDAY POST – LIVING WITH LONG COVID #3

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This is my fortnightly (hopefully) Sunday Post update – hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer – on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 8 months since I first got ill . And as usual, it’s been a bit up and down. My wonderful sister suggested that I see a reflexologist as I felt I’d got a bit stuck. So I went ahead and found Laura – a lovely lady, who lives only a fifteen-minute drive from where I live, which is really important. Right now, I don’t have the energy for a long journey. We discovered that we both taught at the same Junior school back in the 1990s and I immediately liked and trusted her. I’ve had a couple of sessions so far and it’s going well.

During our first consultation, Laura suggested that I get my thyroid checked out, as she is concerned at the pressure I feel at the base of my throat, particularly when I’m tired. So I phoned up the Dr last week – and was given an immediate face-to-face appointment that morning. I saw a very sympathetic Dr, who suggested that I have a scan to check out my thyroid and arranged a blood test. Though she did warn me that in all likelihood, it will come back entirely normal, as Long Covid generally doesn’t present many symptoms during such investigations.

Having the reflexology appointment on the Friday, the Dr’s appointment on the following Monday and a blood test on Wednesday pretty much wiped me out for the rest of the week. Though I didn’t end up bedridden again, and all but one of the days, I was still well enough to shower – so I take that as a win. Himself had some annual leave this week and I really appreciated it. As I’m feeling more alert, I miss him when he’s working. Normally, I’m busy writing or blogging, or out and about so I am too occupied to sit around, wondering what he’s doing. Not so these days.

One of my lovely Creative Writing students suggested that I start writing haikus, as she was very concerned to learn that I have currently lost the ability to write my novels. I thought it an excellent idea – the Japanese three-line, seventeen-syllable poetry form seemed something that I should be able to manage. However, while the first one was reasonably positive – the next five I spent the early hours of the morning writing were so filled with rage and pain that I realised I couldn’t do this anymore. To be honest – it was a shock. I hadn’t appreciated all those feelings were lurking under the surface and while I need to sort them out at some stage, this isn’t the time. Not while I’m battling so hard to get better.

Thank goodness for fabulous books and gripping TV series! They’re a life-saver as they allow me to simply escape from the whole situation when I need to. Yay for The Gilmore Girls, which I loved – and I’m now up to date with Chesapeke Shores. I’ve also found meditation a huge help throughout the day to rest and relax both my body and mind. It also helps me keep a positive mindset.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the stream of good wishes for my recovery that I have received since I started posting about Long Covid. I can’t have many visitors as I don’t have the energy to sustain much of a conversation. Though it was wonderful when Frank, our eldest grandson, popped in yesterday afternoon to catch up. It was such a relief to find that he’s settling in really well on his animation course at college and thoroughly enjoying it.

This week I’ve read:-

HMS Nightingale – Book 4 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland
For Lieutenant Alexis Carew, it should be the perfect assignment — a command of her own and a chance to return to her home star system.

What she finds is a surly crew, the dregs of every frigate and ship of the line to pass through on the way to the war’s front, a first officer who thinks the command should have been his, and colonial worlds where they believe a girl’s place is somewhere very different than command of a Queen’s starship. Add to that the mysterious disappearances of ships vital to the war effort and an old enemy who seems intent on convincing her he’s changed. Then there’s the mongoose with an unnatural affinity for her boots.
I’ve really enjoyed this series so far – the ‘Hornblower in space’ scenario works well, which is largely down to the feisty character of Alexis Carew. She is a pleasing mix of aggression and vulnerability, without too much angst. That said, I’m also pleased to see symptoms of PTSD in this instalment as she’s been through some heavy-duty action. Good to see a strong protagonist who isn’t Teflon-coated with invincibility.
9/10

Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green
As long-buried memories from his hidden past begin to resurface, Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny feel compelled to return to the small country town where Ishmael crash-landed in 1963; the place where his memories began. Norton Hedley is no ordinary town. Apparitions, sudden disappearances, sightings of unusual beasts: for centuries, the place has been plagued by a series of inexplicable events. Ishmael’s first task is to track down local author Vincent Smith, the one man he believes may have some answers.

Ishmael and Penny aren’t the only ones seeking the mysterious Mr Smith. When their search unearths a newly-dead body in the local mortuary – a body that’s definitely not supposed to be there – Ishmael becomes the prime suspect in the ensuing murder investigation. His only hope of discovering the truth about his origins lies in exposing a ruthless killer.
Another enjoyable offering in this intriguing and quirky series, where a disguised alien ends up trouble-shooting for a shadowy, undercover organisation tasked with keeping creepy things under control. These stories so easily could be a violent, dark, action-fuelled gore-fest – but while it is often dark, action-fuelled and more than a tad gory, it’s often also funny. I loved learning more about Ishmael’s origin story in this latest episode.
8/10

Inborn Magic – Book 1 of the Hidden Coven series by Kim McDougall
It should have been a simple spell…
Light into heat, heat into flame.
How did it all go so wrong?
Paralyzed … magic drained … Bobbi lies wondering …
Only the Mistress of the Hidden Coven can save her, but Quinn doesn’t want to let a stranger past the coven wards. It’s his job to keep strangers out. Especially when a demon is hell-bent on stealing their most precious resource—magic.


Can Quinn lower his shields enough to let Bobbi in?
Can Bobbi trust these witches to help her tame the wild magic inside her?
No one can stand alone against the coming darkness.
No witch can hide any longer.
This novella packs a punch with a gripping opening sequence that really showcases the author’s writing chops. I enjoyed where the story is going and despite being shorter than I usually like, I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.
8/10

Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster
A vital message. A desperate queen. A hero in the making.

He is plainly too young and too inexperienced for the mission, but on the advice of her aged adviser Natoum, and with her husband off at war, the Queen reluctantly assigns the task of delivery to…

Madrenga.

Accompanied only by a runt of a pony and a scrap of a pup, he sets off to transport the royal message to its destination. No matter what it might take. But things are not always what they seem. Heroes are sometimes made of the strangest stuff, and love is to be found in the most unexpected places. If one doesn’t die while treading the lethal path…
Himself bought this standalone fantasy quest adventure last year, so I tucked into it. And thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns – as well as discovering exactly what or who Madrenga really is. It takes a writer with skill and experience to pull off an ongoing mystery that hooks readers throughout the book with such panache. But then, that’s who Alan Dean Foster is…
8/10

Magic’s a Hoot – Book 3 of the Owl Star Witch series by Leanne Leeds
Astra assumed every person the Star Card told her to save would be…well, worth saving. But when sister Ami turns over the glowing goddess card during Gloria Fisher’s reading on her perpetually drunk—and targeted for death—husband, William? The witch realizes the gods move in mysterious ways.
As she delves deep into the man’s complicated life, Astra’s investigation devolves into chaos when a painting William Fisher insured goes missing. What’s even worse? The police think he was in on the scheme.


Can Astra find the painting, clear the man, and keep his whole life policy in force? Or will William’s accidental death insurance have to pay out?
I’ve enjoyed the first two books in this well-written series, where the plotting is twisty and there is plenty of humour – but this is the one that really ramps up the stakes. Friendship and family feature heavily in this series, and while I enjoyed the mystery, it’s the interaction between siblings and friends that had me continuing to turn the pages. And a very grumpy owl, who is rapidly becoming my favourite sentient creature…
9/10

The Noose of a New Moon – Book 1 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper

Devereau Webb is in uncharted territory. He thought he knew what he was doing when he chose to enter London’s supernatural society but he’s quickly discovering that his new status isn’t welcome to everyone. He’s lived through hard times before and he’s no stranger to the murky underworld of city life. But when he comes across a young werewolf girl who’s not only been illegally turned but who has also committed two brutal murders, he will discover just how difficult life can be for supernaturals – and also how far his own predatory powers extend.
This spinoff series fills in the gaps for those of us also following Harper’s very successful and enjoyable Firebrand series, set in London. I’m a real fan of this author, and this latest book didn’t disappoint. Devereau is an awesome protagonist, whose undeniable power doesn’t mean he’s invincible.
9/10

The Quicksilver Court – Book 2 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
This is a fabulous read – but whatever you do – read The Obsidian Tower first if you haven’t already had the pleasure. This one follows straight on from the events that take place – and Caruso doesn’t hang around to catch you up. The book creaks with tension as the stakes are high – and then go on ramping up. A twisty plot, captivating characters and brilliantly evocative writing – this is one of my outstanding reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
10/10

Reviews published since my last Sunday Post:-

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of The Green Man’s Challenge – Book 4 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Buried Memories – Book 10 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Battle Ground – Book 17 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Graduate – Book 2 of the Scholomance series by Naomi Novik

Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m very aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be in a position to start to reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.

Top Ten Unique Reads…

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Once again those fine folks at The Broke and Bookish came up with a Top Ten Tuesday list I found irresistible, so I put my thinking cap on and came up with these – hopefully you’ll forgive the fact that it isn’t Tuesday…

Snowflake by Paul Gallico
A delightful story of the life of Snowflake, who was “all stars and arrows, squares and triangles of ice and light”. Through Snowflake’s special role in the pattern of creation and life, Paul Gallico has given us a simple allegory on the meaning of life, its oneness and ultimate safety.
A teacher read this one to us when I was in the equivalent of today’s Year Six and I was enchanted. I tracked down a lot more of Paul Gallico’s reads – and to be honest, many of them are unlike anything I’ve ever read, before or since. But they certainly fired up my taste for something different…

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmares.
We were on a caravan holiday in France and I’d scooped this one off the shelves to take with us. I read it one heavy, hot summer afternoon while nibbling on chocolate – suddenly very glad for blazing sunshine and comforting presence of family. And as soon as I got to the end, I started reading it all over again, wanting more of that alluring prose and dark ideas.

Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan
Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.
There is no one whose imagination works in quite the same way as Tricia Sullivan – and this amazing offering is certainly unique. I loved this quirky story and the directions in which it went, while following the fortunes of all the remarkable characters who seem perfectly reasonable – until you realise the prism through which you are looking at them has refracted into something different…

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it’s on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out – but there’s more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself.
Another extraordinary tale that swept me up, held me rapt and then – finally – released me with a doozy of a twist ending I certainly didn’t see coming. This roller-coaster read snaps off the page with memorable lines and exuberant characters – see my review here.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? Rosemary doesn’t talk very much, and about certain things she’s silent. She had a sister, Fern, her whirlwind other half, who vanished from her life in circumstances she wishes she could forget. And it’s been ten years since she last saw her beloved older brother, Lowell. Now at college, Rosemary starts to see that she can’t go forward without going back to the time when, aged five, she was sent away from home to her grandparents and returned to find Fern gone.
This is a remarkable book – more so as it is based on a true event. And as we follow Rosemary when she goes on a quest to try and track down what happened to Fern, we discover a heartbreaking story of loss and abandonment that started with the best of intentions and ended up blighting the young lives of all the siblings in the family – see my review here.

Touchstone – Book 1 of the Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard—and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and he’s good—very, very good. With his company, he’ll enter the highest reaches of society and power, as an honored artist—or die trying.
This remarkable series is a tour de force. I haven’t read anything quite like it and I don’t think I ever will… Cayden is a remarkable, spiky character cursed with genius and flashes of prescience. No one else has ever managed to depict the cost of this type of talent so thoroughly as Rawn in this magnificent series, which deserves to be a lot better known – see my review here.

Among Others by Jo Walton
When Mori discovers that her mother is using black magic, she decides to intervene. The ensuing clash between mother and daughter leaves Mori bereft of her twin sister, crippled for life and unable to return to the Welsh Valleys that were her own kingdom. Mori finds solace and strength in her beloved books. But her mother is bent on revenge, and nothing and no one – not even Tolkien – can save her from the final reckoning.
The writing is extraordinary in the pin-sharp description of the everyday, alongside the remarkable and Mori’s character is so compellingly realistic and nuanced, I’m undecided whether there is a large chunk of autobiographical detail wrapped up in this book. And I don’t really care – other than to fervently hope, for her sake, there isn’t too much that is borrowed from Walton’s own life. Memorable and remarkable art invariably is a fusion of imagination and reality – and this is both a memorable and remarkable book. See my review here.

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson
Summer 1968: the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot, two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. When it is Eleanor’s turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Thomson immediately plunges into the world of young girls, depicting first Eleanor’s rich interior landscape and then allowing us to access to Alice’s carefully modulated world, where her doting parents watch her every move. Thomson paints an exquisite picture of each girls’ fragilities, their aspirations and pin-sharp awareness of adult expectations. She beautifully inhabits the terrible, wonderful world of childhood – and the girls’ growing antipathy towards each other as they are forced to play together – until that disastrous game of hide and seek. This thriller/mystery is like nothing else I’ve read – see my review here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is the first of the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar, we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.
The biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well. But while that is the frame and backdrop in this compelling read – it is Cromwell’s intense presence throughout that had me turning the pages and mourning the fact when there were no more pages… See my review here.

Embassytown by China Miéville
Embassytown, a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe. On Arieka, Humans are not the only intelligent life. Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.
Miéville’s brilliant imagination produces a truly unusual alien species with a Language where emotion and meaning are inextricably linked, requiring human identical twins raised to be able to think and talk in tandem in order to keep the isolated human enclave, Embassytown, supplied with food and resources. Until it all goes horribly wrong… A fabulous examination of what it means to communicate. This book should be required reading for all prospective diplomats, in my opinion… See my review here.

Teaser Tuesday – 4th April, 2017

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

This is my choice of the day:

The Forever Court – Book 2 of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden
47% The ancestral home of the Croits was called Eloquence, and it was a ruin. The island on which it stood was only a few kilometres across, split in two by an axe-wound of a valley, sheer and bare and brutal, as if someone had tried to murder the world and this was where the blade had fallen. Straggly, desiccated trees half-heartedly dotted its flanks. The air smelled of dust and the distant sea, and it was so cold that the weak sunlight felt like ice water on Uriel’s skin. This wasn’t the kind of landscape that was content to be photographed by tourists or painted by nice men with beards. This was the kind of landscape that made poets fall in love with it and then drove them steadily mad.

BLURB: Life is returning to normal for Denizen Hardwick. Well, the new normal, where he has to battle monsters in quiet Dublin bookshops and constantly struggle to contain the new powers he has been given by Mercy, the daughter of the Endless King. But Denizen may need those powers sooner than he thinks – not only are the Tenebrous stirring again but the Order of the Borrowed Dark face a new threat from much closer to home…

Don’t pay any attention to the percentage indicator – I’ve only just started this one as the nice publishers have produced an omnibus version as an arc. But the reason why I snapped this one up in a heartbeat was that I read and reviewed Knights of the Borrowed Dark last year and loved it. So when I saw the sequel was available, it was a no-brainer. This sharp, witty writing in this children’s dark fantasy punches well above its weight as can be seen from the above description.

Review of The Island – A Noreela novel by Tim Lebbon

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Tim Lebbon’s name keeps cropping up in chats with speculative fiction fans, so when I saw this book on the shelves, I decided it would be worth a read.

theislandKel Boon thinks he has managed to escape his past as an agent in the secret organisation the Core, protecting the blissfully unaware Noreelans from the threat of the lizard-like Strangers – creatures from beyond the known world capable of untold destruction. In the sleepy fishing village of Pavmouth Breaks, Kel has become a woodcarver, leaving fighting behind and forming a tentative relationship with trainee witch Namior.  But a storm is brewing and at its centre the witches sense something dark and deadly. What follows the wake of the storm threatens the Noreelans’ very way of life. With the people and land he loves in terrible danger, Kel quickly realises that he cannot escape his past.

Yes… I know it sounds fairly run of the mill – but it isn’t. For starters, Lebbon is excellent at delivering tension-filled fear without slowing down the action – partly because he is an extremely competent writer who keeps all the action centred around Kel and Namior. The terrible storm and the havoc it wreaks on the fishing community is very well portrayed as the villagers struggle to come to terms with the devastating waves that sweep away their homes, families and livelihoods. Kel is conscious that he doesn’t belong as he watches everyone around him grapple with the enormity of the disaster – and it is that sense of detachment, along with his Core training, that has him already alert for any possible threats. That and the inexplicable disappearance of magic… This tale is a real genre mash-up – dark fantasy, swords and sorcery and steampunk. I have seen claims that it qualifies as science fiction, but I personally think that there would need to be more emphasis on the technology to tick that box. Not that it really matters – it doesn’t stop this being a cracking read. While Lebbon has written other books set in this world, he has ensured that it is a standalone novel, so no one will find their enjoyment blunted by picking up this book before visiting any of the other Noreela books.

Kel’s character leaps off the page right from the start and his hopes, personal demons and increasing concern at what is happening was, for me, the reason to keep turning the pages. Namior, his lover and young witch who has been born and raised in the small community all her life, wasn’t quite as strong. She certainly suffers in comparison to O’Peeria, Kel’s former Core partner. Although we only learn about O’Peeria in flashbacks through Kel’s point of view, the gutsy, foul-mouthed fighter immediately engaged my attention and loyalty in a way that Namior didn’t until much further into the book. However, this is a minor niggle and didn’t stop me staying up way into the night to discover what would happen next.

Lebbon can definitely weave an engrossing tale, full of menace and punctuated by bursts of sudden violence. I enjoyed the fact that though Kel is a trained killer, the fight scenes are less about swashing buckles and much more about the gritted business of surviving any encounter without major injury or death. The world-building is exceptional and I loved the descriptions of the island and the stricken fishing village, which were depicted with cinematic clarity. Overall, this is an outstanding tale. Now knowing why Lebbon is regarded with such respect by committed speculative fiction fans, I will be looking for his other work.
9/10