Tag Archives: dual narrative

Monday Post – 16th December, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

I’m currently swept up in Christmas preparations, like many other folks. I’ve started buying presents and making a list of what to get who, started decorating the house, organised the Christmas menu and not even yet looked at my Christmas card list… On Wednesday, I attended Oscar’s Christmas show of Aladdin, where every child in the school ended up on the stage. It was a lovely show – and Oscar’s performance was one of the best. He delivered his lines clearly and confidently, even prompting his fellow actors. I was such a proud granny!

On Thursday, my daughter braved the atrocious weather to come and vote and while she did, little Eliza was left with us on her own for the first time. It wasn’t for long, but she was very happy to finish eating her lunch and play in the high chair. On Friday, Himself and I hit the shops to start on the mountain of pressies we end up buying at this time of year. On Saturday, we drove to Brighton to pick up the grandchildren to stay for the weekend so they could help with decorating the house. Frankie did sterling work with positioning all the Christmas toys and afterwards Oscar and I spent a cosy evening watching the Strictly Come Dancing final, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It helped that the right couple won – congratulations Oti and Kelvin on the best show dance ever.

Yesterday we had lunch at a local, riverside gastro pub with my parents, who travelled from Ringwood for a belated celebration of my mother’s birthday. It went brilliantly. Our table had lovely views over the river, the food was delicious and Mum was thrilled to be able to catch up with her great grandchildren. We then drove the children back to Brighton, and when we arrived home again, my lovely writing buddy, Mhairi, had already arrived after a long drive from Lincolnshire, to come and stay for a few days. We stayed talking into the wee small hours, which is why this has ended up being a Monday post…

Last week I read:

AUDIOBOOK The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

This YA paranormal coming of age adventure charting the run-up to a defining annual race featuring the mysterious water horses, is outstanding for the glorious worldbuilding and characterisation. Review to follow.

Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan
When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives?

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.

This dual narrative fantasy is an intriguing premise. I enjoyed the adventure featuring the two strong female protagonists – and I certainly didn’t see the solution to their problem. I’m looking forward to tucking into the next book int his series. Review to follow.

Borderline – Book 4 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards
Being a telepath means your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness.

Eighteen-year-old Amber is the youngest of the five telepaths who protect the hundred million citizens of one of the great hive cities of twenty-sixth century Earth. Her job is hunting down criminals before they commit their crimes, but this time she must face multiple challenges. While preparing to celebrate the New Year festival of family, Amber’s team have to deal with a case where the stakes grow increasingly personal. The help of Amber’s borderline telepath counsellor, Buzz, becomes crucial.

Edwards is one of my favourite science fiction authors. Her heroine, Amber, is a thoroughly likeable girl whose strong telepathic talent has tipped her sideways into a completely life to the one she thought she’d be leading. This series has charted her adventures in helping to keep law and order within the densely populated Hive city, built underground to protect humanity from the environmental damage on Earth’s surface generations earlier. As ever, a page-turning, engrossing read, full of incident and excitement. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Friday Faceoff featuring Dissolution – Book 1 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom

Min-reviews: Cage of Souls; Circe and The Lost Plot

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Festival Murders – Book 1 of the Francis Meadowes mysteries by Mark McCrum

Teaser Tuesday featuring Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan

Review of Valkyrie Rising – Book 2 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie

Sunday Post 8th December 2019

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

It’s New to Me – Favorite Authors I Read for the First Time in 2019
https://thebookishlibra.com/2019/12/13/its-new-to-me-favorite-authors-i-read-for-the-first-time-in-2019/ I love this time of year when bloggers begin to write those round-up posts, reflecting on their reading experiences during the year. Suzanne’s selection added a new name to my TBR list…

10 Moments The ‘Chamber of Secrets’ Move Missed Out https://comfortreads13.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/10-things-that-should-have-been-in-the-chamber-of-secrets-movie/ I thoroughly enjoyed this article – do you agree with Jess?

30 Inktober Witches http://melfka.com/archives/30103 Yes, I know it isn’t October – or even November – but that doesn’t stop Joanna’s witchy drawings being a delight…

10 of the Best Examples of the Lyric Poem https://interestingliterature.com/2019/12/10/best-examples-of-lyric-poem/ Do you agree with this choice? And if not – which poem would you add to this top ten?

Never give up on your dreams https://www.michellescrazybusylife.net/index.php/2019/12/11/never-give-up-on-your-dreams/#.XfdwZfzgrb0 While we’re all rushing around like headless chickens, let’s not forget WHY we’re doing what we’re doing… And that book Michelle mentions right at the end of her article contains a lovely, uplifting message for children and adults alike…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Teaser Tuesday – 10th December, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #TeaserTuesday

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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:

Warrior – Book 1 of the Doppleganger series by Marie Brennan
67%  The ride was crazy. Miryo wondered whether being a Hunter was always like this – skulking about, climbing through windows, and leaving town in the dead of night. And whether being an Air witch was anything like it. If so, her life was going to be very hard on the nerves.

BLURB: When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives?

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’m thoroughly enjoying this interesting premise. The alternate viewpoints between Mirage and Miryo works really well and the story is racketing along at nice clip with a well depicted world, strong rules for the magic and lots of lovely, layered infighting. What’s not to love?

Review of LIBRARY book Sparrow Falling – Book 2 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold #Brainfluffbookreview #LoveYourLibrarychallenge #SciFiMonth2019

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I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series Shanghai Sparrow – see my review here – so when I spotted this one on the shelves, it was a no-brainer that I’d scoop it up. I am linking this review to SciFiMonth2019.

BLURB: Eveline Sparrow hopes to put her past experiences as a thief and con-artist to more legitimate use; which is why some of the girls at her Sparrow School receive private lessons in burglary, fakery, and other such underhand practices. But it’s hard to get honest work when few businesses will employ young ladies in the security professions. The duns are at the doorstep, her friend Liu the half-fox-spirit is in some sort of trouble, and the rivalries of the Folk are in danger of overspilling into the mundane world and forcing the Empire into a bloody and horrifying war. Can Eveline pull things out of the mire this time, or will the Sparrow’s wings be clipped once and for all?

Once I got into this entertaining steam punk adventure, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Evvie is a sympathetic protagonist, although I didn’t immediately reconnect with her as there didn’t seem to be a major bonding moment in the early stages of the novel. A strength of this series is the quality and depth of the supporting characters who are also depicted alongside Evvie Sparrow. One of my favourites is Ma Pether, the Fagin -like character who had scooped up Evvie off the streets and trained her to be a pickpocket and thief.

The other major character who I have more than a soft spot for is Liu, the half-Fae trickster who travels between the Fae courts and the human world in an attempt to impress his father. And save his own life… The two parallel narratives running alongside one another that power the narrative arc are equally engrossing, so I was never tempted to skim one in order to get back to the other. While it took some time for the book to hit its stride, once both storylines got going this was difficult to put down, and I thoroughly enjoyed the manner in which the resolution came about.

It is always a treat to think you know where a story is going, only to find it shoots off in another direction. I am hoping that Sebold is busy writing an addition to this entertaining series – surely Evvie’s talent for finding trouble has not yet been exhausted and I want more of Ma and Liu as well.

Recommended for fans of well-written steam punk.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Porpoise by Mark Haddon #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePorpoisebookreview

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Like many others, I thoroughly enjoyed Mark Haddon’s best-seller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and when I had the opportunity of reading his latest book, I jumped at it…

A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world. When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail…

So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears. A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore; in which pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler’s hand, and ghost women with lampreys’ teeth drag a man to hell – and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.

Be warned – if you pick this one looking for more of the same regarding The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, then you’ll be disappointed. This is nothing like it, particularly the immersive first-person viewpoint that made Christopher sing off the page. This book is told throughout in omniscient viewpoint – the storyteller’s point of view. While we do spend short periods in the head of various characters, they are not what powers this story – and we are regularly given information that they are not privy to. I’ll be honest, if the story hadn’t been very well told and one that I hadn’t known, then I don’t think I’d have got through it. This is my least favourite viewpoint and it is a tribute to Haddon’s skill that once I relaxed into the rhythm of the writing and the cadences of the story, not dissimilar to those ancient Greek legends upon which aspects of this is based, I enjoyed it.

This story is a dual narrative, covering two timelines separated by thousands of years. We start with a plane crash that leaves a motherless newborn baby to be brought up by her very wealthy, doting father. And here comes my next warning – this book covers incest and child abuse, and though there are no graphic scenes, Angelica’s plight would certainly be a trigger for anyone affected. As her initial chance for escape disappears and her would-be rescuer flees for his life, the story abruptly jumps back in time.

Is this Angelica’s imaginings taking her to a different place? Or a mirroring of the same plight through the prism of time? We are never told and it’s left for the reader to make up her mind. But the blurb nails it in the second paragraph – the rest of the book plunges us into an adventure full of lost love, storms, pirates and perilous escape, in sharp contrast to the slow passing of time for Angelica as she tries to escape her father’s attentions.

That ending is both shattering and unexpected and has had me musing on this one long after I finished reading it. I’ve come away from this book with mixed feelings – I found it a gripping, unexpected adventure, but also quite disturbing. It has certainly wormed itself inside my head – recommended for readers who enjoy unusual, challenging stories where the ending doesn’t necessarily leave everything neatly tied up.

The ebook arc copy of The Porpoise was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I’m not normally a fan of long blurbs, but this one manages to neatly sum up a fairly complex story without giving away any major spoilers, so for once, I’m not going to prune it…

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

And there you have it. Two timelines interweaving throughout the story with the major protagonists being young, dreamy Frances, displaced and pining for her father during the long war years. And dreamy, older Olivia, also somehow displaced from her own life after devastating news leaves her questioning everything and everyone in her life so far – and find it wanting.

The real challenge of writing such a book is to adequately balance both story strands so the reader isn’t rushing through one to get back to the other. And in this case, Gaynor has succeeded beautifully. At no stage did I find myself skim-reading through any section to get to another – despite skimming being one of my vices as a reader. So it is a tribute to the quality of Gaynor’s characterisation that both the lonely little girl and isolated twenty-something equally held me.

The other temptation in a story of this nature – particularly this specific story, given the scads that has already been written and said about it – is to either sensationalise or sentimentalise what occurred. Again, I admire Gaynor’s restraint – she could have revelled in the fuss and fame those photographs generated and allowed that to power the narrative. However, she also resisted that temptation, too. So what we have is a beautifully told tale of two hurt, sensitive people seeking refuge in something else outside their daily round. One of the joys of this book is that Gaynor’s writing has a lyrical quality that makes her descriptions of that small brook where Frances played alongside her fairies sing off the page. While her descriptions of the old, second-hand bookshop is equally vivid, so that I not only visualised the shop, I could smell the books, too.

When two narrative timelines run alongside each other, the other imperative is that the ending has to connect them to the readers’ satisfaction – and once again, Gaynor triumphantly succeeds in doing this. It isn’t a fantasy or paranormal tale, or a historical adventure – neither is it a contemporary romance, but it manages to interleave all these aspects into a wonderful, unusual story and is recommended for anyone who enjoys any of the above.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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I spotted this offering on Netgalley and really loved the sound of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved, given that VanderMeer is a talented author with a gift for writing the disturbing – see my review of Annihilation.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. However, in a world where any kind of weakness is lethal, can Rachel afford to bond with this odd creature?

VanderMeer’s atmospheric writing spins a stunningly vivid evocation of this wrecked landscape where Mord, the gigantic bear, stalks through the city peopled by knots of scavengers – some of whom have been altered and twisted by the biotech that has escaped into the environment. The river is poisoned, the rain toxic and people eke out a subsistence existence.

Rachel’s story is one that is probably heartbreakingly familiar in any refugee camp throughout the world. She recalls a happy family life with her parents, both with solid jobs and plenty of love for their only daughter, but as the sea levels rose and law and order broke down, they ended up in camps. She is unsure how exactly she has arrived in the city, scavenging and teaming up with Wick, a former employee of the Company with dark secrets of his own, but they are holed up in a defensible apartment block and coping reasonably well.

It is into this scenario that Borne enters her life as a scrap of biotech she picks out of the fur of the sleeping Mord. There is something about this unusual thing that attracts her – for starters, it smells of her childhood – of the sea. It is always hungry and empties out their accommodation of lizards and insects – and is clearly intelligent. So she teaches it to speak…

This is a tale of loss and change. And of the resilience of the human spirit when confronted with terrible circumstances. Given the backdrop and context, it ought to be a completely bleak read – but although there is violence and death – how could there not be in such a hard-scrabbled environment? – there is also is a fair amount of humour and a lot of tenderness. I found it very moving that Rachel, alone and childless, nurtures this creature and calls it Borne. They play games, and tell each other jokes. But Borne isn’t human and was never intended to mix with humanity. Borne is something else…

Rachel is a striking protagonist. It is always a tricky business writing a character where a defining aspect of the protagonist is left to the climactic final scene of the book – and to be honest, about halfway through I was feeling a bit fed up that she didn’t ring completely true. By the end, the reason why becomes clear. VanderMeer’s writing always burrows beneath the surface and often finds the darkness lurking there – this time around, he has also celebrated what defines us as humans. If you are a fan of interesting, post-apocalyptic reads, then give this one go. I’ll guarantee it will stay with you.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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I had just completed reading A Monster Calls which is a wonderful book, but achingly sad so I needed something a bit more upbeat. Fortunately, Himself had just treated himself with this offering…

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners. But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

This is an unusual and engaging read – but don’t be fooled by that beautiful, rose-decked cover into thinking this particularly cosy – it isn’t. After all, roses have thorns that dig in when you’re busy smelling the perfume. This isn’t a criticism, for I was a bit concerned about halfway through that this one was going to end with a nauseating side-order of treacle and I was delighted when it didn’t.

Anthony finds his way back into his life after a crippling loss by collecting and labelling hundreds, if not thousands, of lost items. His assistant and right-hand woman, Laura, has no idea of the enormity of his collecting habit until she assumes responsibility for it. This is one of the two storylines, as this book is structured as a dual narrative with Bomber, as a reasonably successful publisher and his young assistant, Eunice, being the other strand.

As their stories progress, this novel unflinchingly depicts some gnarly issues. Dementia afflicts one of the main characters and the main antagonist thrives at the expense of those a lot more deserving around her. We witness a girl with Downs syndrome who has been bullied at school find a refuge with an understanding, kindly neighbour, who even so at times hides in a cupboard when she cannot face Sunny’s constant questions. There is an angry ghost who haunts a house after dying far too soon.

So while Hogan’s smooth writing and quirky, charming style beguiles us, she gently yet firmly confronts us with a number of issues that won’t end happily ever after. I’m going to remember poor Bomber for a very long time… However, this isn’t all about plunging us into a maelstrom of misery, so there are characters we care about who do prevail. And in amongst the hard-hitting stuff, there is also an enjoyable romance and a fair dollop of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I suspect I shall be thinking about this one for a while to come.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook of Assassin’s Fate Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

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Robin Hobb is one of my favourite authors – I’ve read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings series. She has been clever with her series as her epic fantasy books are all set in the same world, but each trilogy or quartet deals with a particular storyline featuring a few of the characters and their adventures. Fitz and the Fool featured in the very first Farseer trilogy. If you are daunted at the thought of reading the whole world before plunging into this book, you don’t have to. My advice would be to read that first trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Hobb’s books as those first three books deal with Fitz’s eventful backstory.

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

This is the final book in this trilogy and while you can get away with plunging into this one, you would be better off to start with the first book, Fool’s Assassin – see my review here, followed by Fool’s Quest – see my review here.

The dual narrative alternates between kidnapped Bee, struggling to cope with her brutal captors and the grieving Fritz who believes that Bee is dead. Each of these protagonists is involved in a major adventure which draws in a lot of characters we’ve previously encountered throughout the series. As well as the Fool being completely involved in this storyline, we also revisit the dragon city of Kelsingra and discover the fate of some of the liveships and a number of the dragons and the characters caught up with them. I found this one unputdownable. Robin Hobb is one of the most successful fantasy authors on the planet and there’s a solid reason for that. Her characterisation is layered and sophisticated, the worldbuilding – as you might expect with sixteen books – is detailed and delightfully complex.

She has an original take on the dragons inhabiting her books – they hatch into serpents which spend a certain amount of time in the ocean, which then form up into a tangle and make their way up the acidic Rain Wilds river to transform into the dragons they are destined to be and the humans who are glamoured to spend time around them, grooming them and providing them with food also become scaled or changed to reflect the appearance of their particular dragon. But after a cataclysmic natural disaster a number of years previously, the serpents are trapped in the sea unchanged and unable to fully recall how to do so. I’ve always enjoyed this storyline and particularly appreciated that this aspect makes a reappearance in this book.

In addition, I’ve always loved Fitz, from the time he was an unwanted royal bastard and also found Bee a compelling, unusual child with an unlikely ally who helps to keep her alive in very difficult circumstance. This all adds up to an emotional and exciting conclusion to a great series. If your taste runs to quality epic fantasy, then give this series a go.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook A Crown of Wishes – Book 2 of The Star-Touched Queen series by Roshani Chokshi

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Last year I was blown away by The Star-Touched Queen, a YA fantasy with a strong eastern flavour that swept me away to another place and time. Indeed, it made my top twenty reads of the year – see here. So I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request to read and review the sequel.

Second books are often tricky to write – particularly if the first book is a runaway success. But if Chokshi was feeling the pressure, there is no hint of it in her confident prose. Perhaps there is not quite so much lush description of the fantastical magic landscapes she takes us to in her story of thwarted kings, slighted and angry princesses and tricky magical beings who enjoy playing with human desires.

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. However – he is a very cunning prince of a sworn enemy kingdom…

Once more, I have given a potted version of the chatty blurb, but I will just mention that Gauri and Vikram end up taking part in The Tournament of Wishes together. This book is structured as mainly a dual narrative, with Gauri’s story told in first person (I) and Vikram’s narrative written in third person (he). Inevitably, this gives us a more intimate and immediate experience of Gauri’s character. She is a warrior princess, skilled in warfare and emotionally wounded by her abusive, tyrannical brother who has constantly managed to outwit her. As a result she finds herself at odds with those she cares most about – and when she tries to help or ameliorate her brother’s sadistic impulses, her interventions are frequently used against her. Small wonder she is a bundle of fury with absolutely no tolerance for Vikram’s wordplay.

While Vikram’s kindly, animal-loving father has been comprehensively outwitted by the ruling council who have essentially grabbed all the power and as Vikram attempts to impose some brakes on their corruption, he finds himself continually thwarted. He retreats into an academic persona, not remotely interested in the violence and warrior mentality that gives Gauri such comfort. They are truly an oil and water mix.

And that isn’t taking into account the fact that politically they have no business exchanging anything other than blows – their respective countries are long-time enemies. So they make an unlikely team. But teamwork is what they need as they are confronted with a series of tricky magical feats they have to overcome. Essentially this is a classic quest story.

What makes it such a rich, enjoyable feast is Chokshi’s engaging prose and vivid worldbuilding. She writes with such sensual conviction, we can taste and smell her magical landscapes and once more I was enchanted and beguiled. But there is no use spinning us a wonderful feast of delights unless the ending is equally satisfying – and there is no problem with that, either. Chokshi manages to bring this story to a triumphant conclusion that had me sighing with pleasure. If you haven’t encountered her writing, then give yourself a treat. Very highly recommended.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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There has been a buzz about this book among the bloggers I mix with, so I bought this one with some of my Christmas book tokens. I’m so very glad I did…

allthebirdsintheskyPatricia Delfine talks to trees and birds in the hope they will answer back, as they did one amazing day when she was little… Laurence Armstead invents a two-second time machine in his bedroom. Unsurprisingly, they are both targets for the bullies at school who make their lives hell. So under duress, they become unlikely friends. A friendship that is tested and often found wanting as their lives both spin off in amazing directions…

And no – you won’t find the above blurb anywhere, but when I read the version on Goodreads it contained far too many major plotpoints over far too much of the story arc. What I won’t be doing is telling you that this is a fantasy or science fiction book, because it’s a little bit of both. After all, one of the major protagonists is a nerdy scientist and the other is a witch. And what Anders is doing throughout this highly readable, roller-coaster adventure is exploring the space between the magical, natural world and the high-tech, scientific community.

Both Patricia and Laurence are vulnerable and likeable. But both are also capable of being self-obsessed and judgemental and Laurence, in particular, is frankly something of an arse at times. However, I never stopped caring for both of them and hoping they would somehow prevail.

It’s difficult to discuss this one in any detail without giving away some of the plot progression and as I plunged into this one without any preconceptions, other than it had a cool cover about birds – I’d very much like other readers to do the same. What it isn’t, is a book solely aimed at speculative fiction fans – Anders’ sharp observations about all sorts of details in her very near-future world would chime with anyone.

What I do feel this book carries is a strong message. In the hard days to come when we will be facing a series of environmental and resource crises brought about by over-population and pollution, we – humankind – need to guard against the instinct to go for the Big Fix. We also need to keep listening out for possible solutions from unlikely quarters and not get locked within our own echo-chamber – a particular hazard for those of us who enjoy social media.

A wise, witty book with an engaging story and some apt advice for the future, this book comes with a very strong recommendation. Read it.
10/10