Tag Archives: dystopian fantasy

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

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When I spotted this offering as part of a special Netgalley omnibus edition, I was delighted as the first book, Knights of the Borrowed Dark, is one of those which lodged in my head and hasn’t gone away – see my review.

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…

I had enjoyed the first book, but this second one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. I’d forgotten how punchy and readable the prose was, for starters. I love Rudden’s writing with his quirky imagery and desert-dry irony – and the way he nocks it up to gothic proportions when necessary. The descriptions of the Croits’ family home, the castle Eloquence, just pings off the page with its wrongness. While Denizen’s struggle to come to terms with his new family circumstances had me both grinning and feeling desperately sorry for him.

This one is a dual narrative – alongside Denizen’s storyline is another young teen – Uriel Croit, who is singled out by Grandfather for great things, alongside his twin sister. They train constantly and are being honed for the coming war, happy to pay the price for using their inner fire as they are set against cousins amongst the insane obstacle course that is the Croit family cemetery.

The two plotlines unfold with twists and turns in abundance and unlike most children’s books, there is very little ‘tell’ in this one and far more plunging forward with the story. I started off reading it with a view to its suitability for my granddaughter and by the end of the second chapter all that went out of the window. I was completely immersed in this grim world where everyone has an agenda and living alongside violence leaves scars – not just the physical sort, either. I love the fact that Rudden has created a world where killing is a big deal and we also get to see that monsters grieve for those they lose, too.

Of course when there are two storylines running alongside each other, there comes a time when they intersect – and this time around they didn’t so much meet as explode in the climactic crisispoint… The history of the Croit family is also caught up with the Knights in a fascinating manner – I loved the clever plotting, the gritty entrancing world and the spiky, memorable characters. And I cannot wait to read the next book. If you are fans of well-written fantasy, don’t be put off by the fact the marketing is aiming this series at children – for my money Rudden falls into the same category as Gaiman and Pratchett, whose writing appeals to both adults and children alike.

While my arc copy of The Forever Court Dark was provided by the publishers via Netgalley, this has not influenced or biased my review.
10/10

Sunday Post – 9th April 2017

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

May you live in interesting times… It’s an old Chinese curse, apparently. Well, right now Life is waaay too interesting. We noticed a puddle of water in the paved area just outside out back door in a straight line to the outbuilding where we house our washing machine – and realised the mains water pipe under the ground must be leaking. It was. And when the specialist plumbers came to mend the leak, it took them three goes. As soon as they fixed one leak and turned the water back on, the pipe immediately gave way somewhere else… They said our 65-year-old pipes had essentially given up – confronting us with the scenario of the pipes running through the footings of the house starting to leak *shudders at the thought*. So yesterday, we had the firm back to run a completely new waterpipe network down the side of the house and around to the back where they connected it to the cold water system using an underground boring machine. There were 5 holes dug altogether where they fed in the new piping using a nifty underground mechanical mole and tomorrow they are returning to concrete over the holes and box in the new pipework where it goes into the outbuilding and the house. But as you can imagine, this hasn’t been cheap…

At least the weather was good while they were doing all this – in fact it’s been absolutely fantastic – just a shame we couldn’t get out in the garden…

This week I have read:

Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy series by Ruthanna Emrys
After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future. The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race. Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.
For those of you who don’t recognise the references, Winter Tide is set in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the famous horror and dark fantasy short story writer and novelist.
I fell in love with this spare, gripping tale within a couple of pages – the character and premise immediately pulled me into the story where a paranoid and jittery US Government are seeing threats from anyone who looks different, back in 1949.

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer
Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!
Dyer also serves up a fair dollop of humour along with the chaos and excitement. I love the depiction of the Queen – whether or not it’s correct, I thought it was a delight. Overall, this is a charming, enjoyable book that delivers an engrossing magical adventure with some hefty family issues wrapped up in the story that will speak to the many fatherless children out there. Recommended for independent readers between eight and eleven years old, depending on maturity.

The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden
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…
I had forgotten just how punchy and enjoyable Rudden’s writing is – while the world is tense and gothic with plenty of thrills and spills and some genuinely exciting action. I love Denizen as a character and am looking forward seeing where this one goes next. I will be reviewing this one tomorrow.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 2nd April 2017

Review of Blood Upon the Sand – Book 2 of The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Magic in the City by Heather Dyer

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Winter Tide – Book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys

Friday Face-off – Send in the clowns… featuring The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR – March Roundup

 

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

G is for Grief  https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/g-is-for-grief/ Viv is a wonderfully talented writer – but don’t take my word for it. Read her blog. This moving, thought provoking article is typical of her output…

Tales of 100 hearts  https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/04/06/tales-of-100-hearts/ A quirky, original slice of Jean’s life – this one left me with a lump in my throat as I still keep wondering who had already learnt that SAFETY matters so much…

Discoveries, Engineering Progress and Science Fiction  https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/discoveries-engineering-progress-and-science-fiction/#comment-2161 Rosie has a science background and she is very interested in exploring some of the more cutting-edge issues in her fiction. Meantime, once more, she has provided a great roundup of what is going on in the scientific community this week…

The Inconsistency of Truth  https://ginnibites.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/the-inconsistency-of-truth/ Ginni nails it, again… Insomniacs everywhere will recognise this scenario.

5 New Science Fiction Books to Watch Out For  https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/5-new-science-fiction-books-to-watch-out-for/ This award-winning library site does a cracking job in featuring books the staff think their reading public may enjoy – obviously this one appealed to me.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

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

Another busy week with the Northbrook courses going well and my sessions with Tim now less pressured with the extra session. The catch is this week Himself’s shift pattern meant I had to pick him up from work at stupid o’clock in the wee small hours. A lot of the time that isn’t too much of an issue but this week, for some reason, I wasn’t getting back to sleep all that quickly so I’ve been rather sleep-deprived – even for me. As a confirmed insomniac, I’m used to functioning on not much sleep, but I only managed three hours on Thursday night/Friday morning.

On Thursday, Mhairi and I got together for a writing day – we work really well together and manage to get a great deal done. It’s also helpful to have someone you know and trust to bounce ideas around, along with lots of tea and laughter. It was the West Sussex Writers’ monthly get-together on Thursday night. This month was the manuscript surgery followed by an excellent Open Mic session where a variety of amusing and thought-provoking prose and poetry highlighted just what a talented membership we have. The Friday morning planning session regarding Tim’s progress went really well – intense, but we realised we are on track and now just need to focus our efforts on moving forward.

This week-end we have the pleasure of the grandchildren staying over. As ever, they are a joy – which is more than can be said about the bleeping weather. Oscar is suffering with a heavy cold and bad cough, so taking him out and about in the bitter cold – yesterday it was snowing quite heavily though thankfully it didn’t settle – won’t be doing him any favours. We nicked out to get a few vital supplies, but are mostly hunkering down for cosy indoors activities.

This week I have read:
The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echo of the Falls series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

thebearandtheserpentManiye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown of the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

I loved the first book in this shape-shifting epic fantasy set in a largely bronze age society, The Tiger and the Wolf . My firm advice is to tuck into this one before you reach for this offering as you are simply missing too much wonderful worldbuilding and rich character development if you plunge into this series with this one – which proves to be another real treat.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartlessCatherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

This prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a respectful and skilful addition to this famous classic that provides a fascinating take on what has happened to some of the major characters in the story. Highly recommended.

 

How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse – Book 4 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Reluctant hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III must rescue his best friend, Fishlegs, from the deadly howtocheatadragonscursedisease Vorpentitis. The only cure is rare and almost impossible to find…a potato. But where will Hiccup find such a thing? He’ll have to dodge the terrible Sharkworms, battle Doomfangs, and outwit crazy Hooligans if he’s going to be a Hero. Again.

Oscar and I completed this slice of Hiccup’s madcap adventures that takes him into the territory of one of the Hooligan tribe’s deadliest enemies in an effort to save Fishlegs’ life. Once more we giggled and gasped through this adventure together. Being a granny gets to be so much fun with books like this to share…

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

My 2016 Reading Year – the Statistics

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 to the Echoes of the Fall

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds Are Forever… featuring Diamond Mask by Julian May

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
12 Thoughts Every Book Lover Has Had At Least Once https://athousandlives01.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/12-thoughts-every-book-lover-has-had-at-least-once/ This amusing post had me grinning and nodding in recognition – especially numbers 1 and 11…

8 Useful Computer Shortcuts and Hacks https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/8-useful-computer-shortcuts-and-hacks/ These commands Ana has compiled can save a lot of time and frustration – I’ve certainly bookmarked them.

Booklovin’: What It Is and Why You Should Be Using It https://bookishnessandtea.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/all-abloglovin/ Ava’s excellent article helps those of us who enjoy reading blogs but have problems keeping track of our favourites.

The Best Poems for Valentine’s Day https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/10/the-best-poems-for-valentines-day/ In preparation for a certain date coming up next week, those fine folks at Interesting Literature have a stock of romantic poetry to wow that special person in your life…

Proverbs from Africa https://siuquxebooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/www-siuquxebooks-wordpress-comproverbs-africa-josbons/ Josbons has compiled these favourite African proverbs, which make fascinating reading.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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When browsing NetGalley – which is becoming something of a vice – I noticed this offering and after thoroughly enjoying Cinders, I put in a request to read it.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of heartlessHearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

If you have read and enjoyed Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, then do consider tracking down this YA prequel to his madcap world. Catherine is a joy. I immediately bonded with her open-hearted approach to life and her interest in baking. Meyer has done an excellent job in depicting her privileged life that, nevertheless, is rather empty when it comes to close, loving relationships to the extent that her closest friend is her maid. This first person narrative is harder to pull off than Meyer makes it look, given that she also has to nail Carroll’s peculiar world.

For me, this is the book’s real strength – as a girl I loved the world Lewis presented and Meyer’s depiction of it is both clever and respectful. The kingdom of Hearts has its own quirky rules, which Meyer presents with minimum fuss or explanation so that we fully accept the idea of playing cards running around the place. Neither has she glossed or ignored any of that quirkiness – I enjoyed the Cheshire cat, whose sudden appearances and perceptive comments are entirely in keeping with Lewis’s world. While the account of the croquet game, complete with hedgehogs and flamingos, is funny and bizarre. This is a large part of the book’s charm – while there is a dark undertow, the amusing Lewis-inspired episodes throughout had me grinning, both at the humour and Meyer’s skill in weaving her own narrative within this complex and very odd world.

The catch with prequels is that you generally know the outcome, apart from some minor details, so there has to be something other than the plotline to keep you reading. The ongoing romance throughout this book was well handled – I cared for the couple and hoped they would prevail. Given I’m not a fan of lurve stories (yawn) the fact that I found myself rooting for this one is a testament to Meyer’s excellent writing. And part of the game in these retellings is recognising key characters that featured in the original classic and seeing what Meyer has done with them. Like the original, there is amongst the surreal oddity a sense of wrongness to this world which on occasions breaks into violence – the Jabberwock attacks are a shock in this mannered world where what you wear and how you wear it is the one of the yardsticks to social success. Meyer’s pacing, where she steadily increases the momentum of the story to that amazing climax, is pitch perfect, providing us with the world we now recognise from Alice’s own visit in Lewis’s classic. As you may have gathered, I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Heartless from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

My Outstanding Books of 2016

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Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

thejustcity

This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

manyselvesofkatherine

This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

thestartouchedqueen

The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

theannihiliationscore

Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

thehousewithnorooms1

I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyou

This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

anaccidentofstars

This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

thefifthseason

I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

spiderlight

This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

spellbreaker

This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

thesummergoddess

I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

songsofseraphine

This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

anaturalhistoryofdragons

What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

jsutonedamnedthing

This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.

Friday Faceoff – The first Noel…

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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 week’s theme is angels, so I have chosen The House of Shattered Wings – Book 1 of Dominion of the Fallen series by Aliette de Bodard.

 

thehouseofshatteredwingsThis is the cover produced by Gollancz August 2015. I love this one. I think it is one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen, as well as accurately depicting the slightly mysterious and disturbing tone of the book. So it’s my favourite of the covers here.

 

thehouseofshatteredwings1This is the cover produced by Roc in August 2015 for the hardcover edition. Once again, I think it is a lovely effort – while it may not quite achieve the shimmering awesomeness of the Gollancz cover, the flaming feathers against a night sky is a haunting, beautiful image.

 

thehouseofshatteredwings2This edition is also published in August 2015 by Gollancz – and I’m not quite sure why… It is also a paperback edition, same as the first cover. While there’s nothing wrong with the cover or the design, it certainly feels like the downmarket version of the first offering, given it has lost the fantastic rainbow effect and raised stippling of the feathers that gives the original cover its wow factor.

 

thehouseofshatteredwings3This is the CD edition, produced in August 2015 by Blackstone Audiobooks. Yet another excellent cover, this design features a gothic arch so typical of many Parisian churches. I also think the font on this edition works very well.

All in all, while this penultimate set of 2016 covers might not exactly bristle with Christmas cheer, they are certainly lovely and otherworldly… Do you agree with me – which of these covers is your favourite?

Favourite Completed Series of 2016

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For a variety of reasons, 2016 has been my best reading year for a long time, and as the year is drawing to a close, it’s time to share my favourite series. I’m going to split these into two groups – series I completed during the year and series I look forward to reading more of in 2017. Today, I’m featuring those series I completed during the year.

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE TRILOGY BY LAINI TAYLOR

daughterofsmokeandboneIn general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understoodaysofbloodandstarlightd Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole. Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

This one started the year with a bang – Taylor’s lush prose and emotional intendreamsofgodsandmonsterssity, along with her very gritty approach blew me away. I read this series during January and February and now, over a 100 books later, I still regularly find myself thinking of Karou and this savage, beautiful world. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this series.

 

 

 

THE RED RISING TRILOGY BY PIERCE BROWNredrising

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood golden sonand sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed.

This dystopian science fiction adventure, charting the progress of Darrow, a lowly Red, who determines to bring about change in a very rigid society was another roller-coaster ride. There are elements that put me in minmorning stard of The Hunger Games series – but Darrow’s exploits encompass both triumph and disaster and Brown’s pacey, action-packed prose had wrung me out by the end. An unforgettable reading experience I highly recommend.

 

 

 

THE THESSALY TRILOGY BY JO WALTON

thejustcityCreated as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future–all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer’s daughter sometime between 500 and thephilosopherkings1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome–and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo–stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does–has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of necessitythe children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives–the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself–to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.

Unusually, I’ve included the whole blurb, because the big challenge is to couch this beguiling, unusual series in terms that make people want to track it down. And saying that Walton has written a tale where Pallas Athene decides to found a society based on the precepts of Plato’s Republic doesn’t guarantee you’ll all go rushing off to read it in your hordes. And of all the series I’ve read this year, this is the one that has lodged in the back of my brain like a burr and won’t leave me alone. Walton throws in all sorts of interesting, gnarly ideas along with an engrossing story such that I’m left with lots to ponder. I finished Necessity enormously moved and uplifted and if I had to recommend only one of these series – it would be this one.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

ME BEFORE YOU DUOLOGY BY JOJO MOYESmebeforeyou

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . . Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master afteryouof the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Me Before You is an extraordinary read, with a funny, offbeat heroine, who needs a job in austerity Britain and ends up looking after Will… It’s also heart-rending and beautiful. The sequel takes the story on after the shocking, climactic ending of the first book and although it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights (which is an almighty ask, anyhow) it nevertheless continues to amuse, shock and engross. My favourite contemporary series of the year.

THE COPPER CAT SERIES BY JEN WILLIAMSthecopperpromise

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…
Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.
theironghostFor Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.thesilvertide

If you like your swords and sorcery with plenty of gung-ho attitude, foot-to-the-floor action and lots of mayhem with some really hardcore antagonists, then this is the series for you. Even the final book doesn’t lose the chirpy humour that often disappears as events and backstory stack up sufficiently to wipe the grin off the face of the most hardened protagonist – but then they aren’t madcap adrenaline junkie Wydrin of Crosshaven, known as Cat…

And these are the series I completed and loved during 2016. What about you – which are your favourite series you completed this year?

Review of KINDLE Ebook Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

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Every so often you come across a book that takes an established genre, gives it a thorough shake and tips it on its head – and this is what Houghton has done to epic fantasy…

songsofseraphineSome battles bleed so much, and for so long, that the earth never truly forgets their dead. Some battles are born of oppression, and some of greed, and some simply because it was written in the stars. Three sisters—Charlemagne, Cairo and Pendragon Agonistes—are sent from America to England to live with their eccentric grandparents after their mother disappears and their father falls to pieces. But before the girls have time to find their feet, Charlemagne is married off to a dead man, Penny takes a nap and wakes up as a boy, and Cairo is swept into a dangerous romance with a man who wants her for more than her considerable charm. With the girls wrapped up in a conflict they barely understand, they don’t notice that their grandmother is transforming, or that the two demigod assassins who took their mother are now coming for them—if one of them can get over his crisis of conscience.

This is a portal world story where a deadly war on one world bleeds into the lives of a family struggling to rebuild their shattered existence on another world. We regularly read tales of dreadful battles where whole races are wiped out in epic fantasy tales, except for a desperate remnant. This story isn’t really about that – this is more about the aftermath, when those wars have slipped into history. Except in this case, the war isn’t done and forces beyond these three sisters are determined to shape their destinies.

I loved it. Family dynamics within speculative fiction always grabs me and when these three sisters go to live with their grandparents, I was completely hooked by the building sense of something radically wrong and getting worse. The flashbacks the girls experience are all very clear and deftly handled and Houghton’s depiction of the three very different characters all coping in their own way worked well. He doesn’t sentimentalise them – something that would have been easy to do – and while the writing is slightly heightened in the manner of epics, it works well. I also like the way the magical element works. In Houghton’s world, whenever power is wielded there is a price and all too often the price is far too high. There were moments when I was winded at who got damaged and who died… But that surely made me pay attention for the duration.

The only major concern I have is that this book has ended on something of a cliffhanger and I’m really, really hoping Houghton has plans to write a sequel. This disturbing, rich and original world is one I’m desperate to visit again.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Darker Shade of Magic – Book 1 of the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

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This is another book that’s been tucked away in my TBR pile for far too long – so I gave myself a treat and dusted it off for a train journey to London. Would it keep me suitably engrossed?

adarkershadeofmagicKell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

That is most of the rather chatty blurb, which gives an idea of the intriguing backdrop to the mayhem. I  love the idea of the parallel worlds that have been influenced by an escape of magic, which is both sentient and hungry. If magic-wielders aren’t sufficiently powerful, or too dark, then the magic turns carnivorous with some nasty consequences.

When one of the most powerful magic-users in the land, used as a courier to hop between worlds, goes on indulging in some risky behaviour, he finally finds sufficient danger to satisfy him. Indeed, he finds more than he can cope with… Schwab’s characters are well depicted. Kell’s smuggling is depicted such that I found myself completely sympathising with him – and I generally have little sympathy with rule-breakers and rebels as protagonists. And I plain fell in love with Lila – madcap adrenaline junkie and dreamer who’d rather go out in a blaze of glory than continue trudging in gritted misery to make ends meet.

This grimdark fantasy quickly hooked my attention and as the body count started to rise and an evil plot was uncovered, I was hoping the train journey wouldn’t end too soon – not normally my attitude at the end of a packed day in London. The pace quickly picked up and the plot cantered along at a clip. While I generally don’t enjoy antagonists who revel in their wickedness – most people simply aren’t like that – there are occasions when a thoroughly psychotic villain does tick the box. In this book, there are a pair of them and it is a testament to Schwab’s imaginative ingenuity that she manages to give us a very powerful magic-user and then provides two terrifying characters who are capable of overwhelming him.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to getting caught up in the next slice of the adventure where this well thought out magic system prevails. If you haven’t yet encountered this one, then get hold of it – the magical laws and characters are a delight.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Hell is Empty and all the Devils Are Here…

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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 week we are looking at covers featuring demons. I have chosen The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. Though strictly speaking Bartimaeus is a djinni, not a demon…

 

theamuletofsamarkandThis offering was published by Disney-Hyperion in 2003. You get a sense of the creature’s age (he is 5,000 years old) and his sharp, sly humour that pings off the page. I love the fact he is sideways on and evidently taunting us with the precious amulet. Pity about the lettering.

 

theamuletofsamarkand1This version was produced by Corgi Children’s in 2004. Again, Bartimaeus dominates, this time looking very much like a gargoyle. I’m not sure I like the sepia look, but I do love the lettering on this cover.

 

theamuletofsamarkand2This edition was published in 2004 by cbj Verlag. The overall design is the same as the previous version, but I far prefer the dark colour palette, which I think gives the cover more eye appeal, though this time around I think the font is disappointing.

 

theamuletofsamarkand3This edition was published in 2007 by Le Livre de Poche. This is the runner-up for me. I love the drama of the backlighting and the backdrop of the library as Bartimaus appears in Nathaniel’s circle for the first time. My favourite is the first cover – it’s the wicked grin that sells this one for me. A suitably memorable cover for a wonderfully memorable series. Do you agree?