Tag Archives: gods

*RE-RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SmallGodsbookreview

Standard

Anyone who has spent an amount of time here will know that I’m a HUGE Terry Pratchett fan. That said, it’s a very long time ago since I read the majority of the Discworld series, so when I saw that Small Gods was up on Netgalley, I immediately requested an arc. This was one I remembered with huge affection – would this reread be as much fun?

BLURB: Just because you can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it’s a miracle.’

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was: ‘Hey, you!’ This is the Discworld, after all, and religion is a controversial business. Everyone has their own opinion, and indeed their own gods, of every shape and size, and all elbowing for space at the top. In such a competitive environment, shape and size can be pretty crucial to make one’s presence felt.

So it’s certainly not helpful to be reduced to appearing in the form of a tortoise, a manifestation far below god-like status in anyone’s book. In such instances, you need an acolyte, and fast: for the Great God Om, Brutha the novice is the Chosen One – or at least the only One available. He wants peace and justice and brotherly love. He also wants the Inquisition to stop torturing him now, please . . .

REVIEW: First things first. If you are new to Pratchett’s writing and that ‘Book 13’ is a problem for you – please feel free to completely ignore it. While Small Gods is set on the Discworld, because the desert location is a long way from Ankh-Morpok, or Lancre where most of the main characters get caught up in adventures, this is essentially a standalone.

This is the book where Pratchett tackles religion and the nature of faith. I suspect that’s why he set it away from the more well-trodden parts of the Discworld and provides us with a completely new cast of characters. The protagonist is endearing Brutha, a novice who is cursed with an infallible memory and is in the lower echelons of a highly aggressive sect that worships the great god Om. Om had decided to make one of his regular transformations – but instead of becoming a huge, powerful ox with steel hooves designed to trample unbelievers into the earth, something went wrong. And three years later he surfaces to discover he’d turned into a tortoise, instead. And he has only one steadfast believer, who is Brutha, a humble novice who works in the garden. Harried by an eagle, he manages to make telepathic contact with Brutha, who protects him.

The first thing that struck me about the book is that although there is a strong, pacy storyline featuring Brutha and the machinations of Vorbis, the ideas around the nature of faith and religion are just as important. It’s no accident that Om spends a fair amount of time trying to get away from an eagle, as the tale of the eagle and the tortoise is one of those foundation fable/myth stories that pops up all over the world and has been around for hundreds of years. Interestingly, the outcome of the classic story varies. Sometimes the tortoise gets eaten by the evil eagle who tricks him, other versions have the tortoise as the discontented grumpy one who insists on being taken up to see the world. Holding onto a stick with his mouth as he soars through the air, he then lets go to moan about something and falls to his death. Pratchett doesn’t go into all these variations – but I love the fact that he chose such a multi-faceted myth as a main reference point.

The other aspect that stood out for me is the violence. I hadn’t remembered just how savage it is – though it makes sense when considering the bloody history of many of the main religions. What I’d loved the first time and also impressed me all over again, is how effectively Pratchett disguises his own views on a really tricky topic. While he clearly dislikes the heavy-handed violence of the Omnians, he also makes some hefty arguments about the need for humanity to have something bigger and better to aspire to. In typical Pratchett fashion, he turns the issue on its head and focuses on the responsibilities that gods have towards their believers. It’s a clever book with lots of apt, witty observations on the nature of faith, including philosophy and the love of knowledge.

Any niggles? I got a bit fed up with the desert version of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibber, who sells dodgy stuff on sticks at any large religious gathering. The gags were funny the first time, but didn’t really bear the repetitions. And my arc copy didn’t have any hyperlinks to the enjoyable and very funny footnotes, though I’m assuming the published ebook has these in place. Nonetheless, once more I was impressed at the quality of the satire throughout – and moved at the merciful act at the very end. If you have ever wondered about some of the big questions around our existence, reading Pratchett’s take will provide some thought-provoking insights as well as an entertaining story. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Small Gods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*RE-RELEASE* Review of Bad Gods – Book 1 of the Babylon Steel series by Gaie Sebold #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #BadGodsbookreview

Standard

I hadn’t appreciated that Bad Gods was actually the same book as Babylon Steel see my first review. This oversight was entirely my fault as when I went back to check, it was clearly signposted on Netgalley. However, it was a long time since I’d read and enjoyed the story and so I was quite happy to tuck into it again as I like Sebold’s punchy prose style and dry humour. Instead of re-posting my original review, I decided to give my impressions this time around.

BLURB: You can find anything in Scalentine, the city of portals, but you won’t find a better brothel than the Red Lantern. And its proprietor, Babylon Steel (ex-mercenary, ex-priestess, ex… lots of things), means to keep it that way.

But a prurient cult are protesting in the streets, sex workers are disappearing, and Babylon has bills to pay. When the powerful Diplomatic Section hires her – off the books – to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job. And then her past starts to catch up with her…

REVIEW: I enjoyed revisiting this book – more so this time around, I think, because right now I thoroughly appreciate reading a story with a humorous element. That said – this isn’t some rollicking farcical adventure played solely for laughs. There are some really gnarly subjects covered in this adventure, including kidnapping, sexual and mental abuse, religious intolerance and a series of very grisly deaths. What keeps this story bubbling along is the first person narrative from Babylon’s viewpoint. I really like her tough, no-nonsense attitude. And the found family of strays who work together at the Red Lantern are a joy – their everyday activities provide a lot of the humour that runs through the story.

Despite the story being told from one viewpoint, it is also dual narrative. Alongside events unfolding in Scalentine, Babylon also tells her backstory in interludes. It’s a difficult technique to successfully pull off. Far too often I get caught up with one plotline and feel frustrated when narrative flips across to the other one, so start skim-reading to get back to the storyline I prefer. Not so this time around. The story of how Babylon comes to be in Scalentine and running a brothel is every bit as riveting as the events unfolding in the bustling portal town.

I was impressed all over again with the quality of Sebold’s writing and was sorry to reach the end of this adventure. So I was pleased to discover there is another Babylon Steel story, Dangerous Gifts. I’ll be tracking it down very soon, as I’ve really missed Babylon’s character and the dangerous, layered society that makes up Scalentine. Very highly recommended for fantasy fans. The sharp-eyed among you will be aware that the first time I reviewed this book, I gave it a 9, while this time it’s a 10. I originally knocked off a point because I was unhappy that the cover featured a white protagonist when the book repeatedly mentioned her darker, copper skin. The new cover is a huge improvement and I commend the publishers for deciding to fix this issue. While I obtained an arc of Bad Gods from Netgalley via the publishers, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Cry for Blood – Book 3 of The Reborn Empire series by Devin Madson #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeCryforBloodbookreview

Standard

I’ve come very late to this series, given that many of the book bloggers that I like and respect loved this one. Indeed, I had a copy of We Ride the Storm gathering dust on my TBR pile – until I realised the third book was available on Netgalley, so decided to give it a whirl. And as I’m now reviewing said third instalment, you can assume that I thoroughly enjoyed We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death. Indeed, if I wasn’t struggling with Long Covid, I would have written a review on at least one of the other two books.

BLURB: Ambition and schemes have left the Kisian Empire in ashes. Empress Miko Ts’ai will have to move fast if she hopes to secure a foothold in its ruins. However, the line between enemies and allies may not be as clear-cut as it first appeared.

After failing to win back his Swords, former Captain Rah e’Torin finds shelter among the Levanti deserters. But his presence in the camp threatens to fracture the group, putting him on a collision course with their enigmatic leader.

Assassin Cassandra Marius knows Leo Villius’s secret—one that could thwart his ambitions to conquer Kisia. But her time in Empress Hana’s body is running out and each attempt they make to exploit Leo’s weakness may be playing into his plans.

And, as Leo’s control over the Levanti emperor grows, Dishiva e’Jaroven is caught in his web. To successfully challenge him, she’ll have to decide how many of her people are worth sacrificing in order to win.

REVIEW: In many ways, this series hits many of the tropes around current epic fantasy stories, as the origin world takes more from eastern cultures, rather than drawing on classic western civilisation. And there are strong female protagonists – three of them, compared to the single male warrior. What I hadn’t expected was the sheer excellence of the writing that yanked me into the initial book and simply wouldn’t let go.

My firm advice is to get hold of We Ride the Storm and We Lie With Death before tucking into this one, as the narrative timeline follows straight from one book to the next. However, should you choose to ignore my advice, Madson has obligingly added a ‘Story So Far’ foreword, along with a detailed cast of characters. I wish more authors did this with series where the ongoing narrative is vital. Luckily, I didn’t need to be reminded of the previous story, as Cassandra, Rah, Miko and Dishiva are such vivid, memorable characters, even my brain fog hadn’t blurred their various difficulties. I even dreamt about this world – though I have to say that when I woke up and found that I wasn’t in the middle of it, I was very relieved.

The balance between the worldbuilding and the characterisation is skilfully handled, with the prose consistently assured and flowing. The battle scenes leap off the page, full of the bloody violence that is inevitable in hand-to-hand fighting, while the twists and turns of the political scheming kept me turning the pages. These days, this isn’t my go-to genre – I am often alienated by morally compromised characters and the wretched fallout that ensures when the great and the good decide warfare is the only answer. So I’m not quite sure why this series has sunk its hooks so deeply into my inscape – but it certainly has. And my chief complaint is that the third book has finished with not a single major plotpoint being resolved. So I’m going to have to wait before discovering what happens next to Madson’s hapless main characters. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy. While I obtained an arc of We Cry for Blood from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Review of NETGALLEY arc The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of The Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheTransylvaniaTwistbookreview

Standard

The sharp-eyed among you will have realised that I’ve posted (and read) Books 2 and 3 of this series the wrong way around – see my reviews of The Monster MASH and Werewolves of London. I had sufficient fun with Petra Robichaud that when I discovered this offering on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved to read it. But would reading them out of order negatively impact my experience?

BLURB: Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank. He’s been fighting for the other side, which technically makes him my enemy, and now he needs me and the power I’ve kept secret for so long: I can see the dead. It’s a blessing and a curse. Literally. Because the gods will smite me in a second if they suspect.

But the other side is developing a terrible new weapon, and the only person who can stop the carnage was just murdered in a covert lab behind enemy lines. So I have no choice but to pull on my combat boots and go AWOL with my ex and a moody berserker to confront a ghost with a terrible secret.

REVIEW: I have to say – I’m quite glad that I read these books out of order, because I’m not sure I would have continued with the series if I hadn’t. It isn’t that this one is badly written, or lacking in tension – in fact, this particular storyline is probably the strongest of all the books. But the hard fact of the never-ending war, even with a truce, is grittily portrayed in this one. And while there are splashes of humour – I love the plotline where Medusa is pregnant and Petra is in charge of her ante-natal care – this time around, I was far more aware of the darker underbelly of this story.

There is also a love triangle. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this dynamic, as it mostly manages to make the protagonist look like a shallow-minded flirt for not being able to make up her mind between the two men cluttering up her life. However in this case, Petra gets a pass. Her relationship with a super-soldier, now suddenly no longer immortal, comes to an abrupt end as he is called back to the front with little or no prospect of their meeting up again. And then her former fiancé, who she believed was dead – makes a sudden appearance… As I once knew someone whose parents had gone through this harrowing scenario at the end of WWII, I’m quite happy for this plotline to unfurl. But while there are funny moments – it is also quite an emotional read, which isn’t a bad thing but I was looking for something a bit fluffier.

That said, I really like Petra and her bouncy look on life, while the world is vividly described. The action scenes work well with plenty of tension and drama and I blew through this one in a couple of sittings, still held by the story, even though I already knew the ultimate outcome – which is a strong testament to Fox’s writing. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who like something quirky, with plenty of light-hearted moments. While I obtained an arc of The Transylvania Twist from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 7th March, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

Standard

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

It’s not been a good week. From Tuesday through to Thursday, I went down with a bug, plagued by a miserable cough – and couldn’t sleep. I had only four hours sleep in 24 by Thursday. Though I established that it definitely wasn’t COVID. And then yesterday, Himself went down with exactly the same symptoms. When I spoke to my sister, she also was ill with the same thing… Not only is it a miserable illness – the inability to sleep is horrible – but it meant I had to cancel having the grandchildren coming to stay this weekend, which is a real blow as I haven’t seen them for a while. I’m better, but still a bit washed out. So that’s why I wasn’t around in the middle of the week. Apologies for not having visited blogs, etc…

The only bright spot in the middle of all this was that I curled up with my trusty Kindles and either read or listened to books throughout. So I’ve read a few more than usual.

The photos this week are from the walk last Sunday, when it was sunny with a brisk wind. As you can see, they’re doing some dredging work on the mouth of the river to ensure the large gravel boats can still enter Littlehampton harbour.

Last week I read:
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world…

I’m a sucker for fantasy books featuring libraries and other book characters – but this one really exceeded by expectations. A delightful, clever read that took the story and used it to highlight sibling relationships in a nuanced, three-dimensional way. Review to follow.

The Transylvania Twist – Book 2 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox
Even during a truce, I have my hands full as a MASH surgeon to an army of warring gods—especially when Medusa herself turns up pregnant. I frankly have no idea what to expect when a Gorgon’s expecting, but I have an even bigger problem when my presumed-dead former-fiancé sneaks into my tent with enough emotional baggage to fill a tank…

Yes… I know I’ve read this series out of order – but it was so much fun, I really wanted to go back and get another fix of Petra Robichaud and this madcap world. Review to follow.

The Conductors – Book 1 of the Murder and Magic series by Nicole Glover
As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.

When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
While this isn’t a flawless book, nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the world and the main protagonist. Review to follow.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum…
I loved this historical thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII. Quinn clearly knows what she is doing, as weaving the stories of three women across two narrative timelines could have so easily descended into a hot mess – and it doesn’t. Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK Death Around the Bend – Book 3 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey
September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash during the very first race, they discover that what seemed like an uncharacteristic error in judgement may have a more sinister explanation…
Closer investigation reveals that the driver’s car was sabotaged—and the driver murdered.

The local constabulary are quick to dismiss the case, but Flo and Lady Hardcastle are determined to find out just who has committed this dastardly act, and why. As the pair begin to make enquiries of Lord Riddlethorpe’s servants and guests, it seems that, below stairs and above, there is more to this case than meets the eye. And, even in the quiet of the countryside, death is always just around the bend.
This entertaining series is becoming a solid favourite of mine. Elizabeth Knowelden’s excellent narration and the thread of humour running through the story makes this a really enjoyable listen. Mini-review to follow.

The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
For five grand a month and a million dollar chaser, Roger Mulligan didn’t care how crazy the old geezer is. All he had to do was keep Joseph Perry Shackleford alive and keep him from squandering the estate for a year.

They didn’t tell him about the pixies.
This quirky and unusual urban fantasy tale is unexpectedly gentle and was just what I needed. And the bonus is – this author also writes space opera adventures, too. Given how much I love his writing style, I am delighted to have discovered his work. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Akady Martine

Cover Share: An Orshaw Facelift by Indie author Phil Williams

Friday Face-off featuring The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 in the Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NOVELLA One Day All This Will Be Yours by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tuesday Treasures – 29

Two Sci Fi mini-reviews: The Last Astronaut by David Wellington & Scardown by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 28th January 2021

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog. I hope you had a peaceful, healthy week – and do take care. x

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Book review of NETGALLEY arc Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WerewolvesinLondonbookreview

Standard

I really enjoyed the first book in this entertaining series – see my review of The Monster MASH – and when I saw this offering pop up on NG, I immediately requested it. Though I was a tad disappointed to see that it was the third, rather than the second book, in the series.

BLURB: In The Heat Of Battle
The hard-won cease-fire between the battling immortals doesn’t last long. In the blink of an eye, human surgeon Dr. Petra Robichaud is back on the frontlines, and starring in yet another of the oracle’s prophesies. As the only healer who can talk to the dead, Petra doesn’t have much choice about her role—even when her breathtaking ex-lover shows up at exactly the wrong time…

REVIEW: The above isn’t all the blurb, as it seemed a tad chatty in the second half, without adding anything the reader needs to know. For starters, anyone who recalls M*A*S*H, the 1970s and 80s hit TV series, will immediately understand the vibe that runs through this entertaining fantasy story. Petra Robichaud is a surgeon who works in a military hospital that patches up humans, gods, monsters and demi-gods fighting in the never-ending war between old and new gods. It so easily could have been a bleak, angsty read – but it isn’t. Without being tasteless or inappropriate, there are plenty of humorous moments that had me grinning in this finale that ties up this entertaining trilogy.

Petra is struggling to commit to Marcus, the love of her life who she’d mourned – until demi-god Galen crashed into her life. However, he had to return to the front, and because he’d helped her in the first book, his punishment was to be turned into a mortal. They had agreed that their love for each other was probably doomed, so agreed to move on… The romance probably features a bit more in this slice of the adventure – but there is also so much else going on, it didn’t slow the pace and detract from the madcap quality of the humour. It’s always a tricky balance, to successfully pull off comedic moments, without reducing a full-on action adventure story to a farce. However, I think Fox has managed to produce a steady stream of humour – not necessarily laugh-aloud episodes, but certainly they had me grinning throughout – and keep the tension and stakes sufficiently high that the pages flew by as I stayed reading longer than I should to discover what happens next. The only slight niggle I have, is that I’m not sure what the title has to do with anything – this isn’t set in London and while a werewolf certainly features, the main narrative isn’t centred around him. But I’m not going to quibble about it – if Fox wants to use 1970s pop song titles for her books to go with the M*A*S*H theme, that’s fine by me…

All in all, this is an entertaining and satisfying ending to this original, quirky fantasy tale and I’m very glad I picked it up. Recommended for fantasy fans, who like their action-adventure tales accompanied by a dollop of romance and plenty of humour along the way. While I obtained an arc of Werewolves of London from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonsterMASHbookreview

Standard

It was the premise of this one that caught my eye. Having been a huge fan of the TV series MASH back in the 1970s, seeing references to Hawkeye and Hot Lips stopped me in my tracks. And then it was a no-brainer to pick this one up.

BLURB: Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.

The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life. At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul.

Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret…

REVIEW: This is definitely a quirky, unusual fantasy book, set within a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital where Petra Robichaud works as a surgeon. The catch is that the MASH unit is located near a tarpit in Limbo and the war is a never-ending one. A fair number of the patients they are treating are immortal, which poses its own problems, apparently. If you don’t get to them quickly, bones set at wrong angles and massive injuries can have organs healing into peculiar shapes, or unable to function exactly as they were intended. Such is the life of a surgeon dealing with immortals, among other types of soldiers…

She shares her tent with a depressed werewolf, who is missing his family horribly and a perpetually annoyed vampire, who gets very fed up when he emerges from his coffin to discover his cuff links have been used to fix a tear in the canvas. As in the old TV show, while the overall setting has the capacity to be utterly grim, the madcap humour the medics use to keep themselves sane is used within this book. Fox has re-issued this one to feature more on the humour – and I think her instincts were spot on. I couldn’t have got to the end if it had been a miserable ansty read, all about Petra’s personal tragedy.

As it is, we learn what makes her quite so grouchy about two-thirds through what is essentially a romance. Though the ongoing story of the war and the big game-changer that suddenly makes it far more critical to be on the winning side does play a major part in the ongoing narrative. Overall, I enjoyed the originality of the story and I thought that most of the time, the developing love story was handled well, though towards the end it did get just a tad mushy for my taste. But bear in mind, I generally enjoy my romances as a side dish, rather than the main course. Recommended for fantasy fans looking for something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of The Monster MASH from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker #Brainfluffbookreview #TheSilenceoftheGirlsbookreview

Standard

Obviously I have heard Pat Barker’s name, but when I saw this offering last year I couldn’t resist it. And after having read Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achillessee my review, I recalled I also had this one in my TBR, so dived in and retrieved it. I’m so glad I did…

BLURB: The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman: Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.

When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate, not only of Briseis’s people, but also of the ancient world at large.

REVIEW: Before I go any further, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence against women – although neither are depicted in any great detail, the writing is powerful and moving. I was gripped from the very first sentence.

Rather stupidly, I started reading this late one night, intending to get into the story and then put it down after the first chapter. No chance. When I’d finally got to the stage where my Kindle kept falling out of my hands because I was so tired, it was in the wee small hours and I was halfway through the book. Told in first person POV, Briseis tells the story of how she became a pivotal part of the siege of Troy. Having only recently read Miller’s book, her name was immediately familiar and it was interesting to compare that cosier version of Briseis’s fate to the harder, bleaker narrative told by Barker.

She spends years in the Greek camp outside Troy’s walls as a slave girl to Achilles. She is then caught up in a quarrel between Achilles and the commander of the Greek armies, Agamemnon, when he demands her as a prize. I am not giving away too much of the plot, given this is also mentioned in Homer’s, The Iliad. There is, however, an interesting departure from The Iliad, whereby Agamemnon swears upon the god Zeus that he has left her untouched. Her version of events is quite different – but then she is a mere woman and no one wants to hear what they have to say.

I have been reading quite a lot of Greek retellings recently, as well as Stephen Fry’s excellent Mythos and Heroessee my review. I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the misogyny embedded within our Western culture directly stems from the Greeks, who probably prized a good warhorse above most of the women in their household. I would love to treat Barker’s tale as a slice of history that has no relevance in modern times. I would love to be able to claim that girls around the world were no longer experiencing the treatment meted out to Briseis on a daily basis. And of course, I can’t. In all the versions of the Greek myths I’ve read and heard, that there isn’t a single one told by the women being chased, harried and routinely raped. For the Greeks prized silence in their women, apparently. Thank goodness we have Circe by Madeline Miller – see my mini-review – and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, along with other feminist retellings of the ancient Greek myths. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in reading a different version of this era.
10/10

A Deja Vu Review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – Book 1 of The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin #DejaVuBrainfluffbookreview #TheHundredThousandKingdomsbookreview

Standard

I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week, I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!

This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.

BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.

There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.

Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.

She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive…
10/10

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

Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Musings

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Treasures – 9

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

Review of Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Sunday Post – 16th August 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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