I saw the blurb for this one and decided I needed something a bit different to break up my usual diet of SFF, so requested it. I’m so very glad I was approved for this interesting read…
BLURB: 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…
I’ve truncated the blurb here, as afterwards I think it gets far too chatty and it’s better if you read the next plot twist in the book.
REVIEW: Three young women, all remarkable in completely differing ways and from entirely different backgrounds, are brought together in the pressure cooker that is Bletchley Park during World War II. I recall the furore caused when news of what went on at Bletchley Park first leaked out for general consumption, back in 1974. Those involved were sworn to absolute secrecy and they abided by it, from the typists and secretarial support through to the code breakers. We are given a ringside seat to the activities of Bletchley through the perspective of three women – Osla, Mab and Beth. For the other remarkable aspect of Bletchley Park is that women were permitted to work alongside men. Admittedly, they didn’t get the same pay – but given that they proved to be every bit as brilliant and dedicated as the men, they very quickly were established within the oddball community that was Bletchley.
This gripping story, much of it based upon the lives of actual people who worked at Bletchley, charts the highs and lows of working in such a pressured environment, where everyone was scaldingly aware that their success in breaking crucial codes affected the course of the war. We get to see how working in conditions of absolute secrecy created extra twists of pressure – men working eighteen-hour shifts under difficult conditions, only to be spat at in the street for not being in uniform, or ostracised by family members for not fighting for King and Country, for instance. Even if they resigned, they were still forbidden to join the Armed Forces, just in case they were captured and gave up information about Bletchley.
Quinn weaves a story of love, loss and heartbreak in amongst the febrile atmosphere of the war, where the friendship between the three young women is smashed apart. I thought the dual timelines worked very well and that the romance between Osla and the dashing Prince Philip was particularly deftly handled – anyone who has seen pictures of him as a young man knows that he was every bit as handsome as Quinn describes him.
The gripping climax of this story made it difficult to put down and I really enjoyed the exciting denouement. I highly recommend that you also read the Appendix where Quinn describes how she wove details of actual people within her story and also provides a potted history of Bletchley House, itself. Highly recommended for fans of historical adventures set during WWII. While I obtained an arc of The Rose Code from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers with Roman warfare images. I’ve selected The Eagle of the Ninth – Book 1 of The Dolphin Ring Cycle by Rosemary Sutcliffe.
This edition was produced by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) in September 1993. It has grown on me, as I like the artwork, which is clear and works well in thumbnail. My main grizzle is that eagle standard, which seems to be propped up against the main character’s shoulder in rather a peculiar way. I find it distracting. And I’m not all that keen on the highly stylised font, which says 1920s and 30s, rather than taking me back to Rome.
Published in September 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), this looks to me to be a cover tie-in to the film. The protagonists look suitably grim and grubby and I like the epic sense of the battle going on in the background, rather than just a few chaps waving shields and pilums around. That is also a wonderfully threatening sky… However, I am disappointed in the choice of font, which blends far too well into the background to effectively stand out or draw the eye.
This edition, published by Oxford University Press in March 2000, has chosen to focus on the famous legion standard – the golden eagle. It looks fabulous, especially as it has been angled to catch the light and look suitably dramatic. So it’s a crying shame that all that impact and awesomeness is then promptly squandered by cluttering up the cover with that block of unnecessary chatter. WHY couldn’t the bit about the one million copies sold go on the back, under the blurb? This is so nearly my favourite…
This Dutch edition, produced by Clavis in 2003, also features the legion’s standard. This design has deliberately chosen to reproduce the sense of the 1950s – this book was first published in 1954 – with the textbox and artwork. While I’m not a fan of textboxes, I respect the care and thought that has gone into this one and it is so very nearly my favourite. I particularly like the red font, which pleasingly picks up the shade of tassels flying from the standard. It’s details like this that make a cover eye-catching.
This German edition, published by dtv in 1971, is my choice for this week. I love the vintage feel of the artwork and the clean, uncluttered look. Other than the author and title font, the only other detail is the publisher’s logo – what a lovely change to see the whole of the cover design unimpeded by blobs or chatter! I read this series when I was at school and while this isn’t the same cover as the copy I had – it’s not that different. Which is your favourite?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
At least it’s been a lot milder this week, but there has been a lot of wind and rain – so once again, I’ve stayed indoors. The major family issue that was hanging over us has finally been lifted, which is HUGE relief. I’m floating around a foot off the floor, now I’m no longer weighed down with the worry of it😊. It’s been a busy week – I’ve been editing Flame & Blame, the first novel in the Picky Eaters series, and completed the plot outline for Council of Dragons, which is the third book. During that process, I realised I still have lots of story to tell regarding dear old Castellan, so have also got plotpoints for the next trilogy in the series after that – Claws & Queens, Tumult in the Timescape and An Anarchy of Elves.
The photos this week are part of a walk we did this morning along the beach at very low tide. You can see views of the pier we’re normally walking along from below!
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?
This was one of my favourite Discworld novels when I first read it longer ago than I care to recall – and listening to it was pure joy. As ever, when hearing Pratchett’s writing read aloud, I’m struck by its quality and truth. Review to follow.
The King’s Evil – Book 3 in the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor London 1667. In the Court of Charles II, it’s a dangerous time to be alive – a wrong move may lead to disgrace, exile or death. The discovery of a body at Clarendon House, the palatial home of one of the highest courtiers in the land, could therefore have catastrophic consequences.
James Marwood, a traitor’s son, is ordered to cover up the murder. But the dead man is Edward Alderley, the cousin of one of Marwood’s acquaintances. Cat Lovett had every reason to want her cousin dead. Since his murder, she has vanished, and all the evidence points to her as the killer. I’ve now caught up with this classy, gripping series and just in time – for I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered the arc to the latest book in this series, which is coming out in April – The Royal Secret. As ever, this one held me throughout and I love the continued development of the two main protagonists and the tense atmosphere in the wake of the English Civil War. Review to follow.
Werewolves of London – Book 3 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox 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…
Once again, I fell into the trap of requesting the book without realising exactly where it is within the series – and found when it arrived that it was the third book in the series, not the second one. I decided to go for it and read and review it anyway. If I have time to go back and get hold of the second one I will. As it happened, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it did a good job of concluding this quirky, enjoyable series. Review to follow.
The Court of Mortals – Book 3 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster Marrying your fae prince shouldn’t be this hard. Hetta’s family now know Wyn’s true identity, but that doesn’t mean they approve of their relationship. Princes are all very well – but Wyn’s not human, for all he’s spent ten years pretending to be.
With gossip spreading like wildfire, Hetta and Wyn receive a royal summons. The Queen of Prydein has heard the rumours of fae intruders, and she’s not letting Wyn go until she’s satisfied he and his people aren’t a threat. Convincing her would be a lot easier if someone wasn’t trying to blacken Wyn’s name – and if his sister wasn’t trying to kill him.
For mortal politics aren’t the only problem the pair have to face. The Court of Ten Thousand Spires is still without a ruler, and the only way out may be for Wyn to assume the throne himself – meaning he and Hetta can never be together. I inhaled this one… This series has been one of the highlights of my reading year so far – and in August, the final book comes out. And I’ll be right there at the front of queue waiting for it. Review to follow.
Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Nevil Shute’s books. Last week I featured A Town Like Alice on my Friday Face-off, which reminded me just how much I loved his books. I’ve gone for the older covers, though there are lots of options for each of these titles. I absolutely loved Requiem for Wren, which I cried buckets over, and In the Wet (published in 1953) which goes forward in time to 1983 – and had nightmares about On the Beach. But I loved all his books. What about you – have you read any of these and if so, which are your favourites?And which of these covers do you like best?
This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring ROMANCE covers. I’ve selected A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which I read as a girl and absolutely loved. I know it’s not a classic love story – but if the hero actually gets himself crucified for the love of his life, that’s got to be romantic, right?
This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 is one of the better ones, I think. I like the bright yellow which contrasts well with the black silhouette figures. The juxtaposition of Jean and Joe works really well and I think the Japanese guard in the background also gives a sense of threat. What I don’t like is the lack of contrast between the title font colour and the cover. The title disappears – in fact initially I thought the book was called Vintage Classics…
Published in August 1985 by Ballentine, this is an interesting cover. It looks as though the original was painted in watercolours, which gives an oddly insubstantial look to the hero and heroine. I did wonder if this was because the cover had faded over time, but there are several renditions of it on Goodreads, and they all have the same slightly transparent look to the figures. That said, I think it has a rather lovely charm all of its own.
This Kindle edition, published in January 2013 is my favourite. I’m guessing that it takes the image from an earlier publication – this book was originally published in 1950 and has been in print ever since – but I really like it. And yes – don’t faint, but I even like the textbox in this one, too. It doesn’t intrude on the powerful images of a very ragged Jean staring straight out at us, as if begging for help. With the terrible procession of women and children who were forced on a death march across Malaya in the background. The lettering really pops against the background and its styling gives a strong sense of the period in which the story is set.
Published by Pan in 1968, this cover is so very nearly my favourite. The strong yellow background immediately draws the eye, giving a sense of the heat. I love the grouping of the characters, with Jean hunched and clearly in distress and the Japanese guard scowling in the background. The lettering is bold and clearly shows the title, even in thumbnail. So why isn’t this one my favourite? Because there is something a bit stagey and contrived about the way the woman is sitting forward, ensuring we get a good view of her cleavage.
This Dutch edition, published in 1952 by Zuid-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, is a cover design inspired by the film of the book. And the Jean Paget looking anxiously over her shoulder is taken straight from the poster featuring Virginia McKenna. The problem with this one is that the textbox in this cover does rather squash the image. And the colours, given that this is set in a tropical country, are curiously cool, so don’t give a sense of the heat. So which one is your favourite?
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
I have dusted off this review – which I first posted back in October 2010, nearly ten years ago – in honour of Naomi Novik’s recent release, A Deadly Education. Her Temeraire series is a real joy – and is one of the few series that I have been seriously tempted to reread…
If you enjoy alternative histories and have a weakness of dragons of any size and shape – then this is a must-read series. Novik revisits the Napoleonic era, with its wars and resulting widespread social dislocation – but also includes into the mix dragons that are bonded to humans from the moment they hatch, and then trained to become part of the French and English fighting machine.
The main protagonists in her series include a rare, highly prized Celestial dragon, called Temeraire, who was snatched from a French ship as an egg. His handler, Laurence, was destined for a distinguished naval career – until he accidentally happened to be present when Temeraire hatched and was chosen by the dragon to be his companion. Together they have experienced a variety of adventures in different surroundings with plenty of fighting – both set-piece battles and skirmishes – and both characters have become ever closer and more aware of each other. In this fifth book, Novik does it again. She gives her fans yet another completely different twist to the ongoing tale – a feat not always successfully achieved by multi-book authors.
It is a bleak time for Temeraire. Banished to the breeding grounds from active military service and constantly missing his human companion, Laurence, he finally begins to count the cost of his decision to help the French dragons. While his captain, Will Laurence, has been condemned to hang for treason. However, their fates pale into insignificance against the desperate conditions that Britain now faces. As Napoleon’s forces breach the Channel defences and invade southern England, it is clear that Napoleon intends to occupy London. So when Temeraire and Laurence once more serve King and Country, it is in the knowledge that their support is only tolerated – and that in certain quarters they are held indirectly responsible for the whole mess, anyhow… As the story rolls over almost without a break from the previous books, I recommend that you read them all before embarking on this latest volume, which will be a joy if you haven’t yet encountered this very popular series.
While not as high-flown or wordy, Novik does nod in the direction of the more effusive manner of the 18th century style of writing. I am aware that this has hampered the enjoyment of at least one would-be fan, but I personally find the style eminently in keeping with atmosphere Novik has engendered. And as I was brought up on such staples as Pilgrim’s Progress, Jane Eyre and The Children of the New Forest, it wasn’t going to bother me, anyway. However, I give it a mention so that those among you who like your prose pared to the bone will know what to expect.
In amongst the swash-buckling action, Novik has some interesting themes running through her work. Temeraire, as a Celestial dragon, is highly intelligent and capable of fluently speaking a number of languages, reading and writing. However, he is officially regarded as a piece of military equipment by the English authorities, who are much slower than Napoleon or the Chinese to give their dragons any kind of special consideration. Novik interweaves this strand with the anti-slavery arguments of the day – with Temeraire discussing the issue with Wilberforce. Along with Napoleon, both Nelson and Wellington pop up in this book. While this historical time isn’t my speciality, my husband, who’s a military history enthusiast, reckons that Novik has done a particularly good job on Wellington. In my humble opinion, she’s done a particularly good job on this outstanding book in a fine series. 9/10
BLURB: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
REVIEW: I really enjoyed this one. Addie’s reason for making the deal and her whole mindset really engaged my sympathy, so that very early on in the book I was right alongside her. This is important, because while Schwarb goes on to describe her trials and travails in poignant and gripping detail, those very experiences could have taken her outside the everyday orbit of the rest of us and make her less relatable. This is the problem that I sometimes encounter in North’s writing – while I enjoy reading the alterative premise, I’m conscious of a gulf opening up between the protagonist and myself.
However, Schwarb’s poetic, accomplished prose didn’t allow that barrier to occur – which allowed me to continue to very much care for Addie, and later on – Henry. What I hadn’t expected, was the stunning quality of the writing. The descriptions of the span of experiences in Addie’s life – the terrible lows and the marvellous highs, are brilliantly captured on the page. Schwarb’s writing encompasses the full range of sensory experiences, so that we not only can visualise it, we can smell, taste and touch it, too. It takes serious writing chops to pull it off, such that the author not only encapsulates all of that – she does so within the confines of the narrative arc, in a way that doesn’t derail the pace and tension.
I am not a huge fan of literary fiction, as far too often the style prevails over the story. So I’m very impressed that Schwarb has managed to produce nuanced, complex characters who interact in a really complicated way with each other. Luc and Addie’s relationship is a tortured one, and the story hinges on our understanding of just how complex that becomes. I absolutely loved the whole narrative arc, particularly the final twist.
In short, this is a tour de force – a really intriguing read that has had me pondering Addie’s plight since I put it down, and executed by a writer at the height of her powers. Very highly recommended for fans of the literary end of fantasy – and those who simply love a cracking read with an interesting premise. While I obtained an arc of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
BLURB: Aphra Marsh, descendant of the People of the Water, has survived Deep One internment camps and made a grudging peace with the government that destroyed her home and exterminated her people on land. “Deep Roots” continues Aphra’s journey to rebuild her life and family on land, as she tracks down long-lost relatives. She must repopulate Innsmouth or risk seeing it torn down by greedy developers, but as she searches she discovers that people have been going missing. She will have to unravel the mystery, or risk seeing her way of life slip away.
REVIEW: This series is marvellous and deserves to be far better known. Aphra is desperately searching for more relatives, as far too many houses stand empty in Innsmouth after most of the town was wiped out by the Government years earlier. Such unused real estate is starting to draw unwelcome attention. If Aphra cannot find more of her own kind, they not only risk dying out, but she will no longer be able to meet up on the beaches of her childhood with her Grandfather and the other Deep Ones, who have now transformed and live below the waves. So she is in New York with her brother and a small band of friends, following up on reports of a cousin who has the same bulbous eyes and odd skull configuration as Aphra and her brother.
Gabra Zackman’s excellent narration helped weave the pervading sense of tension throughout this gripping fantasy, imbued with Lovecraftian monsters. I love Aphra’s character and was delighted that this book continues in her viewpoint. She is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents and community, but trying to move on and recreate a safe place for others like herself and her brother. This book is set in 1940s America, just as the Cold War with Russia is starting to gather pace – indeed there is a point in the book where there is an announcement that the USSR has detonated a nuclear device – and there is also increasing paranoia about anyone who looks are sounds different. Emrys has nailed the sense of time, just as she has also beautifully woven Lovecraft’s pantheon through this engrossing, well written fantasy.
I love books that creak with tension – but then the author has to deliver sufficient plot and action to merit the buildup, which Emrys does in spades. I loved the pacing, which works really well. At no stage was anything unduly hurried, yet the story clips along with plenty happening along the way and the reader fully aware of the consequences should it all go wrong. The supporting characters work well – there were several that I’d encountered in the first book and I was pleased to see that one in particular, who was badly injured, is still battling with the fallout from her encounter in this book, too. All in all, this is another accomplished, utterly engrossing read that left me longing for more in this world. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent, well crafted fantasy with Lovecraftian overtones – though whatever you do, start with Winter Tide. 10/10
It was the cover that did it for me with this one – isn’t it sumptuous? I’ve also recently been enjoying my SFF with a serving of history in some form. So I requested this one and was delighted when I received the arc.
BLURB:Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it?
A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town. Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries.
REVIEW: It took me a while to really get into this one, chiefly because I was slightly irritated at the sheer thinness of the disguise regarding the world. The names of the kings and queens were very nearly taken from the Tudor dynasty and the religious turmoil was depicted, but with different names. The Old King even had six wives… I found it distracting and a tad annoying that this fantasy version followed the actual world so very closely – but the town where May lives didn’t feel large or sufficiently varied to be the London of Elizabeth I. The court didn’t feel right, either.
However, as I continued reading and became more emotionally invested in May and engrossed in the story, I ceased minding so much. I have, however, knocked a point off because it initially did affect my pleasure and the speed with which I became invested in the story. That said, once I got over my issues with the scene setting, I really cared about May and really enjoyed her progression through the story. She starts out as a half-starved waif, still reeling from the death of her father, and then finds herself in a terrible situation – that of a Sin Eater. I was aware of the custom, but Campisi makes it far more widespread than it actually was, by also having specific foodstuffs representing particular sins, which is something May has to learn. I also enjoyed how Campisi tweaked several old nursery rhymes to allude to rite of sin-eating.
The distressing aspect of becoming a Sin Eater is how ostracised May becomes. No one will look at her, speak to hear or touch her. She is treated as a leper. Campisi deals well with May’s shock and sense of loss very well, and as we see her start to become acclimatised to her new status, I also appreciated her innate gutsy outlook and instinct for survival. However, despite being a social outcast, the Sin Eater also has access to the best houses in the land, once someone is dying or has died. And May discovers this is a very mixed blessing when that access means she becomes inadvertently caught up in a high-level plot.
Throughout the book, she is constantly trying to work out whether she is a pious, upstanding young woman her father would be proud of – or essentially wicked like her mother’s family. How should she cope with the temptations that come her way? I really appreciated that Campisi gave May the opportunity to tussle over these questions – because it is exactly what would have occupied a girl in the 16th century, who would have been very concerned about the state of her soul and whether she would suffer the agonies of everlasting fire, or at last find her way to heaven.
In amongst the steady growth of May’s confidence in her way of life, there is also that plot concerning the Queen’s attendants. I did know of the stories that this alludes to, though I think it was well handled and provided a climactic and suitably dramatic ending to what proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. While I obtained an arc of The Sin Eater from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10