Tag Archives: London setting

Friday Faceoff – Love is friendship set on fire…

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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 the theme is fire, so I’ve chosen Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka.

 

This is the cover produced by Ace in April 2016 is certainly eye-catching. I love the view of the Shard from across the Thames bathed in the beautiful patterns of yellow, orange and red in an artist’s impression of fire. The darker cloud of sooty smooth behind the title font is both simple and effective. This is my favourite cover.

 

This UK offering, produced by Orbit in April 2016 is also well crafted and beautiful. The map of London is superimposed upon a red flame licking up the cover. However, I do find the blurb bang in the middle of the cover detracts from the drama and complexity of artwork.

 

Published in April 2016 by Tantor Audible, this cover is another compelling effort with the far more realistic flames engulfing the London cityscape with the Thames in the foreground. However, I think the title font is plain to the point of disappointing. What do you think and which is your favourite?

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – June Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During June, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to nineteen. They are:

River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan. Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
This is a real roller-coaster ride with plenty of mayhem and violence along the way. That said, there is also a large dollop of humour amid the tension – think of The Magnificent Seven set in a swamp with hippos. See my review here.

Sherlock Mars by Jackie Kingon
Molly Marbles runs a successful bistro on terraformed Mars. But a virtual restaurant opens near her place, offering the experience of delicacies from across the Solar System with none of the calories. What will this do to her business? Then its owner is murdered in her kitchen. Molly, an amateur detective, springs into action to help the police solve the mystery, while also planning her pop-star daughter’s wedding, keeping her kitchen staff from feuding, and protecting her cyborg friend from the humans-only mob. Meanwhile, the infamous Cereal Serial Killer has escaped prison on Pluto and has everyone worried. Things are getting hectic, but Molly is a resilient and resourceful woman. And her knack for mysteries sees her nick-named ‘Sherlock Mars’.
This is basically a cosy mystery set in space. It has the classic ingredients – a victim that no one seems to care all that much about; a quirky, successful restaurant owner who inexplicably has sufficient time to shoot off here, there and everywhere to run down a number of clues; a friendly law enforcement officer who is happy to let Molly have crucial details of the ongoing case; lots of foodie details along the way. See my review here.

The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Gogman
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book. Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own. Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.
I really enjoyed Irene’s character – brought up knowing that she would eventually always work for the Library as her parents were both Librarians, she is slightly apart from many of her colleagues. She is also cool-headed and used to keeping her own counsel – quite different from many of the rather emotional protagonists we are used to seeing in fantasy adventure. Review to follow.

I also managed to clear two books from my TBR pile. They are:

The Dog Walker – Book 5 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
January, 1987. In the depths of winter, only joggers and dog walkers brave the Thames towpath after dark. Helen Honeysett, a young newlywed, sets off for an evening run from her riverside cottage and disappears. Twenty-nine years later, Helen’s body has never been found. Her husband has asked Stella Darnell, a private detective, and her side-kick Jack Harmon, to find out what happened all those years ago. But when the five households on that desolate stretch of towpath refuse to give up their secrets, Stella and Jack find themselves hunting a killer whose trail has long gone cold.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Thomson’s atmospheric writing this time around has taken us to another obscure corner of London – she seems to specialise in those – where a crime was committed that shatters one family and blights the lives of others, including the husband of the victim. See my review here.

The Invisible Library – Book 1 of The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman
See above

This means I’ve managed to clear thirty-two books from my teetering TBR pile so far this year – a lot better than last year so far. Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think?

Teaser Tuesday – 6th June, 2017

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

This is my choice of the day:

The Dog Walker – Book 5 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson
30% Dad wasn’t a murderer!’. Suzie’s disparagements of Terry hadn’t lessened with his death, but she’d never gone this far. ‘He was a detective.’
‘Murderers and detectives are two sides of a coin,’ Suzie said sagely.
Stella felt, as she often did around her mum, overwhelmed by a rolling fog.

BLURB: January, 1987. In the depths of winter, only joggers and dog walkers brave the Thames towpath after dark. Helen Honeysett, a young newlywed, sets off for an evening run from her riverside cottage and disappears.
Twenty-nine years later, Helen’s body has never been found. Her husband has asked Stella Darnell, a private detective, and her side-kick Jack Harmon, to find out what happened all those years ago. But when the five households on that desolate stretch of towpath refuse to give up their secrets, Stella and Jack find themselves hunting a killer whose trail has long gone cold.

About a third of the into this cold case murder mystery, once more I’m struck by the sheer class of Thomson’s writing. I love this atmospheric, quirky read with the dual timeline, giving us a present-day insight into Stella and Jack’s lives and the events that led to Helen’s disappearance. This is one I’m both trying to spin out because of the sheer reading pleasure – while wanting to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next…

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

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The House With No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series by Lesley Thomson

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The summer of 1976 was the hottest in living memory. In the Botanical Gardens at Kew, a lost little girl, dizzied by the heat, thought she saw a woman lying dead on the ground. But when she opened her eyes, the woman had gone. Forty years later, Stella thehousewithnorooms1Darnell, the detective’s daughter, is investigating a chilling new case. What she uncovers will draw her into the obsessive world of botany, and towards an unsolved murder that has lain dormant for decades…

If you are looking for foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action – this isn’t it. Thomson takes her time in her slow-burn style, as we follow Stella and Jack in their daily routines. Stella runs the Clean Start cleaning company and Jack, who also drives an underground train, works part-time for her. They are linked by painful events in their past, which you can fully find out about by reading the first book in the series, The Detective’s Daughter – see my review here. While that will give you a deeper insight into what damaged them, Thomson is too accomplished to leave her readers adrift, so if you want to immerse yourself in this adventure then go for it. While this may all sound a bit grim, there are regular moments of humour throughout that leaven this story, as the vivid cast of characters bounce off the page.

The past and present is braided together, as an undiscovered murder committed decades ago continues to wreak havoc upon those caught in its malign web. We have a ringside seat as a young girl sees something beyond her comprehension and struggles to find an answer that makes it bearable for her to cope. Until as an adult, a similarly unexpected, horrific event forces her to face up to what happened all those years ago.

Thomson evokes the stifling heat of the summer of 1976 – those of us who lived through that year recall it vividly as day after day, the heatwave continued to swelter throughout June, July and August. Thomson’s world seeps into my head as her richly depicted world and layered, complex characters continue to spool through my inscape long after I’ve finally closed the book, as the psychological truth behind her characters’ actions reverberates through the plot. I enjoy the main protagonists, particularly Stella – but the real hero of this book is Stella’s father, who died in 2010. One way and another, most of the main characters are connected with the driven, workaholic detective Terry Darnell. This beautifully crafted, thoughtful murder mystery is all about assumptions and mistakes we make as we are busy doing and thinking about something else – and what the cost can be when we get it so wrong. The denouement is both shocking and satisfying, pulling together all the strands of a storyline that stretches back to the 1950s, while also revealing more about the main characters.

All in all, this is yet another unsettling, accomplished book by a writer at the top of her game and is highly recommended.
10/10

Review of Veiled – Book 6 of the Alex Verus novels by Benedict Jacka

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I’ve enjoyed this London-based urban fantasy series, featuring divination mage Alex Verus and was delighted when Veiled joined the canon. To get the very best out of the series, I recommend that you start with the first book, Fated, read my review here. So would Veiled live up to my expectations?

VeiledAlex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master. Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there some Keepers who will do anything to see an ex-Dark mage fail. He finally has the law on his side – but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

When reading the blurb above, if you think it sounds a tad like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, you’d be right. And I’m fine with that. Jacka’s Brit humour and his sense of the London setting give this book a sufficiently home-grown feel that I don’t have an issue with any apparent similarities, as the differences matter.

Alex’s problems with the magical authorities don’t ease down as much as you’d think they should, now that he joins the investigative team who are checking out an attack on a tube station. This is classic urban fantasy fare. What sets it apart for me, is Jacka’s very clever use of Alex’s divination powers. He can see a short distance into the future – and the more people surrounding him, the more different timelines fracture into dozens of possibilities. It gives him an edge against some lethally powerful magic-users and their creatures, but the catch is that he has to concentrate very hard. And if he doesn’t, he won’t last all that long, for while he works hard at hand to hand combat, he doesn’t possess particularly vicious magic, or great strength. It’s very well done. Especially as it could rapidly become a boring nuisance if the writing wasn’t so smoothly accomplished.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters peopling this world, from the gigantic spider who weaves magical artefacts, to the apprentice, Luna, whose chance magic draws bad luck on those who threaten her. Another joy is the wheeling and dealing that goes on in this pleasingly complex political backdrop. This fantasy world is every bit as tangled and compromised as our own, but peopled with some truly scary, unpleasant people, which means that Verus has to keep a constant watch out for danger, nicely ramping up the ongoing tension that pervades this story.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. And I’m looking forward to reading the next slice of Alex Verus as this series shows no sign of running out of steam.
8/10

Review of London Falling by Paul Cornell – Book 1 of The Shadow Police series

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This is the start of a new series featuring occult wrongdoing in London. So with the likes of Kate Griffin writing the Midnight Mayor series and Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, can Paul Cornell’s offering stand up in such company? Hell, yes…

londonfallingDetective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out. Now, the team must find a ‘suspect’ who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And it will kill again. Meanwhile, as the group begins to sense London’s ancient magic for themselves – they find they have two choices: panic, or use their new abilities to try and catch this lethal villain…

I have slightly shortened the blurb, but as you can see – this is a classic whodunit with a supernatural twist. As we are pitched right into the middle of the action, Cornell makes us care about each member of his disparate team for completely different reasons. So as the action hurtles forward, with the stakes being steadily raised, we are taken on a roller-coaster ride as Quill, Ross, Costain and Sefton become increasingly emotionally caught up in this particular case. It’s a nifty way of ramping up the narrative tension, without the need for anymore bangs and whistles regarding the Big Bad, which has quite enough already.

Cornell writes up a storm when the team first become aware of the magical landscape in amongst the London streets – I found myself experiencing the horror and terror alongside his protagonists as they find themselves plunged into the supernatural. This book is definitely not for the faint-hearted and if you do have inquisitive young or preteens who enjoy dipping into your reading matter, be aware that the violence and language is graphic.

The other touch I really enjoyed – the group are absolutely floundering as they start to grapple with their magical enemy. Often as not, crime fighters have served some sort of apprenticeship or have a skilled mentor to give useful tips… Not this hapless bunch – they have to fall back on using their basic policing skills to acquire the knowledge they need to help them. Or take big – some might say mad – intuitive leaps in the dark. Sometimes literally… It doesn’t always make for seamless teamwork.

What unfolds is a gripping, visceral tale of ancient wrongs etched into the ether and terrible revenge exacted – and all that stands in its way, is a small group of determined coppers, who are scared, cynical and on the edge of burning out. If you are waiting for the latest Kate Griffin or Ben Aaronovitch – track down London Falling. Better still, the sequel The Severed Streets was launched at Fantasycon at the beginning of September and we bought them both… No prizes for guessing what I’m going to be reading next.
10/10

Review of Fated – Book 1 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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There’s been a slew of excellent fantasy featuring London, recently – Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series, Ben Aaronovich’s Peter Grant series and Nick Harkaway’s latest hefty offering, Angelmaker, spring to mind, for starters. Now add another newcomer – Benedict Jacka. The snag in choosing a genre as popular as urban fantasy, however, is that it is already crowded with plenty of excellent writing. Can Jacka’s new hero, Alex Verus, favourably compare in such company?

In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you’ll find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his would-be apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light and investigating a mysterious relic that’s just turned up at the British Museum.

fatedIf you’re thinking that the blurb sounds a tad familiar, you’d be right. There is a lot about this book that will be squarely bang in the middle of the genre conventions – London is used as an effective backdrop to a lot of the magical chicanery; Alex Verus with his trolleyful of emotional baggage could fairly be described as isolated and conflicted; there is a swathe of magical infighting that somehow sucks Alex in… But what is also true is that Jacka has added some twists of his own. Alex is a probability mage. His particular gift is the ability to be able to see into the future. Jacka has thought through what this gift actually would encompass – and I found his take on divination a plausible and enjoyable version that provides Alex with problems and strengths in equal measure.

And he certainly has problems as he crosses paths with the Dark Mages, whose brutal treatment of their apprentices – or anyone else who takes their fancy – is overlooked by the Council responsible for magical law and order. There are a number of vividly depicted antagonists whose brand of aggressive battle magic manage to make Voldemort look almost cuddly. There are also some intriguing allies – Luna, whose family curse means that if anyone gets too physically close to her they end up dying; Starbreeze, a friendly air elemental that whisks Alex off at the speed of wind that ensures the pace doesn’t flag and Sondor, a bookish mage with a real interest in History.

The writing is slick and accomplished. Scene setting and exposition are all seamlessly woven into the story arc, which is a deal harder than Jacka makes it look. As I’ve mentioned, the story is set in London and Jacka uses particular landmarks, such as the British Museum, to great effect. While Alex is hauled unwillingly into the middle of the action, we are also given slices of backstory that explains why he is so paranoid and anti-social. Overall, this debut is a thoroughly entertaining, satisfying read that establishes Jacka as One To Watch. If you have a weakness for conflicted wizards that operate in a hostile, layered world and haven’t yet encountered Fated, then I recommend that you go looking for this book – because when you do, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t immediately go hunting for the sequel, Cursed, once you’ve completed the book.
9/10

Review of Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

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This is set in the same world – and the same backdrop – as Griffin’s highly successful Midnight Mayor series, featuring Matthew Swift as her conflicted and very powerful protagonist. So – given that such a very strong hero is having to make room for Sharon Li and her group of maladjusted magic-users – does this series have the same star quality evident in the Midnight Mayor books?

When Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she finds herself called upon to use her newfound oneness with the City to straysoulsrescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

The problem is, while everyone expects her to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor himself to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But now that London’s soul is gone, the Gate is open and the hunt begins.

Like the Midnight Mayor series, this is definitely one for the adults. Sammy the Elbow, the world’s second best shaman, sprinkles his dialogue with language almost as foul as his smell…

This book is written in multiple viewpoint, so we get a ringside seat to the struggles of Rhys, a druid forced to shelter from Nature due to his chronic hay fever; Gretel the troll, who wants to cook; Sally the banshee, who writes everything down on a whiteboard so that her magically-enhanced voice doesn’t drive men mad; Kevin, the vampire who has major issues with blood – along with any other fluids that may pose a risk of infection… Even Matthew Swift, the Midnight Mayor isn’t particularly effective – his specialty being to blow things up in a messy destructive manner, whereas this job requires finesse. I’ve enjoyed all the Midnight Mayor books and come to admire Griffin’s writing talent – however my misgiving was that with such a very powerful main character, the forces ranged against him also had to be equally huge, or there was no real plot. But, the motley crew surrounding Sharon certainly don’t fall into that category.

I expected an action-packed plot wound full of tension and vivid descriptions of some of the less wholesome parts of London, which I certainly got – but what was a delightful surprise were the laugh-aloud moments. And this book is full of them. Griffin’s humour is pitch-perfect and a wonderful counterpoint to the full-on action and pathos. A book that leaves me with a lump in my throat while making me laugh always has a special place in my heart – it doesn’t happen all that often. Matt Haig’s The Radleys was the last time I read one of these rare novels…

And if Griffin’s descriptions leap off the page, then her dialogue is a joy – pin-sharp, funny and perceptive. With such a strong cast of interesting characters, Sharon’s slightly desperate flailings to discover just exactly what she should be doing could have been completely eclipsed by the likes of Rhys and Kevin. Yet Griffin avoids that pitfall with the same deftness that she handles the issue of how to neutralise a magically potent protagonist such as Matthew Swift.  Her simmering anger at social injustice that produced the King of Rats, the tribe and the Bag Lady is still apparent in Griffin’s character, Greydawn.

As for the ending, it was beautifully handled – both satisfying and poignant. All in all, while Griffin’s books have always been excellent, Stray Souls is outstanding and the best urban fantasy book I’ve read this year.
10/10