Tag Archives: magic

Two FANTASY Mini-Reviews: A Dragon of a Different Colour by Rachel Aaron & Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette de Bodard #BrainfluffFANTASYmini-reviews #ADragonofaDifferentColourmini-review #OfDragonsFeastsandMurdersmini-review

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A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron

BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.

Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.

However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight…
9/10

Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard

BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.

But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.

It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….

Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wingssee my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.

I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series.
7/10

Sunday Post – 10th January, 2021 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

It’s been an unexpectedly busy week. On Tuesday we were supposed to be doing the handover of the grandsons, when my daughter got in touch to say that she was running a temperature and covered in a rash. So I said we’d keep the boys until she felt well enough and knew it wasn’t COVID. They stayed with us until Friday, which was an unexpected treat. We were able to take them for walks on the beach and play games, in between Frank’s online lessons. We even managed to play a hilarious game of Playdohionary (like Pictionary, but using Playdoh instead) and I taught Frank knockout whist. The pictures are from our walk on the beach last Thursday when the weather was glorious for the time of year, without a breath of wind…

On Saturday, I spent the morning working on my father-in-law’s memoirs – we worked on a document together using Shared Docs in OneDrive, which made the whole process so much easier. And then I caught up with writing some of my end of year blogs. As you may have gathered, not much writing of Trouble With Dwarves got done – but hopefully I can get back to work in the coming week.

Last week I read:

Black Sun – Book 1 of Between Earth and Sky series by Rebecca Roanhorse
A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
This was a thoroughly entertaining epic fantasy that hit all the main tropes within the genre – with one stunning exception… it’s set in a civilisation based on pre-Columbian America. That gave it a verve and freshness that was very welcome. Review to follow.

Nikoles – Book 2 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier
For generations the Ugaro of the winter country have traded peacefully with the Lau of the summer lands. But now a fatal mistake has created bitterness and hatred on both sides of the river, threatening to destroy a peace that has become tenuous.

Nikoles Ianan realizes, too late, that he should have prevented his own people’s unforgivable trespass – he should at least have tried. Now it seems impossible for a single Lau soldier to do anything to prevent the escalating tragedy … until the most famous scepter-holder of the summer country arrives.
I loved TUYO, the first book in this series – see my review – which has made my Outstanding Reads of 2020 list. So I picked this one up with huge anticipation. While it didn’t quite hit the heights of the first book, it nonetheless proved to be a gripping read and a very welcome addition to this classy fantasy series. Review to follow.

DNF – The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell
As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…
This is one that I couldn’t get through, despite being very well written and the plotting and characters are beautifully portrayed. But… I had somehow assumed that Agnes would be one of those blithe, crinolined heroines who is full of derring-do, and undaunted by anything. She isn’t – this is a whole lot darker and more sombre and I simply couldn’t cope with the more serious tone. So I’m featuring it as there is no criticism of the writing, just the wrong book at the wrong time…

My posts last week:

December 2020 Roundup: Reading, Writing and Blogging…

Friday Face-off featuring The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Night Parade of 100 Demons – a Legend of the Five Rings novel by Marie Brennan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Inherit the Shoes – a Jersey Girl Legal Mysery series by E.J. Copperman

Six Favourite Heroes from my 2020 Reading List

Sunday Post – 3rd January 2021

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

The Art of Recycling https://masonsmenagerie.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/the-art-of-recycling/ I loved the blend of art, poetry and practical tips in a post that manages not to be preachy about this issue…

Thursday Doors – the first of 2021 https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/thursday-doors-first-of-2021/ Regular visitors will know that I make a habit of featuring this quirky weekly post of Jean’s that shows her talent for the unusual and visually arresting…

Escapist Landscapes – Pt 1 https://cindyknoke.com/2020/12/12/escapist-landscapes-pt-1/ And if you are in the mood for more wonderful places to gaze at, then you’ve come to the right place…

Hoping for Snow https://platformnumber4.com/2020/12/18/hoping-for-snow/ I absolutely loved this article – Becky has a way of bringing the past alive…

THE CONFESSIONS TAG https://spaceandsorcery.wordpress.com/2021/01/05/the-confessions-tag/ We are all accustomed to sharing our reads in a variety of book blogging tags – but what about the books we didn’t read/passed over/plain disliked?

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

Review of AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett #BrainfluffAUDIOBOOKreview #TheAmazingMauriceandHisEducatedRodentsbookreview

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I read the print version of this book longer ago than I care to recall – and then found this offering on my Audiobook library, courtesy of my grandson, so dived back in. Would I enjoy it as much?

BLURB: The Amazing Maurice runs the perfect Pied Piper scam. This streetwise alley cat knows the value of cold, hard cash and can talk his way into and out of anything. But when Maurice and his cohorts decide to con the town of Bad Blinitz, it will take more than fast talking to survive the danger that awaits…

REVIEW: Stephen Briggs does a lovely job of narrating this entertaining standalone story with only the most tenuous connections with the Discworld canon. The only hint of the wider Discworld comes into play when we are told the rats lived on the rubbish heap behind the Unseen University and ate something that made them a whole lot smarter and able to speak. And Maurice becomes a talking cat by eating one of the rats.

While it is regularly touted as a children’s story, I would suggest if your child is the imaginative, overly sensitive sort who has problems with the dark, then perhaps leave this one for another year or so. There are some scary scenes where our protagonists are trapped in tunnels and very afraid, and later in the story Pratchett describes what goes on in a rat pit in quite graphic detail. While there is also his trademark humour, it might not be enough to mitigate the horror for a child who can vividly visualise the action. However, I loved it. Pratchett’s sharp observations on how the world works from a rat’s view is both entertaining and thought-provoking in classic Pratchett style. How I still miss him!

It made for lovely listening, as Maurice, the rats and Keith are suddenly faced with wrongdoing on a different level to the scam they’ve been running. And suddenly, the rats are out of their depth as the book they have been using for advice and guidance on how to negotiate the wider world – Mr Bunnsie Has an Adventure – isn’t up to the job. I would have loved to have used this book as a set text for a Year 5 class, as I think it raises all sorts of philosophical questions which that age group are ready to get their teeth into. Highly recommended for children of all ages who enjoy quirky fantasy tales about human behaviour seen through the lens of rodents and cats.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Forgedbookreview

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I have recently got back into reading this smart, cleverly written, Brit-based urban fantasy, featuring divination mage Alex Verus, after enjoying this series over a number of years – read my reviews of Fated, Veiled, Burned, Bound and Fallen. So I was delighted to be approved to read the new release of the penultimate adventure planned for this series – Forged.

BLURB: To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

REVIEW: I only recently finished reading Fallen, so had no problem picking up the action which continues straight on from the previous book. Alex, after being subjected to an intolerable choice in the previous book, took a fateful decision which has very much altered his view on things.

There is a lot of action in this book – as The Council goes on hunting for him, Alex ends up in a series of confrontations. The battles are done very well – Jacka writes the action and Alex’s reaction to it throughout without any loss of pace, the fight scenes between battling mages grippingly portrayed. But this book is, necessarily, quite a lot darker and I missed some of the characters who used to provide some light relief. They are much less in evidence as the pace is more relentless and the stakes go on rising.

However, I’m glad that despite all the killing, there is no sense that people’s lives don’t matter. We end up being a bit appalled at the violence, because we are alongside Verus, who is also affected by the trail of destruction left in his wake. There is a defining battle near the end of the book that I found particularly poignant, in amongst all the chaos and mayhem. Especially if you compare the main antagonist with a version of themselves only a couple of books earlier… As ever, Jacka wraps up the ongoing problem within this story so I wasn’t left feeling unsatisfied with the ending. Though there are a couple of massive plotpoints still waving in the wind…

I am looking forward to the next, final book, where all these issues will be satisfactorily concluded. And I’m crossing my fingers – and toes – that at least a couple of the main characters, as well as Verus, will emerge relatively unscathed. Which surely tells you how invested I’ve become in the narrative arcs of the protagonist and his followers while following their fortunes throughout this tumultuous and well-crafted series. While I obtained an arc of Forged from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Fallen – Book 10 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka #Brainfluffbookreview #Fallenbookreview

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I have enjoyed the Alex Verus series, following the fortunes (or is it misfortunes) of hapless divination mage Alex Verus – see my reviews of Fated (Book 1), Veiled (Book 6), Burned (Book 7), Bound (Book 8). So I was pleased to catch up with Fallen as I’m trying to make an effort to continue onwards with series I’ve enjoyed.

BLURB: Once Alex Verus was a diviner trying to live quietly under the radar. Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends…and love. But it’s come with a price–the Council is investigating him, and if they find out the truth, he’ll lose everything. Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Council, and he’s preparing a move that will bring Alex and the life mage, Anne, under his control. Caught between Richard and the Council, Alex’s time is running out. To protect those he cares for, Alex will have to become something different. Something darker…

REVIEW: Like a number of the long-running, urban fantasy adventure series I’ve been following, such as the Harry Dresden series, the overall tone has steadily got darker as the series continues. And in this one, Alex finds himself caught between a rock in a hard place. As it had been a while since I’d picked up one of these book – once again, I was struck by just what an unpleasant experience it was to find yourself with any magical ability in Jacka’s alternate world. Immediately practitioners have to choose between being Light or Dark mages – something which Alex has tried to avoid. While many of the Dark mages are just plain nasty, the Light mages are not as advertised, either. Judgemental, with draconian punishments for anyone who doesn’t see the world through the same lens, they aren’t all that much better. And Alex has made some powerful enemies on The Council.

There were a couple of incidents in the middle of this one that took the story to another level. A character who has appeared throughout the books and helped Alex a great deal suddenly was subjected to a shocking attack. It was cleverly done, because I found I was very angry at what had been done – to the extent that when Alex makes a momentous decision, I’m right alongside him, hoping this gives him sufficient power to keep himself, and those around him properly safe. That said, there are still moments of humour that I enjoyed – the little elemental he relies on for transport is amusingly unreliable at times. The pages zipped by and I found I’d reached the end with real regret there wasn’t more.

However, I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ve more Alex Verus goodness waiting for me – I have an arc of the new release. For those of you who have also let this adventure lapse for whatever reason, I can confirm the narrative arc takes Alex in a different, challenging direction. And Jacka is a master at depicting thrilling magical battles. Highly recommended for fans of well-written urban fantasy adventures set in London.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Dark Archive – Book 7 of The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman – #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheDarkArchivebookreview

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I was absolutely delighted to be approved for this next adventure in this entertaining, original series, as I’ve grown really fond of Irene. See my reviews of The Invisible Library, The Masked City, The Secret Chapter, and my mini-review of The Lost Plot. But when a series continues over a period of time, the ongoing challenge is to make each story fresh and exciting.

BLURB: Librarian spy Irene thought her to-do list would be her undoing. She’s on missions for both the Library and a dear friend – the detective Vale. And she’s also training her new Fae apprentice, who’s more interested in the stacks than sleuthing. But now someone is trying to kidnap her and kill her friends. As Irene, Kai and Vale try to track down the would-be assassin, they uncover a plot. It’s even more insidious than usual and could threaten Irene’s headquarters, Vale’s home and the Library itself. Someone is creating links between high-chaos worlds and Vale’s world. Someone who wants Irene well out of the way – and will do anything to make this happen. When the allies’ investigation takes a wrong turn, they find themselves trapped deep underground. And while they wander among long-abandoned archives, Irene’s old enemies are closing in.

REVIEW: I really appreciated diving back into this clever portal fantasy, featuring a magical library with a cool, well trained protagonist who performs well when in danger. Given her magical ability is words of command that can change and affect the world around her, it makes Irene very powerful. But Cogman is also good at finding antagonists that are equally formidable, so that she genuinely has to struggle to prevail.

Much about this story worked really well. Having a new, Fae student who tends to be impetuous and rather rash, means that Irene has her work cut out to keep her safe. Especially as the young woman has the survival instincts of a bunny in the headlights, particularly at the beginning of the book. I enjoyed watching Catherine’s character develop and gain confidence throughout the story. I also liked seeing Kai’s relationship with his elder brother – it’s always diverting to get a bit of sibling rivalry going to upset a usually smooth team dynamic.

And the major plot twist was nicely effective – I was pleased to see the re-emergence of an old enemy who I loved to hate – and though I had an inkling about the reveal, it was gripping to see just how much it undermined Irene and her sense of self belief. This is definitely going to influence her actions in the next book, I think.

What was less successful, was the depiction of the ongoing relationship between Irene and Kai. In the past, I have very much felt the connection between them, but although we were told about it – I didn’t feel that strong emotional vibe this time around. While I’m aware this isn’t principally a romance, if the element is there and apparently they still care deeply for each other, I would have liked to have been more convinced by it. My other concern is that Epilogue… I very sincerely hope that isn’t a major misstep – only time will tell!

Having said that, you’ll see by the score that these issues weren’t major impediments to a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended for fans of enjoyable portal fantasy adventures and those featuring magical libraries – though whatever you do, start with The Invisible Library, or you simply won’t get the best from this engrossing series. While I obtained an arc of The Dark Archive from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

Sunday Post – 15th November, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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

We weren’t around last Sunday, hence my absence. It’s been a busy week. On Tuesday night we helped celebrate my grandson’s 11th birthday – I can’t quite believe it… Where has the time gone? My writing club had a Zoom get-together on Wednesday, where I read out my very lame lyrics of an imaginary 1980s pop song, and we chatted about our writing projects. And tried to recall what it was like when we used to sit around a real kitchen table, eating cake and downing mugs of tea. On Thursday, I gave a short presentation via Zoom, again, to the West Sussex Writers’ meeting on the results of the Non-Fiction Competition, which I’d been judging. It was lovely to see many familiar faces, including a number of former Creative Writing students. And on Friday, I went over to look after little Eliza while my daughter listened to a lecture on… you guessed it – Zoom! We brought the boys back here to stay overnight and took them back home yesterday.

I am loving Sci Fi Month – thank you so much to Imyril at There’s Always Room for One More and Lisa at Dear Geek Place for hosting this marvellous event. On the writing front, I’m still working on Picky Eaters 2 – though it’s turning out to be rather too long to be a quick, easy read, so I’m probably going to be splitting up Castellan’s adventures.

My photos this week are from a rather soggy garden…


Last week I read:

The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas
The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls since the early 1800s. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.
This quirky fantasy with a difference was an engrossing, enjoyable read, while the story went off in unexpected directions.


Angel Six Echo by Robert Appleton
Armed with a fabled combat suit left to her by a dying warrior race, Gabby Rojas enters the deadliest standoff of the war as a rogue sniper with one goal: to keep her husband alive at all costs. Dalton is a high school teacher, not a soldier, but he’s volunteered to fight for the good of the colonies, against her advice. Gabby, on the other hand, is a black-ops prodigy who turned her back on the military years ago. The consequences of re-entering the fray alone like this, wielding the power of her extraordinary armoured suit, could tip the balance of power in the galaxy.
This military sci fi adventure, featuring a super-soldier wife who goes rogue to rescue her clever, geeky husband, who ill-advisedly joins up, is an entertaining, action-packed read. I just couldn’t figure out exactly why happily married Dalton wanted to join up in the first place… Review to follow.

AUDIOBOOK The Son of Neptune – Book 2 of The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
PERCY IS CONFUSED. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn’t know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn’t ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth.

HAZEL IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD. When she lived before, she didn’t do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem—when the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her “gift” for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn’t say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wishes she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

FRANK IS A KLUTZ. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn’t see it. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery—although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially in front of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely—enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the “other” camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven.
This spinoff from the Percy Jackson series delivers the same witty, action-packed adventures that made the original series so much fun to listen to – and I’m delighted we’ve more Riordan goodness stored on my Kindle. Mini-review to follow.


My posts last week:

Castellan the Black and His Wise Draconic Sayings

Review of Hammered – Book 1 of the Wetwired series by Elizabeth Bear

Friday Face-off featuring Synners by Pat Cadigan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

Covet the Covers featuring the Vorkosigan Saga covers by Lois McMaster Bujold

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Expert System’s Champion by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Review of INDIE Ebook Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik

Tuesday Treasures – 19

Review of The Fated Sky – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Griffiths


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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheThiefontheWingedHorsebookreview

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I was very impressed by the quality of writing in Mascarenhas’s novel The Psychology of Time Travel see my review. So when I saw this one and realised it was by the same author, I requested it.

BLURB: The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop. Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn the family craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and a blood tie to the Kendricks, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires. But then, one night, the family’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

REVIEW: This book may be fantasy, rather than science fiction, but there were a couple of aspects of the writing that I recognised in common with The Psychology of Time Travel. The main protagonists were women and they weren’t innately likeable. However, that didn’t stop me bonding with both Hazel and, in particular, Persephone. Mostly because she has had a very raw deal.

Ironically, although the founders of the Kendricks famous doll-making business were all women, these days it is the men who get to be Sorcerers and take the key roles for themselves. Persephone is convinced that she is destined to become a doll-maker – including adding the vital magical ingredient that is denied all the women now working within the business, no matter how talented they are. However, she is only permitted to work in the shop and when she isn’t, it is taken for granted by the rest of the Family that she will, somehow, keep her embittered and drunken father, Briar, in check. The gamechanger is the sudden appearance of a handsome stranger, who claims to be the long-lost descendant of the sister who was thought to have died in childbirth.

Larkin is taken on, though treated with great suspicion by the current CEO of Kendricks, and is expected to work on more mundane tasks while he proves his worth. I love the accumulation of incidents and details – until a certain event crashes across this small, close-knit community with the force of a grenade. I was thoroughly caught up by the fallout and stayed up far too late to discover what happened next – and no… Whatever else this book is, it isn’t remotely predictable.

I loved the passion and ambition exhibited by the two main female protagonists. Persephone is socially awkward – the last person you’d want to be the face of Kendricks – but she is tenacious, clever and doggedly persistent. All the characters in this intriguing, different story ping off the page with their almost Dickensian vividness. I’m going to remember this one for a very long time – an accomplished story which went in an unexpected direction and took me to a surprising ending, that nonetheless was very satisfying. Highly recommended for fans of unusual fantasy tales in a contemporary setting. While I obtained an arc of The Thief on the Winged Horse from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10



*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Dead Lies Dreaming – Book 1 of the Dead Lies Dreaming series by Charles Stross #BrainfluffNEGALLEYreview #DeadLiesDreamingbookreview

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This book is set in the world of The Laundry Files and is a spinoff. I love this series – see my reviews of The Fuller Memorandum and The Apocalypse Codex. So you don’t need to have read any of the former books, as the character cast is completely different – though the scenario where an ancient monster is currently in charge at No. 10 Downing Street, still applies…

BLURB: In a world where magic has gone mainstream, a policewoman and a group of petty criminals are pulled into a heist to find a forbidden book of spells that should never be opened.

A new adventure begins in the world of the Laundry Files.

REVIEW: I’d wanted to get right up to date with The Laundry Files series, thinking that this book was also set within that world and that I’d need to know what was going on. In the event I didn’t – but that meant I read two of Stross’ books back to back, which is something I generally avoid doing.

Therefore, I found it a tad difficult to initially get into this one – the world is a bit bleak and grungy and the protagonists, although sympathetic and well written, were clearly very much the underdogs. While there was humour, it came from the snark between the Imp’s ragtag band of misfits – which I didn’t initially find as appealing as Bob Howard’s magnificently dry delivery. However, they did grow on me and as the first major action scene unspooled, there were some very funny moments in amongst all the tension and danger, which I thoroughly appreciated.

Eve is a difficult character to initially bond with – she is an assistant to one of most truly horrible antagonists I’ve met for quite a while. And therefore, has to also become unpleasant – so I didn’t appreciate how much of a victim she actually was until well into the book. There was a particular bonding moment when I had a lump in my throat when reading about a scene with her parents – it was beautifully handled.

In amongst Rupert Bigge’s scramble to the top and Imp and his little gang trying to eke a living while illegally squatting in what used to be his old family home – there are also some lovely touches of magic. The time-travelling scenes back to Whitechapel Road, back in the Victorian era were genuinely creepy and vividly depicted. I loved the way the narrative played out and very much hope we get to see more of Imp, Game Boy, Del, Doc and Wendy – and of course, Eve – in future adventures. This is a cracking start to a new series that is set in contemporary Britain, where the monsters are in charge…

Highly recommended for SFF fans, who enjoy their urban fantasy with a sardonic twist and something a bit different. You don’t need to read The Laundry Files to enjoy this one. While I obtained an arc of Dead Lies Dreaming via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10





*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Map’s Edge – Book 1 of The Tethered Citadel by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #Map’sEdgebookreview

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I have Mage’s Blood on my bookshelves and to my shame, I haven’t yet managed to get around to reading it. I will be making time for it now, though. This cover caught my eye and when I saw it was the co-author of the amazing Olympus trilogy – see my reviews of Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride – I requested it and was delighted to get hold of an arc. I’m so glad I did!

BLURB: Dashryn Cowl has run out of places to hide. The erstwhile sorcerer of the Imperial College fled the Bolgravian Empire when his high-flying family fell from grace, but the tyrannical empire is still hunting for him. So when he gets his hands on a map showing a place outside the known lands rich in istariol, the mineral that fuels sorcery, he sees a way back to power. There’s only one problem: it means masquerading as an Imperial Cartomancer (an instant death sentence) and finding some dupes to help him mine the istariol in secret, no questions asked. But somehow, amid the dangers of the road (floods and avalanches, beasts, barbarians and monsters), a strange thing begins to happen: Dashryn starts to care about his ragtag followers and their strange odyssey into the ruins of an ancient forgotten civilisation…

REVIEW: Well, this is fun! I quickly got swept up in the story as Dashryn is having to deal with brutal invaders crashing into his home and demanding he treat an injured patient. He isn’t someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, but it doesn’t take long to discover his loathing of the Bolgravians, who are responsible for smashing his life apart. He also has a teenage daughter to keep safe…

I was immediately hooked and stayed that way. This story quickly gains momentum as most of a village uproots itself and goes on the road in search of sufficient riches to change everyone’s future. I stayed up reading this one far into the early morning, unable to tear myself away from the sheer tension and adventure. All sorts of things go wrong on the road, from broken wagon wheels, to thuggish mercenaries who think women are good for only two things – and no… conversing with them intelligently as equal human beings isn’t on that very short list.

Dashryn has his own reasons for wanting to earn a large sum of money – which he can’t do without a lot of help. And despite his apparent breezy, can-do demeanour, I liked him a whole lot more when he agonised over the inevitable deaths and did his level best to ensure casualties are kept to a minimum. I also like his rather spiky relationship with his teenage daughter, who is wanting more independence. I’ve read far too many fantasy books where teenagers are either completely beaten down by intolerant parents, or are simply far too sensibly compliant to be remotely true. While my grandmother was fond of telling me that when she was growing up, teenagers were far too busy trying to earn a wage and learn the ropes from older work colleagues, who weren’t tolerant of mistakes to be rebellious – I am sure that in this context, a motherless daughter would be seriously questioning her father’s decisions. Which she does…

There are a number of vividly drawn, memorable characters in this story, including a twisty mercenary leader, a Priestess who’d rather study than preach a sermon, and a shape-shifting bear. Over the space of the book, I grew involved in their trek to seek out a better life and thoroughly enjoyed the plot twists and various setbacks they endured. The denouement was very well handled – taking the plot suddenly in an unexpected direction and leaving me desperate to read more.

In short, this is a cracking fantasy adventure that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans and I very much look forward to reading the next book. While I obtained an arc of Map’s Edge via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10