Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Rookery – Book 2 of The Nightjar series by Deborah Hewitt – release date 5th August, 2021.
#fantasy #alternate world #London setting #magic #feisty heroine
BLURB: The Rookery, city of secrets, lies and magic, is facing destruction. But does Alice have the power to save her new home?
When Alice discovered this alternate London, her life changed forever. She discovered she was seeing Nightjars – miraculous birds that guard our souls. But her newfound magic has a dark side. So in an effort to protect her friends, Alice is training to wield her rare abilities under House Mielikki – the House of Life. Yet something isn’t right. And after a series of attacks leaves her reeling, it’s clear someone wants her to fail.
Alice must plunge into a world of seductive magic and unimaginable perils to uncover the conspiracy. And when she discovers why Rookery itself is at risk, she realizes the price she must pay to save it.
I read and enjoyed The Nightjar – although there were times when Alice’s choices were a tad daft. But the world is intriguing and I like the magic, so I’m looking forward to tucking into this one. Has anyone else snagged a copy of this offering?
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 present, it seems to be working out that I’m able to post my weekly roundup more or less every other week. Funnily enough, after my decision to get out more, we ended up having my younger grandson staying over, which meant I have been unable to go anywhere. A classmate of his had tested positive for Covid, so he had to isolate for ten days, although as long as Oscar didn’t go down with the illness, Himself was still able to go to work. And the reason I suggested that Oscar should isolate at our house, is that his three-year-old sister was still recovering from a nasty case of bronchitis and suffers with severe asthma. We really don’t want her going down with Covid if we can possibly avoid it! I felt so sorry for Oscar – as he is in Year 6, he suddenly found himself at home and missing the last week of term. And in September, he’s moving up to a new school, so he and his classmates missed out on being able to say goodbye to the staff and friends he’s made over the last six years. This wretched illness has so many repercussions.
He brought along his computer, and we got him a Kindle as an early birthday present to allow him to listen to audiobooks, so he could keep himself amused. And regularly throughout the day, he and I would play a series of games to give him a break from screen time – and help me with my brain fog. The weather was sunny and warm, which meant we could also sit in the garden for breakfast. He was unfailingly good tempered and upbeat throughout the whole ten-day period, despite not being allowed past the front gates. I’m so proud of his mature attitude and have missed him enormously since he went home on Friday morning. He was excellent company – as well as a fabulous kitchen assistant, helping me get meals prepared and a couple of times taking over when I ran out of energy and had to sit down.
It was a good reading week, although with Oscar here, I didn’t read quite as much as I have been doing. However I had a DNF that rather broke my heart – I simply couldn’t get on with N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, although I tried so very hard. But at just over 80% I finally had to abandon it. I’m aware that it’s probably more to do with me – and I freely concede the writing is punchy and passionate. But it simply wasn’t for me *sigh*.
Last week I read:
Vanity and Vampyres – Book 4 of the Monster and Manners series by Tilly Wallace Someone is supping upon young noblemen and it’s up to Hannah and Wycliff to investigate. If only they could agree on how the men are being drained of their life’s blood. Is it a vampyre, known for their impeccable fashion sense, nocturnal roaming, and dislike of rain, who lurks in the shadows of London? Or is some more earthly method at play, like an attack of leeches?
With her best friend’s wedding imminent, Hannah is determined that the event be untouched by murder or mayhem. To ensure a magical fairytale event they must catch the murderer before the big day. Wycliff must seek the assistance of a man who raises his hackles and Hannah struggles with her growing feelings toward her guarded husband. This pursuit will unearth long buried secrets that could have fatal consequences for those dearest to Hannah. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this alternate historical fantasy series with a nicely original take on zombies. Once more this quirky murder mystery provides plenty of possible suspects and an interesting denouement, while watching the slow burn romance continuing to blossom provides an extra bonus.
The Daydreamer Detective Braves the Winter – Book 2 of the Miso cosy mystery series by Steph Gennera, aka P.J. Pajonas December has set in and just when the rural town of Chikata is recovering from one murder, Mei and her new boyfriend, Yasahiro, find their friend, Etsuko, dead in her apartment. Etsuko was sweet and talented, and now everyone suspects her longtime boyfriend killed her. Mei doesn’t believe it, though, and she vows to help solve the crime.
But Mei has more to think about than murder. With the barn gone and their vegetable stores destroyed, she and her mother are down to their last canned goods and no money for heat. Mei’s mom is fortunate to find work, but Mei must fend for herself, get a job, and keep their financial situation a secret from Yasahiro. In pursuit of paying work, she stumbles onto a new witness to the crime, and before long, the dead woman’s secret life unravels before everyone’s eyes. Half-starving and out of her element, Mei is on thin ice, and it’s going to take a whole lot of ingenuity and quick thinking to solve the crime before the killer gets to her as well… I managed to read this one and Book 3 out of sequence, but I’m really glad I stopped and went back. Pajonas writes with a pleasing upbeat energy and constant shafts of gentle humour – but I was struck at how rarely real poverty is portrayed in cosies. Pajonas manages to show just how devastating it is, without pulling the mood down too much. Which is a very neat trick to pull off. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK – First Strike by Christopher G. Nuttall Starting a war with an enemy a hundred times stronger is insane. It’s desperate. And it’s Earth’s only hope.
A massive alien power looms over humanity, claiming Earth as its territory and humanity as its slaves. The Hegemony has already taken over one colony, yoking hundreds of thousands under their brutal rule. Every tactical exercise, every wargame and every simulation gives humanity zero chance in a defensive campaign. Earth’s only chance to win the coming war – is by striking first. This epic military space opera adventure was an entertaining listen with all sorts of twists and turns and very ably narrated by Jeffrey Kafer, although his Brit accent is a tad peculiar. And I enjoyed listening to a cracking space opera read that is a standalone, for a change.
AUDIOBOOK – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard.
At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties. And the reason why these two audiobooks are back to back, is that I’ve been dipping in and out of this one. I LOVED The Kingdoms, which is why I picked up this one. But I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. While the strangeness of Mori and the relationship between him and Thaniel is beautifully written, the plot became increasingly odd and unbelievable as the book wore on. And I wasn’t remotely convinced by Grace on any level. However, I’m aware that my opinion is in the minority regarding this one, as I know it’s a real favourite with many readers.
Ghost Electricity – Book 1 of the Hawthorn House series by Sean Cunningham Do you know what happens to ghosts in London?
A girl with a monster in her shadow. A warlock believed dead four years ago. A werewolf outcast from the London packs.
Rob wants a good job, friends to head to the pub with and a solid cage to lock himself in three nights a month. Julian dropped off the face of the Earth four years ago. He’s back and trying to figure out what living looks like. Together they will face the deadliest of threats hidden in one of the oldest cities in the world.
Fiona has a monster in her shadow but she doesn’t know how it got there. A creature in the shape of a man is on her trail and he knows things about Fiona she doesn’t know herself. Her ten year old sister Jessica can build machines that defy the known laws of physics. Accompanied by a brass tortoise and a glass-feathered raven, Jessica will help Fiona unravel the web of lies that surrounds them both.
And beneath their feet the plague dead of centuries stir in their graves, waiting for the spell that holds them to break… Underneath the bustling normality of London is a brutal world where mages, vampyres and shapeshifters jostle for power and far too often treat the rest of us as recreation and/or fodder. And in a stunning coincidence, Hawthorn House is where a number of these remarkable people pitch up. I really enjoyed how Cunningham weaves his story – despite there being quite a bit of violence in this full-on action adventure. Review to follow.
The King of Faerie – Book 4 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster The fae are real, and Hetta Valstar is trying her best to marry one. If Hetta and Wyn ever manage to marry, it will be the first union between Faerie and Mortal since the Iron Law was revoked. The mortal Queen has given them her blessing—sort of. Now, Wyn needs permission from the fae High King. There’s an intensely personal reason why they need to tie the knot as soon as possible, and time is not on their side.
The clock is ticking. Except in Wyn’s home court, which is trapped under magical stasis. To break the spell will mean venturing into the deepest realms of Faerie, where even fae princes—and definitely human lords—fear to tread. Unfortunately, the fae problems aren’t limited to Faerie.
Public tension is rising, and the reveal of Wyn’s true identity makes him and Hetta the centre of the storm. On top of this, Stariel’s magic is going haywire, and Hetta is struggling with her intensifying powers—and she might not be the only one affected.The High King might be the only one who can help, since he’s responsible for the fae returning to the Mortal Realm in the first place.
If only they knew where he was. I’ve absolutely LOVED this series – and this latest instalment in this delightful alternative 1920s fantasy adventure was my favourite read of the week. It was one of those books that I was burning through far too fast – while at the same time, I never wanted it to end, as every time I put down a Stariel book, I yearn for another one. I also loved where this one ended. The good news is that Lancaster is going to be writing a spinoff adventure featuring Marius – yay😊! Review to follow.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
I regularly visit Diana’s blog – and when I saw the Youtube trailer for this offering, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells. The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.
Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange. Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.
And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.
REVIEW: This sea adventure is a real page-turner. Reading about Callum’s life since his impulsive act of generosity, I was reminded of the saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ as poor Cal’s punishment seems to go on and on… I liked that though he is one of the good guys, he is on the spikier and darker side of that line. And that the ongoing price has worn grooves into his soul. But despite this being in many ways a classic swashbuckling adventure, all the characters are complex and nuanced, giving the story extra heft as I really cared about most of them. And those who I didn’t like – I really loved to hate.
Wallace Peach is a highly experienced, talented writer and it shows. The characterisation is layered and the world vividly portrayed – I particularly loved the depiction of the storms and her lyrical descriptions of the seascape. As someone who has spent extended times aboard small seagoing craft, I was struck at how well written those scenes are. And the plotting is outstanding – I sort of guessed at how the story was going to go. There are, after all, only so many ways that a revenge/bargain tale can play out. But Wallace Peach added extra twists and surprises throughout that had me reading far into the wee small hours to discover what happens next.
All in all, this is a stormingly good read that stands out in my memory and comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading twisty adventures with strong characters and a splash of magic. And the bonus is – it’s also excellent value for money. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK The Wee Free Men – Book 1 of the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett
BLURB: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle – aka the Wee Free Men – a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds – black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors – before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone…
MINI-REVIEW: Listening to this was a complete joy, particularly with Tony Robinson’s storming performance as narrator. I loved reading this one way back when it first came out, then sharing it with my grandchildren – but hearing this version was every bit as much fun. And I’d thought nothing could beat sitting side by side with the children, laughing together at Pratchett’s humour… Very highly recommended for children of all ages. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer – Book 1 of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
BLURB: Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.
One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down—his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.
The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents. . .
Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.
MINI-REVIEW:I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Christopher Guetig’s excellent narration very ably depicted the cast of colourful characters who Magnus encounters on his adventures with the pantheon of Norse gods and minor deities. This had all the ingredients I enjoy in a fantasy adventure – plenty of testing encounters with all sorts of intriguing characters, high-stakes action, along with regular splashes of humour that didn’t become too heavy-handed. Riordan manages to make this look far easier than it is. I am delighted that I’ve more audiobooks in this series, waiting to sweep me up and into another world… 8/10
I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.
BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.
REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.
Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.
There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.
The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series. 9/10
I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.
BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.
The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?
REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.
She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.
That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
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 CARTOON images. I’ve selected Sourcery – Book 5 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.
This edition was produced by Harper in April 2008, and while I think many of the cover designs they came up with for the Discworld novels are underwhelming – I actually like this one. It has the playfulness and slight sense of mayhem that should always feature on Discworld cover. But whoever thought it was then a good idea to slap a round red label across the design needs to be frogmarched to an optician for an eye test. It wrecks the balance of the whole cover, because of the way it pulls your attention across to it. Grrr!
Published in July 1989 by Corgi, very unusually, this original cover design isn’t my favourite. I normally love Josh Kirby’s covers, but I’m not a fan of his depiction of Conina in this one. A bit too much bosom and hips – and yes, I’m aware that it is probably a swipe at the tendency for fantasy heroines to be over-endowed and under-dressed on book covers. But given that Pratchett’s writing doesn’t ever cross a line into any sexiness, I think it is sending the wrong message about the book.
This edition, published by Gollancz in February 2014, is part of a re-release of the series for collectors. Apparently. Why anyone would want to clutter up their bookshelves with a book so brimful of life and colourful characters encased in such a miserably monochrome effort is beyond me. But that’s because I loathe this cover.
This edition, produced by the New American Library in 1989 is more like it! There is the Librarian and Rincewind both looking suitably befuddled at the exodus of various creatures from the Unseen University. The flavour of the book is nicely caught and the artwork is well done and eye-catching. And not a nasty sticker in sight😊. This one is so very nearly my favourite…
This French edition, published by Pocket in November 2010, nails it as far as I’m concerned. I love that awesome explosion and the wonderful image of a wizard flying across the cover in mid-air. I have to say, that next to the originals which will always have a place in my heart as we own most of them, it’s the Pocket covers that I think manage to get the sense of barely contained chaos that tends to run through all the Discworld books. And they achieve this while still producing a visually appealing effort, which is a huge achievement, given what a tricky task that is. Which is your favourite?
BLURB: Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . .
REVIEW: I’m not generally a huge fan of fantasy heist adventures. It takes serious writing chops to successfully build up the tension within an ensemble crew and make me go on caring, given that I don’t innately sympathise with anti-heroes. But if anyone was going to be able to pull me into such a story, then I knew it would be Green, which his pacey writing, strong characters and tongue-in-cheek humour that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
My instincts were right. This was just what I needed. Gideon is a likeable rogue who is trying to pull down a satisfyingly nasty antagonist by hitting him where it hurts most – by raiding his vault and snatching his most valued possession. In amongst the planning and scheming, there are some lovely touches of gothic horror that had me teetering between shock and laughter. Though there are also some scenes which are more about the seedy side of London and the sheer nastiness of our enemy.
Green has the pacing absolutely nailed. Once we got to a certain stage of the story, there was no way I was putting this one down until I discovered what happens next. And so I very much appreciated the plot twists that Green threw in near the end that suddenly changed the whole dynamic of what is going on. It was very well done – a sudden shift in the narrative like this could have felt like a cheat in less accomplished hands. The story was wrapped up entirely satisfactorily and I’m hoping that this is the first in a new series. Recommended for fans of fantasy heist adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Best Thing You Can Steal from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk – release date 15th April, 2021
#historical fantasy #romance
BLURB: Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar to cut off her powers. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged mage, but her family are in severe debt, and only her marriage can save them.
Beatrice finds a grimoire with the key to becoming a mage, but a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with the sorceress’s brother: the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.
I recently read Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal and was looking around for something else similar. And when I came across this Netgalley arc, I was delighted to be approved for it. I love that cover for starters – and when I read the blurb, I was sold. I’m aware that it’s already been released in the States, but am looking forward to tucking into it. Has anyone else read this one?
I saw this one featured on Books, Bones and Buffy and loved the look of it, so requested it and was delighted to be approved. Would it be as enjoyable as I’d hoped?
BLURB: As an escaped slave, Hetty Rhodes helped dozens of people find their own freedom north using her wits and her magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy, still fight for their people by solving the murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch.
When they discover one of their friends brutally murdered in an alley, Hetty and Benjy mourn his loss by setting off to find answers. But the mystery of his death soon brings up more questions, more secrets, more hurt. To solve his death, they will have to not only face the ugly truths about the world but the ones about each other.
REVIEW: This one grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t let go. This is told in the viewpoint of Hetty, an escaped slave, who helped free others using her magic. As a slave with magical abilities, she’d been forced to wear a collar that not only repressed her magical abilities, but also was used as a means of punishment. I liked the dual timeline; one where we have Hetty and Benjy living in Philadelphia and making a life together within the community of freed slaves; the other timeline in the form of flashbacks to when they were both either escaping, or guiding others to freedom. It worked well, as it gave us vivid scenes of how the pair of them worked together, using magic and their own fighting skills, to save themselves and others, so cut down the amount of explanation that would have otherwise been necessary.
Hetty is a cagey, sharp-edged character who doesn’t quite trust anyone, with the exception of Benjy, who became her companion in desperate situations almost by accident. Once they settle in Philadelphia, they get married to stop any scandal about the fact that their friendship and teamwork means they end up living together. She is also a gifted seamstress and highly talented magical user, using Celestial magic as opposed to Sorcery, which is reserved for whites only. I liked the magic system and didn’t particularly need to have it further explained, as Hetty’s use of the various Celestial symbols when she needed it gave us a ringside seat into the main rules she needed to consider.
I enjoyed the characterisation of Hetty and her relationships with those around her. It becomes apparent during the investigation that while everyone around them is busy moving on with their lives since the war, both Hetty and Benjy are finding it difficult to adapt to their daily routines. The fact that difference is causing rifts in their relationships with their friends and each other is poignant and significant to the plot. Overall, I thought the murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of suspects and a strong sub-plot. However, there is a fair bit of repetition, which slows the pace and slightly silts up the narrative tension.
This is an ambitious book in dealing with the number of plotlines around the themes of of loss and trauma – and how people differ in their handling of it. The storyline around Hetty’s sister felt a bit rushed at the end, and given that this is a series and how much this issue chafes at Hetty, I think the overall pacing would be improved if this plotline was dealt with more thoroughly in the sequel. It seems a bit tacked on at the end – and is why this book didn’t get five stars. Overall, this is an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more about Hetty and Benjy in due course. Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, who enjoy reading about settings other than the usual medieval/early modern European era. While I obtained an arc of The Conductors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10