BLURB: There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.
What will be the spark that lights the conflagration? Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores. Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.
Ilmar, City of Long Shadows. City of Bad Decisions. City of Last Chances.
REVIEW: This story unfolds via multiple viewpoints, with italicised inserts in semi-omniscient point of view. So as the situation within the city steadily deteriorates, while we follow the fortunes of a handful of its citizens from various walks of life, there are also short sections covering a number of characters who only make fleeting appearances and then are gone, not to return. It takes significant technical skill to successfully pull off this type of structure without either losing the reader’s interest or sympathy. Fortunately, Tchaikovsky has that skill – to the extent that I was hooked throughout, even though this is far from my favourite narrative style.
What makes it work is that Ilmar is a fascinating society. In many ways, it’s all too familiar for those of us who studied the likes of Manchester and London during the Industrial Revolution, with the same wretched working conditions for far too many of the population. Then Tchaikovsky adds a twist that demons are also enslaved within factories by the kings of the Underworld, contracted to use their mighty strength and stamina to power the machines that are turning out uniforms for the invading soldiers. For Ilmar is also a city under occupation by a totalitarian regime that is obsessed with bringing Perfection to an imperfect world. And of course, the only way to do that is to conquer all those imperfect states and corral their culture, religion and way of life to the striving for Perfection, right down to altering their language.
In addition to the conquered aristocrats that in theory are running much of the city much of time, despite the occupation – there is also a powerful underclass of criminal gangs that are constantly fighting for supremacy. And one of the places where that battle particularly plays out is in the deserted areas of the city, where not even the occupying Palleseens venture called The Reproach. Ilmar was originally built far too close to a vast forest where vicious, enchanted beings live and the then ruling family made a dynastic pact with the denizens of this wood, which turned them dangerously peculiar. So they were slaughtered in favour of the Duke. But instead of doing the decent thing and fading decorously into the history books, the court of the ruling family is still… alive. And anyone wandering in the wrong part of the woods at the wrong time is apt to be subsumed into their court, to dance until they die, while inhabited by the consciousness of ancient, aristocratic family members.
This could so easily have been a rather charming, fey read. It isn’t. This world is peopled by folks eking out a living in a dangerous society, who have survived by putting themselves first. The powerplays amongst those running the city are all about personal advancement over the wellbeing of those they are responsible for – the Palleseens aren’t too fussy about killing Ilmar’s citizens, anyway. So don’t expect a cast of characters who are either wholly good or bad – everyone is doing the best they can to stay alive, except for a handful carried away by the old stories of glory, who want to see the end of the current occupation. I found it a riveting read, that – despite the grim situation and casual violence – isn’t remotely dreary. I suspect Tchaikovsky’s vivid descriptions, strong control of his narrative drive and flashes of dark humour has a lot to do with that.
As ever when completing one of Tchaikovsky’s books, I came away from this one thinking a lot about the themes of social injustice, the nature of good and evil and what it takes to live a decent life in difficult times. Highly recommended for those who enjoy their fantasy layered with social commentary amidst a vibrantly depicted society. While I obtained an audiobook arc of City of Last Chances from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
BLURB: The Dark Days have returned. The Demon of Carnage mercilessly cuts through villagers and armies. The Demon of Corruption poisons/rots the land. The Serene Empire and the Witch Lords race towards war. And in the middle of it all stands Rxyander, the Warden of Gloamingard.
Burdened by conflicting loyalties and guilt, Ryx searches desperately for a way to defeat the demons before the world she loves is completely destroyed. To find answers, she’ll have to return to where it all started…the black tower at the heart of Gloamingard.
By blood the Door was opened and only by blood will the Dark Days end.
REVIEW: Firstly, whatever you do – don’t plunge into this slice of the adventure without reading the previous two books in the series. Caruso’s writing creaks with tension, plot twists and dangerous, unpredictable characters so that you won’t be in a position to appreciate the full awesomeness of the worldbuilding and some telling developments if you don’t have a full picture of what came before. And no… the helpful summary at the beginning of the book is designed to bump-start your memory, not act as replacement for reading the previous books.
One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the above point is the glorious manner in which Ryx develops throughout the series. She goes from being shunned and desperately lonely without knowing why she has been so cursed at the start of the first book, to coming to terms with who she is and what she’s done by the end of the final book. There is a major reveal that explains a lot about her character and the formidable talent she has for causing mayhem during the second book, which also impacts on the action during The Ivory Tomb in a major way.
In epic fantasy, there nearly always is an overarching threat to the world. Most of the time, the fullest extent of said threat doesn’t come to pass. However this time around, the hammer has fallen and the world is reeling from devastating attacks on several fronts. This keeps the action and tension full on, as Ryx and the Rooks race from one crisis to another in an attempt to save as many lives as possible. Sometimes, such ongoing full-scale devastation comes at the expense of characterisation and description – not so in The Ivory Tomb. Caruso’s skill is evident as she manages to keep all those vital plates spinning, while keeping the pacing dialled up and the action thick and fast. I stayed up far later than intended to discover what happens and whether the denouement and ending matches the eventful, risk-ridden journey. It does.
It’s always something of a wrench when a much-loved series comes to an end, but Caruso brings the Ruin and Rook series back home in triumphant style, with real poignancy and emotion. This wonderful finale is one of my outstanding reads of 2022 and very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Ivory Tomb from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
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 Luminaries by Susan Dennard – release date – 26th January, 2023
#YA #magic adventure #feisty heroine
BLURB: Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you…
Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town―and the rest of humanity―from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night. Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal―and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.
But in order to survive, Winnie must enlist the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for. Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.
I thoroughly enjoyed Truthwitch and Windwitch, so when I saw this one on Tammy’s blog, I immediately nicked across to Netgalley to see if it was available – and was delighted when I was approved for an arc. It sounds as if there’s a slight Hunger Games vibe going on, which I’m happy about if it’s being handled by an experienced author like Dennard.
I loved the first two books in this highly readable epic fantasy adventure – Map’s Edge and World’s Edge, so I was delighted when the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc of this final book.
BLURB: After all they’ve suffered, rebel sorcerer Raythe Vyre and his fortune-seekers are still empty-handed, but they’ve found real treasure: peace.
Deep inside the Ice wastes, Raythe’s people stumbled upon Rath Argentium, the legendary Aldar city, and the long-lost Tangato people. After fighting through betrayal, treachery and powerful magic, they forged a hard-won treaty with the Tangato and their extraordinary queen, Shiazar. Now they’ve put aside their dreams of wealth and revenge and embraced something better: a life outside the tyrannical Bolgravian Empire. But the Bolgravian Empire never gives up.
The empire hasn’t forgotten Raythe Vyre, and his enemies know where he is. Guided by Toran Zorne, the implacable imperial assassin, they are coming to claim Rath Argentium for themselves. Raythe and Shiazar know all too well that courage and cunning won’t be enough this time: they are outnumbered, out-gunned and out of time. Faced with total annihilation, it’s up to Raythe to find an edge . . .
REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy has a slightly old-school feel. That isn’t bad by any means – I’ve loved the strong story-telling, the constant plots twists and intelligent character progression throughout. And I particularly enjoyed The Story So Far… summation at the start, which nicely reminded me of a number of details that I’d have forgotten. A pity that other authors don’t do it – though I suppose they are worried about readers coming across this one without having read the previous books and thinking that a condensed account would suffice. If you do encounter this one without having read the previous books, despite the handy catch-up notes, my firm advice would be to put this offering down and track down Map’s Edge instead. This classy, well-written adventure is far too good to compromise by not reading it in its entirety.
Over the previous two books, there are a handful of outstandingly unpleasant antagonists that I’ve loved to hate. So it was enjoyable to be confronted with them again – and this time around in far more detail, so that I got to know exactly what their motivations were. Once more, Hair has taken some of my assumptions, played with them and bounced them on their head, which put a certain powerful woman in a completely different light. I love it when that happens. The story starts with a bang and goes on delivering yet more surprises and shocks so that instead of going to bed at a reasonably sensible time, I stayed up faaar too late into the night to discover what happened next.
The setting is vividly realised, the characters nicely complex and changing in reaction to the privations and danger they’ve been undergoing, and the plotting masterfully handled. All in all, this is a cracking ending to an excellent epic fantasy adventure that I’ve loved from start to finish. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Sorcerer’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
BLURB: You can find everything you’ve ever dreamed of in the strange, old magical shop known as Old Harry’s Place. The problem is, not all dreams are kind. Gideon Sable – legendary master thief, conman and well-dressed rogue – and his partner in crime Annie Anybody don’t want to be shopkeepers, but when the enigmatic Harry decides to retire, he blackmails the pair into taking the store on.
Before the grand reopening can happen, however, a menacing stranger arrives – with a rare and deadly item for them to appraise. A small piece of rock, with an unnerving aura, which ‘Smith’ claims contains the last echoes of the legendary sirens’ song. Before they can find out more, however, Smith vanishes . . . leaving only the stone. Some valuables are more trouble than they’re worth. But before Gideon and Annie can work out if they’ve been set up, the stone is stolen from its impregnable hiding place. How? And why? Gideon only knows one thing for certain: no one steals from him and gets away with it . . .
REVIEW: This paranormal heist adventure can be read as a standalone, as Green ensures his readers aren’t left floundering – but in order to be fully invested in the characters, I’d advise that you read the two previous before diving into this one. I’m a solid fan of this author, because despite writing a rather dark world full of bloodshed and violence, there is always a humorous quirkiness to the tone that ensures that said darkness never becomes overwhelming or too bleak. And given that a great deal of SFF is on the darker side, I’ve found Green’s lighter touch immensely attractive over the years.
His tendency to humour doesn’t prevent Green from delivering yet another twisty, action-packed adventure where our plucky protagonists are flung (literally, courtesy of a magical mirror) into a highly dangerous situation. I am very fond of Gideon and Annie Anybody, so once more found the pages turning more or less by themselves as they find themselves confronted by a satisfyingly obnoxious antagonist, who has the capability to do them real harm. The denouement brings the adventure to a pleasing close – although I’m not sure that ‘happily ever after’ is on the cards for everyone in Gideon’s team. There is a new addition to the gang who I think is going to wreak havoc to their rather fragile dynamic – and I’m waiting for the next book in this entertaining series to see if I’m right! Highly recommended for fans of paranormal heist adventures that don’t take themselves so seriously that you give up the will to live halfway through. While I obtained an arc of What Song the Sirens Sang from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
It was the comparison with The Goblin Emperor that snagged my attention to this particular offering. It’s one of my favourite fantasy political intrigue reads of all time, so I was very happy to dive into anything else that might strum that vibe. Would I be disappointed?
BLURB: Kadou, the shy prince of Arasht, finds himself at odds with one of the most powerful ambassadors at court—the body-father of the queen’s new child—in an altercation which results in his humiliation.
To prove his loyalty to the queen, his sister, Kadou takes responsibility for the investigation of a break-in at one of their guilds, with the help of his newly appointed bodyguard, the coldly handsome Evemer, who seems to tolerate him at best. In Arasht, where princes can touch-taste precious metals with their fingers and myth runs side by side with history, counterfeiting is heresy, and the conspiracy they discover could cripple the kingdom’s financial standing and bring about its ruin.
REVIEW: This one immediately jumps into the story, to the extent that I wondered if there was a previous book in the series that I’d missed. There wasn’t, so I settled in and before long I was utterly hooked. Kadou is an interesting male protagonist. Highly strung and prone to fits of nervous prostration that leave him with devastating self-loathing, he is all too aware that he doesn’t deal effectively with the cadre of elite bodyguards trained to tend to his every need. In fact, he doesn’t feel that he does anything all that effectively. And that’s a real problem right now, because there has been a worrying break-in that unaccountably isn’t being properly dealt with. It doesn’t help that his sister, the ruling matriarch of their land, has recently given birth to a daughter, so she passes the task for looking into this problem to Kadou. During a hunting trip, there is a disastrous event that leads to the death of two of his guards and the disgrace of his captain. So there is a vacancy for the newly qualified and utterly dedicated over-achiever, Evermer.
I’ll be honest – the growing relationship between Evermer and Kadou wasn’t the main reason for picking this one up and I was far more interested in the conspiracy and Kadou’s interestingly conflicted personality. That said, the romance is skilfully handled. While there is the inevitable misunderstanding that characterises their early relationship, the growing attraction between them is portrayed with tenderness and humour that won me over to the extent that by the end of the book I was thoroughly rooting for the couple to overcome the hurdles ranged against them.
I enjoyed the magic, where some adepts are able to trace the purity of metals they touch while some are gifted, or cursed, with the ability to know if someone is lying. However, I did feel the intricacies of the magic system was a bit under-developed and I would have liked to know more about how many of the population had magic, for instance. And whether Kadou’s synesthetic experience regarding his magical talent is the norm. The book also ended rather abruptly – I strongly feel there should be a second book in the offing to complete the narrative arc, though there isn’t any sign that this is a series on Goodreads or Amazon. And for both these reasons, I have knocked a point off what would have been a ten for me, with a compelling, complicated character and a lushly written backdrop that doesn’t hold up the action. This author is One to Watch and comes highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of A Taste of Gold and Iron 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 – AUDIOBOOK Orbs of Wisdom – Book 6 of the Dragon Gate series by Lindsay Buroker – release date – hm… probably end of December 2022/beginning January 2023 (judging by the comparative release dates of the audiobooks to the ebooks in the series).
#fantasy adventure #dragons #magic #delightful mother and son protagonists
BLURB: The final installment in the Dragon Gate saga!
With his mother’s life at stake and the entire world threatened by powerful dragons, the sand in the hour glass is running out for Jak Freedar. He and his allies must find the ancient Orbs of Wisdom and hope they hold the solutions to the problems plaguing humanity and the dragons before it’s too late. I’ve LOVED listening to the first four books in this gripping epic fantasy series featuring Jak and his archaeologist mother, who get snatched by greedy, ambitious mage King Uthari and have been swept up in the amazing adventure that follows. It is chockful of engaging characters who I’ve grown to love, such as Rookie Tezzy and her enchanted axe – as well as some really nasty antagonists I love to hate. I was thrilled to discover that the fifth book, Sky on Fire, is now available as an audiobook and have just finished listening again to the fourth book, Chosen for Power before tucking into it. So I am thoroughly looking forward to the sixth and final book with a familiar mixture of emotions. I’m desperate to know what happens, yet… I don’t want this series to end!
BLURB: All legends are born of truths. And just as much lies. These are mine. Judge me for what you will. But you will hear my story first.
I buried the village of Ampur under a mountain of ice and snow. Then I killed their god. I’ve stolen old magics and been cursed for it. I started a war with those that walked before mankind and lost the princess I loved, and wanted to save. I’ve called lightning and bound fire. I am legend. And I am a monster. My name is Ari. And this is the story of how I let loose the first evil.
REVIEW: This one has been compared to The Name of the Wind – which was a major reason why I requested it. And the comparison is spot on. This is Ari The Storyteller, who conjures fires and special effects to beguile audiences, using magical folding techniques to control the magic. In amongst his current adventures, he encounters a beautiful, mysterious woman – and this time around he’s the one who is beguiled. She is also clearly more than she seems and persuades him to open up and tell his story. So we have two narrative timelines running – that of Ari and his current adventures, and his recitation of his past, which is every bit as compelling as what is going on in the present.
By now, you’ll be aware that in order to pull readers into the story and keep them equally engrossed in both narratives, Virdi has to be a talented author with serious writing chops. I’m delighted to report that Virdi is triumphantly successful in producing a highly readable page-turner, despite the ambitious premise and intimidating length. Because by the time I got around to reading it, I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for such a long, epic fantasy about a mysterious magic-user. And I was expecting to read a couple of chapters, then put it to one side and keep going back to it in between other, less hefty and taxing reads. In the event, that didn’t happen, because I simply didn’t want to stop reading the story. And given that it’s 800+ pages, that in itself is an impressive testimony to the compulsive pull of this tale.
I loved it. To the extent that I wasn’t even particularly cross that Virdi has the nerve to leave a book of this length on something of a cliff-hanger. If you’re a confirmed epic fantasy fan, who thinks fondly of Rothfuss, Martin and Hobb et al with a nostalgic sigh, then track this one down. It’s a big, beguiling read full of wit, humour and sadness and marks Virdi as One To Watch. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy reads the size of house bricks. While I obtained an arc of The First Binding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
Having reached a certain age, I’m always looking out for entertaining fantasy books with older protagonists – and this one caught my eye. Apart from the pretty cover, I also liked the sound of the blurb – would I enjoy the book as much as the premise?
BLURB: For Claire Emerson, there is nothing ordinary about turning sixty. First, there are the crows. Then, a pendant that unlocks a gate to a house in the woods–which comes with a snarky gargoyle, an entirely too-sexy wolf shifter claiming to be Claire’s protector, and a legacy that turns her reality upside down.
Because divorced, menopausal grandmothers with creaky hips and hot flashes? They don’t just randomly discover they’re next in a long line of powerful women protecting the world from the dark magick of Mages.
Claire’s first instinct is to turn tail and run back to the safety of baking cookies and reading bedtime stories. But when it becomes clear the Mages have targeted her, she may have no choice but to accept her calling. There’s just one problem: she never got the lifetime of training she was supposed to have, and her magick is… well, unreliable would be an understatement. With the Mages threatening everything she loves, can Claire learn what she needs to in time to become Crone? Or will she be the one to lose an ancient war—and her life?
REVIEW: I am always delighted to come across heroines of a certain age who feature in fantasy adventure stories, especially as I’ve now also reached that certain age. That said, I’m allergic to the trope whereby they suddenly have access to an elixir that helps them overcome creaking joints and smooths out the wrinkles. Or find themselves wielding a magic sword with the skill and ease of a thirty-something swordmaster. So my track record with this sub-genre is a tad patchy.
I’m delighted to report that Claire is none of the above. In fact, at the start of the book she is hosting her own sixtieth birthday party with nothing much to celebrate. Her ex-husband has left her for a much younger woman with whom he has started a second family, her son and daughter-in-law are increasingly treating her as an elderly nonentity and she feels as if she’s spent her life putting everyone else first with not much to show for it. The problem is – on the cusp of becoming properly old, she has no idea what she really wants for herself… This could have been a really dismal opening, but for Claire’s wry humour which I found very appealing. The story starts quite slowly, something I didn’t mind as it gave me plenty of opportunity to bond with Claire. This is important, as she narrates the tale in first-person viewpoint.
However, once the action does start rolling it quickly picks up speed. I liked the fact that her transition from the normal everyday to the fantastic isn’t smooth or easy. Her attempts at magick are either non-existent or overwhelming to the point of catastrophic and she’s hopeless in any physical fight. Although she does have a gorgeous werewolf protector and a gargoyle assigned to train her. Hawke writes action vividly with some nicely original touches – I’ll never look at a garden gnome in the same way again – and while the shafts of humour continue, there is also loss and heartbreak.
Claire’s journey throughout the book is well handled, so that I believed in the character throughout. I’m keen to continue reading this series to discover what happens next. And the bonus is that the next two books are already available, so I won’t have to wait to tuck into A Gathering of Crones. Highly recommended for urban fantasy fans who enjoy older protagonists. While I obtained an arc of Becoming Crone from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
This is my update on how I’m coping with Long Covid now it’s been over seventeen months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
As we now have our grandsons staying with us, it’s been another full-on week. Ethan’s summer job has become a lot busier as the back-to-school rush for uniforms hits its peak. He is coping really well with long days serving fraught parents and their miserable children. I can’t quite believe that the summer holidays have slipped by so fast and he is about to begin his final week before he starts back at college for the second year of his animation course. We took Oscar to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust last Tuesday on a rainy day. Another year and I would be moaning about the weather – but after weeks of blistering heat, it was delightful to wander around in the misty drizzle and watch the birds enjoying themselves – as you can see from the pics.
Other than that, I’ve been up in the mornings to ensure Ethan has a good breakfast and give him a lift to work. Initially we’d thought he could walk it – but given the brutal heat, we took the decision to drive him to work. And although it’s now cooler, I am reluctant to make him walk over a mile there and back on top of working full shifts when he hasn’t had a chance to be acclimatised to it.
I am feeling more energetic than I did last week, although there are still good and bad days. I’m pleased to see I’ve started losing some of the weight I put on while spending so much time bedridden and exhausted and I can now wear some of my jeans. I’ve still got quite a way to go before I can get into most of my clothes, but right now that isn’t a priority as I’m still not sufficiently recovered to consider a full reconditioning and fitness programme. I am looking forward to the time when I can go swimming at the local leisure centre while Boomerang Boy is hitting the gym, instead of spending my time sitting in their very uncomfortable chairs reading a book. He’s very pleased to see some muscle development since he started attending at the start of the summer holidays and we’re hoping to continue attending once he returns to school. He has also grown more than an inch since we measured him in the second week of August.
While my writing progress has been hit and miss throughout the summer, I have made some progress on the third book of Castellan’s adventures, Problems With Power. I thought I’d discovered a plot hole near the end of the previous book, Trouble With Dwarves, but Himself pointed out that I was overthinking the issue and suggested that I sort it out with a suitable conversation, instead of several major scene changes and a whole new sub-plot. I’ll be taking his advice and adding said conversation in the coming week – full of relief that I won’t have to administer major surgery to the ongoing narrative!
I’ve recently read:-
Her Majesty’s Warlord – Book 2 of the Stuck in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall After being trapped in a very strange world, Elliot Richardson found his footing and led the forces of Damansara to victory, only to find himself under threat from jealous and resentful city fathers who thought he was on the verge of overthrowing their rule and taking their power for himself.
Isolated and alone, Elliot accepted an offer of employment from Princess Helen of Johor and finds himself travelling to the heart of her kingdom, to a city caught between the stagnant past, the hope of a better future and factions threatening to burn the world down rather than risk letting it be saved. And, as Elliot goes to work, he finds himself threatened by powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to see him brought down… This is a spin-off from the gripping Schooled in Magic series that I’ve been working through during the last year – and I’m now following Elliot’s progress as he struggles to cope in a world where magic is the ultimate power, rather than technology. However, it’s also a world riven by social discontent as the agrarian culture, relying on peasants and downtrodden serfs to produce the food, is beset by sudden change. Once again, Nuttall has produced an action-packed read, full of plot twists and action that I thoroughly enjoyed. And being an indie book, it is also excellent value for money😊. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – Emma by Jane Austen, narrated by Emma Thompson Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.
I’m working my way through the collected novels of Jane Austen and I hadn’t particularly been looking forward to reaching Emma, as the last time I read the book I decided that Mr Knightly was a priggish misery. This time around, listening to the fabulous Emma Thompson, I didn’t find him such a pain. The humour of listening to both Emma and Mr K. being eaten up with jealousy without necessarily realising their feelings for each other was also more apparent. All in all, this was far more fun than I was expecting and turned out to be really enjoyable. However, I could do without all the music in this production. 8/10
The Half Killed – Book 1 of The Sundered Veil series by Quenby Olson Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.
She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.
And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control. I had read Olson’s entertaining romp about a dragon’s egg surfacing in a small village and it in no way prepared me for the intensity of this fantasy thriller. The writing is rich and layered, giving a vivid evocation of London during a savage heatwave in a time when people’s clothing was all about keeping them sufficiently warm. I loved the world and the steadily escalating tension in this classy read, rooting for Dorothea all the way. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK – Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.
I’m generally not all that impressed with the classic sci fi reads from this era – far too often it’s all about the lantern-jawed hero with female characters providing bed partners and/or requiring to be rescued just to show the protagonist off as courageous and tough. Not so this one – the protag is a well-written, nuanced heroine, who engaged me throughout with her intelligence and resilience. I also enjoyed the diverse ethnic range of characters throughout, showing that Delany was well ahead of his time. The ideas raised regarding language aren’t new – not when considering books such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Embassytown – but I enjoyed the way Delany explores the subject. The only reason this one didn’t get a 10 was that the end felt a bit rushed and was weak and ordinary when compared with the quality of the rest of the book. 9/10
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope Washington D. C., 1925
Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.
Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents. This one is a gripping read. Clara is a sympathetic heroine, full of anger at how her life has been twisted by the gift bestowed upon her. The story also throws into relief the extra hardship being black is in Washington in the 1920s in a very matter-of-fact way, which gave me – a white middle-class Brit woman – a better appreciation of the unremitting harshness of being instantly judged by the colour of your skin. Review to follow.
A Date With Death – #0.5 of the Conjuring a Coroner series by S.C. Stokes Whoever said blood is thicker than water hasn’t met the Harrington family. New York royalty, the Harrington family are old money with magic coursing through their entitled veins, and the only thing the Harringtons care less about than each other…is the law.
When Lester dies unexpectedly, his considerable estate is set to pass to his surviving heirs. But the coroner, Kasey Chase, has ruled Lester’s death a homicide, sparking a family feud that sees the Harrington heirs turn on each other in a lethal struggle where the only prize for second place is death.
With unlimited resources and a callous disregard for human life, the Harrington’s have to be stopped before the city pays the price for their petty war. Caught in the middle, Kasey is left fighting for her life. Fortunately, she’s been hiding a secret of her own. Kasey is a witch. Kasey is an appealing heroine – and I liked how reluctant she is initially to get sucked into such a potentially tricky situation. I get a tad tired of protagonists who happily run towards danger the rest of us would instinctively back away from. And when this one finally kicked off – the action rolled forward and didn’t let up until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Kasey goodness as this urban fantasy adventure is a page-turning read. 8/10
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