This one was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies and I scampered across and pre-ordered it. I’m so sorry – I cannot recall who it was who suggested it! So… did I enjoy it?
BLURB:Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter. Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
REVIEW: This epic fantasy is set in an African landscape, where the warring tribes and kingdoms are firmly nested within the culture and magic of the continent. I absolutely loved it, particularly as Rwizi tips us into the world and expects the reader to work a bit to put it all together. I always enjoy SFF that presents a strong three-dimensional world, full of nuances and strong characters – and if I have to pay attention to work out exactly how it all fits together, then that’s fine.
I quickly fell in love with Salo, the apparently timid boy who is paralysed with fear when facing dangerous creatures and can’t fight all that well. Having become very familiar with the dynamic where women and girls are ostracised for wanting to move out of the domestic sphere, I found it a refreshing change that Salo is shunned for not being a warrior, instead being drawn to magic – normally the preserve of the women of the tribe.
Though this form of sorcery isn’t for the faint-hearted. Mastery of magic requires pain and sacrifice and in order to access some of the more powerful layers, lines have to be crossed. It rapidly becomes a lot darker, when the requirement becomes what you have to offer up what you love most… and no, we’re not talking about your favourite item of clothing or jewellery. I was a bit shaken at the brutal cost of it. However, I thought about my reaction and wondered why this magical system struck me as particularly violent. Because it’s not as if European fantasy is remotely cosy, either – but I’ve grown up with that dynamic and am accustomed to how it works. Ditto the stories of sand and sorcery I’ve been reading recently, such as the Daevabad trilogy – just think of Dara’s bloody backstory – but I was acclimatised to tales about djinn since I was a girl. Not so with African magic, which I know very little about. Aspects of it are bloody, coercive and thoroughly dark – like magic systems everywhere else and I think it’s the unfamiliarity of its workings that makes it seem particularly grim.
My mention of S.A. Chakrobarty’s Daevabad trilogy isn’t accidental – the immersive worldbuilding, strong characterisation and complex magical system in Scarlet Odyssey reminded me of many aspects of The City of Brass – see my review – including the long, eventful journey. The major difference is the lack of a romantic thread, which I don’t mind at all. I am so impressed with this debut novel – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next slice of the adventure. Highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy in an African setting. 9/10
I’ll be honest – the cover didn’t do it for me at all. In fact, it probably had the opposite effect, but the opening sentence of the blurb mentioned a single-parent mother as the protagonist and I was suddenly very interested…
BLURB: Pregnant and alone at twenty-one, Chandler Parrish sought refuge within the Northern Circle coven’s secluded complex. Never revealing the identity of her child’s father, Chandler has raised her now eight-year-old son, Peregrine, in peace, and used her talent as an artist and welder to become a renowned metal sculptor. But her world is shaken to the core when Peregrine shows signs of natural faerie sight—a rare and dangerous gift to see through faerie glamour and disguises that could only have come from his father’s genes. Worse yet, the boy has seen a monstrous faerie creature trailing Lionel Parker, a magic-obsessed journalist determined to expose the witching world.
But the very man who threatens the witches’ anonymity may also be key to healing Chandler’s long broken heart. As dangerous desires and shocking secrets entangle, new faerie threats and demonic foes close in on the coven and High Council. Loyalties will be tested. Fierce magics will be called upon. And Chandler will have to face her past to save all she holds dear: her coven, her child—and perhaps even her own soul.
REVIEW: It is relatively rare to find mothers looking out for their children within urban fantasy, so I was immediately attracted by this dynamic and was delighted to be able to get hold of this one. Which was when I discovered it was the third book in the series… However, while I’m sure that if I’d gone back to the beginning and read these books in the correct order, I would have benefitted from a deeper, richer knowledge of the characters and the ongoing dynamic, Esden has made it possible to crash into this series without readers unduly struggling.
I quickly bonded with gutsy Chandler, who makes things out of metal and is fiercely protective of her young son. There is a strong backstory which has the Northern Circle coven still reeling from the aftereffects and adds to the tension when apparently another threat turns up, perhaps related to the previous trouble.
Overall, this was an entertaining and smooth read with plenty going on, a nice magical system and sympathetic characters. The romantic thread had a bit of heat, but it wasn’t too steamy – while the climactic denouement worked well. I enjoyed the resolution and recommend this urban fantasy adventure to those who enjoy stories involving witchcraft. Though I’d advise you begin with the first book, His Dark Magic. While I obtained an arc of Entangled Secrets from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I was rather taken by both the quirky cover and the even more quirky blurb at a time when reading about anything remotely similar to what is going on around us was unbearable. So I was really pleased to be approved to read this one.
BLURB: 10/10 Jared does not have friends. Because friends are a function of feelings. Therefore friends are just one more human obligation that Jared never has to worry about. But Jared is worrying. Which is worrying. He’s also started watching old films. And inexplicably crying in them. And even his Feelings Wheel (given to him by Dr Glundenstein, who definitely is not a friend) cannot guide him through the emotional minefield he now finds himself in.
REVIEW: The blurb rambles on for a bit longer – but to be honest, I don’t think it is particularly helpful as it manages to omit the bit that is important. Jared is a bot, built and designed to be a dentist – a job the humans in our future society don’t particularly want to do. This is set in the near future, where bot labour does most of the dangerous, difficult tasks. But most bots are encased within fast-growing human bodies and able to communicate fluently and reasonably naturally. The big difference is that they don’t have any feelings – don’t experience boredom, loneliness or unhappiness, or love, friendship and delight. As they are programmed to put human lives above their own, they are ideal as construction workers, firefighters and… dentists. While humans concentrate on creative and artistic pursuits, rather than the soul-sapping jobs they used to do. Except that Jared starts to feel emotions… The story is told in first-person viewpoint and I absolutely loved the quirky voice of the bot, which I found absolutely enchanting. Though I’m aware it is something of a risk, because if that highly individual voice annoys a prospective reader, it would be impossible to get through this one. As it happens, I fell in love with it.
Naturally, Jared finds the world around him becomes quite a different place, as he learns to navigate the odd sensations assailing him, using the Feelings Wheel that Dr Glundenstein, his sympathetic human friend and neighbour gives him. Dr Glundenstein advises him to go the movies and watch films – not the modern rubbish which is all about killer bots on the rampage – but older films which get shown in small, shabby little cinemas. One of the ongoing delights is trying to identify classic films from Jared’s quirky descriptions throughout this story. As I cared about Jared, I quickly became invested in his story.
It won’t be a huge surprise that this book is actually an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what happens when we start to regard other folks living among us as less than human. While this is an oft-trodden favourite science fiction trope, I thought this particular take on the whole subject interesting and immersive. And while I was grinning through a lot of the book – there were also moments of great tenderness and sadness, with moments of lovely poetic beauty. All in all, this is a real gem and one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended for fans of well-told A.I. tales. The ebook arc copy of Set My Heart to Five was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 10/10
I’ll be honest – it was the cover that drew my attention to this offering, as it looked so quirky and space-age, though that is rather ironic, given that it is set on Earth in the near future…
BLURB: The year is 2050: automated cities, vehicles, and homes are now standard, artificial Intelligence, CRISPR gene editing, and quantum computing have become a reality, and climate change is in full swing―sea levels are rising, clouds have disappeared, and the planet is heating up. Quinn Buyers is a climate scientist who’d rather be studying the clouds than getting ready for her wedding day. But when an unexpected tragedy causes her to lose everything, including her famous scientist mother, she embarks upon a quest for answers that takes her across the globe―and she uncovers friends, loss and love in the most unexpected of places along the way.
It took me a little while to get into this one, which is set only thirty years into the future. Now, I’m aware that writing near-future sci fi is incredibly difficult, but I did feel that the world changing beyond all recognition in such a radical manner was rather a big ask. I was also not wholly convinced by the characterisation – all the cast, including Quinn, felt a bit unnatural. However, I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and that initial catastrophe to want to read on.
This wasn’t a difficult book to read, as the action never lets up. While it is mostly in Quinn’s viewpoint, I didn’t ever fully bond with her. It’s always a tricky business, writing socially awkward protagonists, because there is a higher likelihood they won’t click with the reader. I was particularly repelled by her unpleasant treatment of the merecat, whose programming meant it was powerless to do anything other than respond in a kindly and positive manner and she effectively bullied and belittled it. I wasn’t all that convinced by the ‘love’ story, either, as it was essentially more about lust than anything else. However, at no stage was I tempted to put this one down, as the plotting was suitably action-filled and unpredictable and I was happy to see where the story went.
But that is the major problem for me – there isn’t a single plotpoint completed within this story. Every important element is left hanging, and every single character we encounter who has any impact on the action is facing a major change or challenge by the end of the story. While I appreciate that in a series, you do want to leave a few dangling plot points – I came away feeling a tad short-changed, as the point of this whole book is to set up the ongoing narrative. So while it is a reasonably entertaining read, overall I also found it a rather frustrating experience. Recommended for readers who enjoy action-led, near-future adventures and ongoing stories. The ebook arc copy of Gravity is Heartless was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 7/10 28.5.20
BLURB: The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers. Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall Ryx, bringing far too much unwanted attention to this small, but strategically vital country – all centred on an ominous ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle…
And yes – I have seriously tweaked the blurb – because the original spoils that gripping opening chapter that hauled me right into the middle of this story. I was delighted to discover that this book is set in the same world as the Swords and Fire series, as I really loved the clever and original magic system. I also appreciated the tense, political tightrope Ryx is attempting to walk in trying to negotiate a peace between two great political powers, as I thoroughly enjoy that dynamic and Caruso writes it well.
She is a sympathetic protagonist whose life is blighted by not being able to touch anyone, due to her twisted magic draining the life out of any living thing. Her sense of loneliness is poignantly portrayed, without holding up the pace, which is harder to achieve than Caruso makes it look. Her desperate desire to succeed with the peace negotiations is effectively portrayed, for as Warden of the castle, she is supposed to be custodian for all who live within its precincts – a difficult task for someone who cannot even reach out and stroke the palace cat. Her development throughout the story is enjoyable to chart, as is her delight when she realises she has friends, even as her life hangs in the balance.
For my money though, there are a couple of intriguing characters who I desperately want to see more of – Whisper is an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle and The Lady of the Owls, Ryx’s powerful immortal grandmother, one of the feared With Lords. We only see her a handful of times throughout the story, but her presence looms over the narrative. It’s nicely done, as is the mounting tension, punctuated by a couple of dramatic action scenes, all the more shocking for their suddenness, after the build-up.
Caruso deftly brings this story to a satisfying conclusion, but there are huge questions left waving in the wind, so the wait for the next book feels far too long. Highly recommended for fans of well-constructed magical worlds with high stakes and twisting plots. Though my advice would be that if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the Swords and Fire series, do get hold of it first as there is a lot in here you will better appreciate if you know the backstory. While I obtained an arc of The Obsidian Tower from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
We are both huge fans of this accomplished, game-changing author, whose Miles Vorkosigan series took a physically disabled character in the far future and redefined what could be done with space opera – see my review of Cryoburn. We have been delighted all over again by her talent in this delightful series of fantasy novellas, set in her World of the Five Gods series, and have followed Penric’s adventures – see my reviews of Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric’s Mission, Mira’s Last Dance, Penric’s Fox, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay. You’ll notice that my ratings are consistently high and quite right, too. So we were thrilled to hear Bujold was bringing out a new book during lockdown that was guaranteed to sweep us away from the current misery surrounding us, and into another world… Or is it? I have linked this review to the Wyrd and Wonder 2020 event.
BLURB: When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.
Yes… it’s all about a mysterious plague! Apparently Bujold was working on this late last year and into the early part of the new year. I was a bit concerned that it would be too close to home – but I decided to make a start on it and if I found the storyline was all about social distancing and quarantining, I could always DNF it and wait until this crisis passed. In the event, I was immediately pulled into the story by dear old Penric, whom I LOVE and didn’t stop reading until I was finished.
I would suggest that if for some reason, you have encountered this offering without having read any of the other books, do at least take the time to get hold of Penric’s Demon. The original adventure sets up the lovely premise running through this series, and while I’d suggest you then work your way through the rest of the novellas on the grounds that it seems a real shame not to read such a cracking series in the right order, you certainly won’t flounder too much. Bujold is far too accomplished a writer for that to happen – and the manner in which she has nailed the novella form proves it. The pages simply turned themselves…
I had been initially concerned that the final scenes of this book would prove unsatisfactory, as like everyone else these days, I know far too much about what a tricky business it is to come out of an epidemic. But I hadn’t taken into account that Bujold knows her way around medical matters sufficiently well to bring the whole crisis to a satisfactory conclusion, including a couple of really nice touches along the way. As ever, a cracking read from one of our most talented SFF authors alive today. Highly recommended for anyone with a pulse, who enjoys an engrossing story that won’t take up a huge slice of life to get through it. 10/10
BLURB: Firewalkers are brave. Firewalkers are resourceful. Firewalkers are expendable. The Earth is burning. Nothing can survive at the Anchor; not without water and power. But the ultra-rich, waiting for their ride off the dying Earth? They can buy water. And as for power? Well, someone has to repair the solar panels, down in the deserts below. Kids like Mao, and Lupé, and Hotep; kids with brains and guts but no hope. The Firewalkers.
I won’t deny that initially I struggled a bit with this one. This setting is brilliantly portrayed and therefore rather on the bleak side. Tchaikovsky’s depiction of a parched, dying world where not even heat-adapted animals and vegetation can any longer survive is very well done. As ever, he manages to weave in Mao’s back story in with the ongoing action so that I quickly bonded with this gutsy, capable youngster, struggling to keep himself and his family fed and watered in this harsh environment. The science is well done, again, without holding up the pace with chunks of indigestible information. And soon enough, I was caught up in the adventure as the three youngsters set off into the heat discover why the power from the solar panels isn’t getting back to Anchor.
I couldn’t see how this was going to end in anything other than a rather downbeat, grim message about what we were doing to the planet – and though I won’t deny that is wrapped up within the story – Tchaikovsky also manages to deliver an ending with plenty of hope, after a tale packed full of incident and well executed story twists. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and it comes highly recommended for fans of clif fi and coming-of-age stories in challenging settings. The ebook arc copy of Firewalkers was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 9/10
I have to declare an interest regarding this book – Caron was one of my Creative Writing students at the Worthing campus of the Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and I have seen earlier drafts of After Seth. It was another student who contacted me to say that she had published it, and it was available on Amazon. Naturally, I was keen to read the final version – and then felt I wanted to spread the word about this gripping, intense read. This is my honest unbiased opinion of the book.
BLURB: At Seth Jameson’s funeral, three women gather at the graveside… But they aren’t there to mourn him. Detective Inspector Beatrice (Billie) Nixon is about to retire. Her last job is to investigate whether Seth’s death was misadventure, as previously thought, or murder. As she hears their stories, a different picture of Seth emerges from the one presented to the world. •Roz – driven to alcoholism after years of physical, mental and financial abuse. •Eleanor – withdrawn from the world after a terrifying and life changing experience. •Imogen – obsessed and delusional. And Beatrice begins to wonder not did anyone kill him, but why did they wait so long? But there were other women in Seth’s life and, as she hears all their experiences, Beatrice discovers a story of strength, friendship and love. And after a lifetime dedicated to the law, she is forced to ask herself… Can murder ever be justified?
I really enjoyed reading this one. All too often, it is those who wreak the damage that somehow seem to prevail by kicking over the rules that keep society and individuals civilised, but while Garrod doesn’t flinch from showing some of the darker consequences of Seth’s actions, I enjoyed the powerful feeling of hope in what could have otherwise been a bleak read. It doesn’t hurt that both Roz and Eleanor both have a wry sense of humour that comes to the fore when the going gets tough.
Of course, this is ultimately a murder mystery. Or is it? Has Seth actually been murdered? Even that is up for debate, and it is only as the book progresses and Billie Nixon continues taking the statements of the women involved in Seth’s life, that she learns the truth. There are some nice twists, particularly as the story progresses, that gives the reader an entirely different take on what is happening, which is always satisfying in a whodunit. I think the ending is beautiful – it not only ties everything up entirely satisfactorily, but left me with a lump in my throat.
Highly recommended for fans of psychological thrillers with a whodunit mystery. 9/10
BLURB: South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William. William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.
Every book North has written under this current pen name – see my review for A Madness of Angels – Book 1 of The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin – has ostensibly been a standalone. However, there is a theme developing here. Individuals who, by luck or some kind of genetic predisposition, find themselves coping with an unusual trait that takes them beyond everyday life and into the realms of the paranormal. William is another of these unfortunates – having been cursed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and when his shadow approaches, he divines the truth of those around him. And as his shadow gets ever closer, he is forced to babble that truth aloud.
This adventure stretches from the 1880s, and ends in 1914 in a field hospital during World War I, so you won’t be surprised to discover that it isn’t long before William’s unique ability draws down attention from the British Empire intelligence services and their department Nineteen. In return for keeping William on the move, so that his shadow is never able to completely catch up with him, he goes where they send him and learns the truth from ambassadors, princelings, other agents all around the world. It gives North an ideal opportunity to chart some of the political shenanigans that goes on during that turbulent time, which she does in impressive detail.
This is, indeed, an impressive book. The prose is impassioned and elegant, the character caught up in a horrible situation so that he is so far out of his comfort zone, he is almost drowning. And yes, if you’re sensing a but, you’re right. I didn’t really like William all that much. I didn’t like anyone all that much. While I sympathised with him intellectually, I simply found him too annoyingly wet and steeped so deeply in his own self-loathing, that I was unable to truly bond with him. And that’s a real shame, because the book is a magnificent achievement. I don’t think I’ve encountered a more impassioned and literate critique of our social value system, both then and now.
I just wish there had been a few more shafts of light and humour, which I know North is capable of writing brilliantly – because by the time I was two-thirds of the way through this one, I was conscious that I’d become a bit numbed to the ceaseless acts of violence against the poor and powerless. That might just mean I’m a really shallow person, but my sense is that if that burning anger against the social injustice of the capitalist, elitist mindset had been just a bit less intense, then there would have been room for me to jump on board, too. I’m also not a fan of the ending.
I’m conscious this sounds like one long moan – but if someone offers me the chance to read her next book, I’ll take it like a shot. North is a remarkable talent, who sees the world in a particular way and although I often find the journey alongside her uncomfortable, there is too much to admire to want to miss it. Recommended for fans of magic realism adventures with a literary edge. The ebook arc copy of The Pursuit of William Abbey was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 8/10
BLURB: Ishmael Jones is someone who can’t afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He’s employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself – is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.
I was expecting some sort of Genesis story here, whereby we learn more about Ishmael and the adventures he had in his long, eventful life on Earth, before he started working for the Organisation. However, that didn’t happen. In fact, if I hadn’t been told that this was the first book in the series, I wouldn’t have guessed. Initially, I was a bit disappointed – but on reflection I think it probably is a strength of this series. Once more, Ishmael is plunged into a tricky situation whereby he is a suspected outsider, looking on a group who all have strong reasons to want to see the back of at least one of their companions. Attending a Christmas party at the urgent request of his boss, Ishmael finds himself driving through one of the worst snowstorms on record. He ends up at a country house in the middle of Cornwall, more cut-off than the moon from any outside help, when it all starts to kick off.
There are a series of gory murders and Ishmael is confronted with trying to discover who the perpetrator is. Green presents us with a series of twists – though I had already guessed who the perpetrator was. Though in this case, it wasn’t a question of finding out who so much as trying to discover how to stop the murderer. I liked the fact that superstrong and inhumanly fast Ishmael had met his match. While there wasn’t quite so much humour in this first offering, there was still enough to make me grin in amongst the mayhem, and it was clear to see the foundations of what has made this series so successful. Recommended for fans of paranormal suspense that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The ebook arc copy of The Dark Side of the Road was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book. 8/10