Tag Archives: novella

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

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I’ll make time for anything Reynolds has written – even his least stellar efforts are characterised by wonderful imaginative leaps and at his best, he weaves worlds of wonder that have lodged in my head years after reading them. See my review of Revenger.

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at slowbulletsan end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

Scur is an intriguing protagonist, having been unfairly conscripted to punish her father for his political activities against the regime. She is on her way back home, eager to see her parents and reassure them that despite some of the things she has been forced to do during the war, she is still okay and it isn’t their fault… Only during her homeward journey, she is once more overtaken by circumstances beyond her control and finds herself in a very tricky situation.

The slow bullets of the title are a type of chip implanted deep in the body such they are unable to be removed without killing the recipient, but nevertheless, they can still be read. Details of a person’s life can continue to be fed into its memory, along with images of people who matter in their lives, where they have worked or served. All soldiers have a slow bullet inserted as a matter of course, along with a portion of civilians. And prisoners…

So is someone the sum of what is on their slow bullet? Does that completely encompass who they are and what they are capable of? These are some of the questions behind this engrossing space opera adventure. Scur finds herself in a leadership role, despite not wanting it, because her driving concern is to return home and she cannot see how they are going to do so if she lets the one technical civilian continue to drift, locked in horror when he discovers the enormity of the jam they are in, when things go wrong on the transport ship. That said, he is also the person who manages to solve a whole lot of problems along the way – they probably wouldn’t survive without his input.

As well as raising some interesting issues, Reynolds also provides a real page-turner – over the years I have read one or three space opera adventures and I sort of guessed where this one was going. Until it took a left turn and went in an entirely different direction altogether, leaving me agog and desperate to know how the whole mess was going to pan out. So once the story steps completely over any of my expectations, does Reynolds bring this one to a satisfactory conclusion?

Oh yes. I think this one is going to reverberate around my head for a while, given the unsettling final section. Small wonder Slow Bullets won the Locus Award for Best Novella 2016 and was a nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Novella. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Slow Bullets from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric and the Shaman – a World of Five Gods novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

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After recently reading Penric’s Demon I decided to treat myself to more Penric goodness and so plunged straight back into this world.

penricandtheshamanIn this novella set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in Penric’s Demon, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Penric is now a noted scholar and has learnt to live alongside his demon he calls Desdemona. It is enjoyable to see his growth in confidence and how he is still having to negotiate the personalities within him as he deals with this ongoing crisis. Bujold’s deft characterisation comes into its own as we also see slices of this adventure in the viewpoint of Inglis and the locator sent to track him down. Given this is a novella in multiple viewpoint, the story needs to get cracking – and yet at no time does the pace seem rushed or the characterisation thin. As you’d expect with a story set in an established series, the worldbuilding is pinsharp with weather, landscape and settlements pinging off the page.
While this story is about death and possible murder, there is a lot of humour. Penric copes with his demon by use of snark – or maybe it is the demon’s preferred choice… it’s not always easy to tell. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Penric through the eyes of those interacting with him, as well as getting the benefit of seeing his own point of view – which had rather more internal dialogue than is usual.

As ever with Bujold, no one is shown to be perfectly good or all bad. Her characters are always a blend with their own agendas and foibles, which makes for an intelligent, nuanced story. As for the ending – it wasn’t a huge surprise, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. Although I did hold my breath several times – you can never completely relax with this author as she is quite capable of taking a story on an unexpected left turn, leaving you scrabbling to catch up.

Himself, who is a solid fan of all things Bujold, informs me that she is in the process of writing another slice of Penric’s adventures. I’m delighted and if you’d like a taster of what this talented, multi-award author has to offer, then look out this novella, preferably after reading Penric’s Demon although you won’t flounder overly if you don’t. It comes highly recommended.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook novella The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery

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I saw this offering on Netgalley and was attracted by the intriguing title and blurb – although I hadn’t appreciated it was a novella when I requested it.

theimlenbratStisele of Imlen knows she’s in trouble, but not how much. The young adopted daughter of Beltresa’s sovereign longs to be a weapon in her mother’s service — even against her birth family, should Utroneth ask it. If only Stisele could master the temper that drives her to pepper the royal heir with petty kin-curses. But Stisele’s dreams are bigger than the balance of intrigues that keeps her alive and captive in this perilous royal court. She can be more than a speaker of kin-curses. She deserves a life beyond the palace islet she’s never left. Her two imaginary friends, if indeed that’s what they are, tell her so. If Stisele is to make her own life in a world that’s not ready for her, she must regain the trust of wary allies. She must begin to control the power of the kin-curse — her imaginary friends are as much hindrance as help. And she will have to give up her place in the only home she’s ever known.

Stisele is a hot-tempered, impetuous child who comes across as just that, which is very refreshing. It is very difficult to write convincingly as a child without appearing to be just that bit too wise and self-aware – and Stisele isn’t either. She is also in a very difficult place and I enjoyed the fact that we appreciated her precariousness well before she did. Her two imaginary friends also produce a nice plot twist near the end of this story.

The cast of characters – from her spoilt step-sister who is to be the future ruler, to her loving and very concerned step-mother  – all jump off the page, giving us an opportunity to view them both through Stisele’s eyes and gauge our own opinions about them. This is far harder to accomplish than Avery makes it look and for me, this was a large part of the joy of this novella, also providing some welcome shafts of humour, even while I was wincing.

Overall, this novella is a delight. But the moment I completed it, I went looking for more from this talented writer and found nothing else, which was quite frustrating as this clearly reads as an opening salvo to a longer adventure in a politically complicated, well depicted world with clear magical rules. I  hope that Avery has plans to release a full-length novel in this world soon – I for one, will be only too pleased to scoop it up and become engrossed once more in Stisele’s adventures.

My copy of The Imlen Brat was provided by the publisher via Netgalley, which has not affected my unbiased review of the novella in any way.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Penric’s Demon – A World of Five Gods novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Anyone who has read my blog will know that I am a huge fan of Bujold’s work – see my review of Cryoburn. And this short offering is set in the world she created with The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt. It’s a measure of the mess I’m in with my TBR mountain that gems like The Hallowed Hunt and Penric’s Demon exist in there unread.

penricsdemonOn his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season”, and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric’s life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

It’s a great premise and Bujold handles it beautifully. During the rest of the story, we witness the unworldly, poverty-stricken younger son grapple with the challenge of facing an ancient demon used to residing within highly trained women. I love the way she unfolds the story and I get lost in her worlds in a way that rarely happens with anyone else. There are no bells and whistles with Bujold’s writing style, nevertheless its smooth unobtrusiveness doesn’t so much hook as harpoon me into her story – it was almost physically painful to put down the book before finishing it.

Penric is very well handled – it would have been easy to write him as an unknowing innocent or some appalled victim flailing around helplessly, but while he is inexperienced and naïve, he is also intelligent. I love the little details she adds – the demon’s fascination with Penric’s body, for instance. Bujold’s wry humour regularly surfaces throughout this novella, so that along with the growing tension and danger I also had moments where I found myself grinning.

The supporting cast are also vividly depicted and this world leaps off the pages as only worlds can when an author knows and loves an establishing setting. So although this isn’t a long book, it covers a lot of ground in a short space of time and while I was aware I was burning through it fast, it didn’t suddenly come to an abrupt halt just as it was getting going – an ongoing issue I have with some poorly paced novellas.

As you might have gathered, I LOVED this one. It’s a gem and before the month is over, I’ve promised myself the pleasure of sitting down with the sequel Penric and the Shaman – and it’s promises like this that make Life so very sweet.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 27th September, 2016

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Teaser

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

This is my choice of the day:
Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzie Ford
74% Arthur finished checking the gelding’s girth and turned to face his unhappy friend. “If I do not avelinereturn by dawn, you know what you are to do.”
“Return to the city and your sister.”
“Good.”
“But I will search for you first.”

BLURB: In post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly.

Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Caught between her father’s debtors and his enemies, Aveline reluctantly accepts.

Ignore the very wafty cover – this novella is far more gritty and adventurous than it suggests. Aveline is gutsy, sharp and streetwise, whereas Tiana hasn’t so much as set foot in a Lost Vegas street. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the story and hope it will resolve satisfactorily at the end, which seems to be coming up far too fast.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ghoul King – Book 2 of the Dreaming Cities series by Guy Haley

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When I requested this one from NetGalley, I wasn’t aware that it was a novella or part of a series. However I’m glad about that, because I probably wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise, which would have been a shame.

theghoulkingThe Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory. After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot. But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…

I’ve recently read The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic tale of a ruined America struggling to cope after a plague of cannibalistic creatures that were once human – see my review here. This adventure has many similarities – set in a post-apocalypse America where nests of vampire-like ghouls lodge in derelict buildings. The difference in The Ghoul King is that surviving humanity is ruled by fearsome angelic beings, who decree that no technology is allowable for any reason – and back up that edict with terrible punishments.

The fact I hadn’t read the first slice of this adventure didn’t matter – I was quickly swept up into the action, following Quinn as he was plunged in the middle of an action-packed quest. Haley writes with pace and economy, managing to pack a great deal in a short amount of time. I didn’t particularly bond with Quinn, but then I don’t think we’re supposed to. However, I really liked Jaxon, the healer driven to rebel as he finds himself treating patients who are dying of illnesses entirely preventable – if only he had access to some of the old, forbidden knowledge. The story is told in first person viewpoint as Jaxon is interrogated by the authorities.

There are some interesting twists along the way  and the ending satisfactorily tied up the story arc, while leaving a couple of dangling ends in readiness for the next instalment in this desperate, ruined world. I have found myself thinking about it at times, while supposedly working on something else, which is always a sure sign that a book has ticked all the boxes. If you are a Justin Cronin fan, then consider tracking down this bite-sized post-apocalyptic world – it is worth it. I received an arc copy of this novella from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Date Night at Union Station – Book 1 of the EarthCent Ambassador series by E.M. Foner

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I encountered this book after emerging, rather shaken, from reading a compellingly grim apocalyptic near-future science fiction adventure and asking Himself to recommend something that was fun. And he came up with this chirpy, self-published novella, which is a free Kindle ebook.

datenightKelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. When she receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, Kelly decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

Novellas aren’t my favourite format (that said, I’ve read several this year which I’ve really enjoyed…) because just as I’m about to really settle into the characters, they up and finish. But this one gets over that problem by dint of giving the reader short episodic accounts in different viewpoints, which stitch together to provide us with an idea of life on Union Station. It has the feel of Babylon 5 without some of the darker narrative threads.

Foner is an able writer with a nice light touch regarding the humour, and a knack of being able to deftly depict characters and situations with a smooth, accomplished style. This entertaining read is a world away from the gritted, claustrophobic disasters we are more used to seeing played out in space. That said, the main protagonist, Kelly, isn’t having an easy time of it – the dream job comes with some serious drawbacks. And then, there’s that rash promise she made to her mother a number of years ago…

However, Kelly isn’t just sitting around on Union Station twiddling her thumbs and looking around for a suitable spouse, she has more than enough on her plate trying to keep humanity safe in the shark tank of trading deals with a variety of greedy aliens. And while humans are being shepherded by the Stryx, an ancient enigmatic AI, their viewpoint is… alien, which often leaves Kelly floundering.

There is a delightful supporting cast of characters, my favourites being Donna and her two pre-teen daughters, who are on a mission to get ‘poor Aunty Kelly’ a steady someone in her life. However, this hunt for a suitable partner is more of a nifty plot device for embarrassing encounters in dubious bars, rather than a typical romance. I also thoroughly enjoyed ex-mercenary Joe’s adventures in trading scrap and keeping his adopted son out of trouble. The eventual conclusion to Kelly’s series of dates is telegraphed well before the end – but that isn’t the point. It’s all about how she gets there with the series of quirky adventures she has on the way.

Small wonder that Foner, who originally wrote this offering and self-published it to cheer himself up while working on an epic fantasy, found himself besieged with requests for more Union Station goodness. There is now a series of nine novellas in this world that I, for one, will be revisiting very soon.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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I had encountered McGuire’s work earlier this year, thanks to a recommendation by Himself – read my review of Rosemary and Rue here. So when this novella featured on NetGalley, my attention was Everyheartadoorwaycaught. However, I’m not a fan of novellas, generally. Far too often, I’m just getting into the swing of the story when it all comes skidding to a halt. Would this be the case, this time around?

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world. But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things. No matter the cost.

It’s an intriguing premise. I was convinced I was reading one type of genre – and then found I was reading something quite different. Huge kudos to whoever wrote the blurb to this story – it’s smart and snappy and sets up the narrative without revealing anything vital.

The McGuire magic soon had me engrossed in this little treasure. This delicately told tale pulled me into heartbreak and strangeness of the situation, before ambushing me with the gothic element that ripples through this story. We get sprinkles, unicorns and blood-dripping horror all wrapped up in this story, which is beautifully paced and perfectly concluded.

In short, this is a gem. And I read the last page with a lump in my throat – something that rarely happens in full-length books when I have 300+ pages to grow to care for a character.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of the KINDLE Ebook Driven – An Otherworld Stories novella by Kelley Armstrong

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With this very popular werewolf series finally completed, Armstrong has been persuaded to offer those of us suffering from Clay and Elena withdrawal symptoms this novella to ease the pain…

DrivenCains are known for being big, brutish and not-too-bright. The mutt clan embodies all the supernatural world’s worst stereotypes about werewolves. But when young Davis Cain comes to the Pack for help, Alpha Elena Michaels can’t refuse him. However, Elena is also dealing with the Pack’s homegrown monster—Malcolm Danvers, onetime enforcer, full-time psycho, who suddenly appears and forces Elena to make one of the hardest decisions as Alpha. Will he be allowed back into the Pack, or has his past cruelty finally caught up with him?

That is an edited version of the rather chatty blurb in one of a series of novellas and short stories that Armstrong has written between the main novels of the series, designed for fans who want to see the character progression and some of the backstory that doesn’t make it into the main books. While I’m not a huge fan of short stories and short novellas, preferring the longer story arc and deeper characterisation that comes with novels, in this case, with 232 pages, I didn’t find it a problem. An important consideration is that I already know the main characters so well already, that some of the time normally taken to bond with protagonists and learn their strengths and weaknesses is not necessary. And I will stress, again, that Driven is designed for fans of the Otherworld series and not for readers who haven’t yet encountered any of the novels.

Himself ordered the Kindle ebook on its release in December, but the print copy that has only just been released comes with a series of illustrations which look fabulous. So… does the story deliver the goods? Oh yes – I loved this slice of Otherworld goodness. This is Armstrong back to her best, featuring Elena and Clay, the couple that – along with Paige – were always my favourites, anyway. And while this wrinkle isn’t wildly original, I like the way we see progression within the characters we have watched suffer through a thicket of adventures – and the emergence of a major antagonist who loomed over the series in his absence through exploring the damage he’d already inflicted on a number of protagonists.

All in all, this is a slick, enjoyable read and if you are a fan who’d appreciate revisiting the The Pack, then it is recommended. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure and you enjoy urban fantasy at its pacy best in a wide-ranging series whose popularity is well deserved – then track down Bitten, the first book in the series.
8/10

Review of Green Sky & Sparks by Kate Coe

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This novella is the beginning of a fantasy tale with a strong steampunk theme running through it.

In a world of magic, wind and electricity, Catter Jeck is offered the chance to explore a myth. Travelling from city to Green-Sky-Final-Front-1-616x1024city, his search for the centre of the magic catches others in its coils. When the Lord Heir of Meton offers to continue the search in his flying machine, the consequences of their crash – and Toru’s accidental link to a dying healer – suddenly become of central importance to all of their lives.

This character-led tale packs a great deal in this slim volume, where the world is vividly depicted. Catter and Toru both sing off the page – in fact the character I found I cared most about was the volatile, headstrong Toru, who is larger than life in both his virtues and his faults. His frustration at the limits his title places on his life, along with his passion for flying pack a punch – as do his emotions. I love the world and the way the unintended mental link completely upsets everyone’s plans.

A novella doesn’t have any wriggle room to get any of the components badly wrong – in a full novel if the dialogue or scene setting is below par, I can forgive these flaws if the narrative tension, storyline and characterisation are good. But when there are fewer words, just like a short story, it all has to work as there isn’t sufficient content to diffuse any major problems with the technique or writing.

Coe hits the ground running with this engrossing, enjoyable tale that has me wanting to read the next slice of the adventure – although I would have loved it even more if the two novellas had been rolled into one longer story, as it ended just as I was really getting into the world.
8/10