Tag Archives: novella

Review of KINDLE novella Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai series by Marie Brennan

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The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command.

There is will. There is need.

And so, in reply, there is a woman.

At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.

And this female warrior springs into life, full of fury, not knowing who she is or where she comes from – but bound by magic to the rather frightened mage who summons her. So… as a reader, do I care about her? After all, I haven’t a clue who she is or what she stands for – other than the fact that they are all very frightened of her and she would dearly like to do them bloody harm. What about learning of her backstory to pull me into her world and make me bond with her? Nope – that can’t happen. She doesn’t know so much as her name. But, yes – I care, alright.

As she struggles to make sense of what is going on, she quickly becomes subsumed with her quest. Which she only has the haziest notion about – and the mage warns her that she shouldn’t try to find out too much, or it will be used against her. Yet Brennan still managed to pull me into this violent, threat-filled world we see through the viewpoint of a magically bound warrior, who can’t even recall her name. It takes serious writing chops to pull off such a feat – so many of the usual techniques used to make readers bond with main characters are simply off the table with this scenario.

But what is in abundance is punchy, strong writing in this epic, classic warrior story. Brennan draws on all our memories of heroic warriors stretching back as far as Beowulf and King Arthur and evokes echoes of those stories with her elevated language. It’s nicely done – too much would have just come off as pretentious and annoying, while not enough would haven’t given this tale the gravitas necessary to keep the stakes so high and pull us in.

As it is, I was hooked right from the dramatic moment of her summoning as she struggles against the magical bindings while trying to work out who she is – and then manages to sustain that tension and threat throughout. As for me – I could no more put this one down until it was finished than flap my wings and fly around the room… I was caught up in the story, while also trying to figure exactly how Brennan sank her hooks so deeply into me with such a tricky, violent character.

I was also a tad concerned that by the end, I still would be as much in the dark as I was at the start – which would have probably had me hurling my Kindle across the room. But Brennan knows how to play fair with her readers and the quest was brought to a satisfactory ending, while also providing us with some information about our mysterious female warrior – which of course, I’m not going to divulge as it would be a spoiler. This one comes highly recommended.
9/10

Sunday Post – 11th June 2017

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

Last Sunday was all about the garden – before it started raining… and until yesterday, it has rained every day, with gale-force winds for the first half of the week. My fault entirely, of course – that will teach me to boast about the wonderful weather we’ve been having.

This week, I was back to teaching – it was lovely to catch up again with my students, as well as going out on Wednesday evening to my writing group where we read our work aloud to each other and speculated on the up-coming election. On Thursday Mhairi came over and we were able to exchange writing ideas and in the evening, we attended West Sussex Writers to an excellent talk and workshop on travel writing by Janet Rogers. It was the first time I’d managed to go for several months, so it was lovely to catch up with several members and enjoy listening to an experienced and successful writer talk about a writing genre I know little about. When I got home, I flicked on the television, saw the exit polls and had to see more. Himself needed to go to bed – he still finds he has to have a solid 6-7 hours after years of sleep apnea – but my daughter and I spent the night texting and talking over the phone as the results first trickled and then poured in. It was a very exciting election night – and what a feast for writers as we watched politicians confronted with defeat and loss of career – or vibrating with joy as unexpected victory took them to a new, exciting opportunity.

On Friday afternoon, we picked up Frances from school because on Saturday, I had arranged to take her to the International Comic Expo held at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Brighton. We had a great time. She loves drawing and is busy designing her own comics, so I wanted her to see a range of art styles and stories. Everyone was so very chatty and encouraging to her. She came away with a selection of comics, all with different story and artwork styles, and buzzing with new ideas.

Throughout all that, I haven’t experienced the now-familiar feeling of utter exhaustion and pounding headache so I’m profoundly hoping that by taking some supplements and ensuring I keep away from too much sugar – which always hoovers up my energy anyway – I have finally bounced back, healthwise. Yippee!

This week I have read:
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
A young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now derelict—and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear. Rachel ekes out an existence in the shelter of a run-down sanctuary she shares with her partner, Wick, who deals his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but exudes a strange charisma. Borne reminds Rachel of the marine life from the island nation of her birth, now lost to rising seas. There is an attachment she resents: in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet, against her her wishes – and those of Wick, Rachel keeps Borne.
While VanderMeer gives us a vivid portrait of a ruined landscape, distorted by the trashed biotech the Company flung away, it is more of a love story between a young woman yearning for a lost world and an odd creature desperate to learn. The consequences are unexpected and disturbing… VanderMeer’s writing has a habit of getting under my skin and into my head – I really enjoyed this.

Lightning in the Blood – Book 2 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
Once, there was a call–a binding–and so, a woman appeared, present in body but absent in knowledge of her past self. Making the ultimate journey of rediscovery was not without its own pitfalls–or rewards–and now Ree, a roaming Archeron, spirit of legend and time and physically now bound to her current form, has yet to fully uncover her true identity.
After reading the first book in this series, I was keen to discover what happens next. This enjoyable adventure gives us a few more clues about Ree and who she is.

River of Teeth – Book 1 of the River of Teeth novella series by Sarah Gailey
In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true. Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two. This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.
With a premise like this, Himself and I found this offering irresistible – and it is certainly crammed full of bloodthirsty adventurers, unexpected betrayals and lots of bloody violence. Oh, and hippos… don’t forget the hippos. I thought this was great fun and will be reviewing it this coming week.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 4th June 2017

Review of Reaper – Book 1 of the End Game series by Janet Edwards

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Dog Walker by Lesley Thomson

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction series by Danielle L. Jensen

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling my TBR

Friday Face-off – It shuffles through the dry, dusty darkness – featuring The Osiris Ritual – Book 2 of the Newbury and Hobbs Investigations series by George Mann

TAGGED – I’m It

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

The Art of Voice Changery – Part 2  https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/06/08/the-art-of-voice-changery-part-2/ Jean always has something worthwhile and sparky to say about the process of writing – and this article is no exception.

A Guide to Hanging Out with Cloth Ears  https://justanotherblogfromawoman.blog/2017/05/18/a-guide-to-hanging-out-with-cloth-ears/ This useful article is recommended for EVERYBODY – we all encounter people hard of hearing in our daily lives and these tips can help make communicating easier.

What Are the Rules?  http://writerunboxed.com/2017/06/07/what-are-the-rules/ This is an outstanding article on a subject that all writers should pay attention to – and often don’t.

Dust Breeding  https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/dust-breeding-elevage-de-poussiere/ I’ve always wondered how dust bunnies are made – and here is the photograph that telle me – I think…

How the Library of Congress is Trying to Archive Twitter https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/how-the-library-of-congress-is-trying-to-archive-twitter/ Frankly, I’d have thought catch light in a sieve would be easier, but this is what they’re attempting to do.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Discovery Challenge 2017 and Tackling My TBR – May Roundup

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After reading Jo Hall’s post on the problems women authors have with getting discovered, I’ve been taking part in the challenge to read and review at least 24 books by female authors each year that were previously unknown to me for the last two years. During May, I read three books towards my 2017 Discovery Challenge, which brings my annual number of books written by women writers I hadn’t read before to sixteen. They are:

The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett
All Jamie Allenby ever wanted was space. Even though she wasn’t forced to emigrate from Earth, she willingly left the overpopulated, claustrophobic planet. And when a long relationship devolved into silence and suffocating sadness, she found work on a frontier world on the edges of civilization. Then the virus hit… Now Jamie finds herself dreadfully alone, with all that’s left of the dead. Until a garbled message from Earth gives her hope that someone from her past might still be alive.
This is an impressive debut novel that takes a familiar trope of the apocalyptic end of the world and makes it more about the protagonist’s internal, emotional journey than the gritted struggle of survival we normally get. I thoroughly enjoyed this offering and look forward to more from this author – see my review here.

The Broken Ones – prequel to The Malediction Trilogy by Danielle L. Jensen
Below Forsaken Mountain, a plot is being hatched to overthrow the tyrant king of Trollus, and Marc is the right-hand man of its leader. His involvement is information more than one troll would kill to possess, which is why he must keep it a secret from everyone, even the girl he loves. After accidentally ruining her sister’s chance to become queen, Pénélope is given one last opportunity by her father, the Duke d’Angoulême, to make herself useful: she must find proof that the boy she’s in love with is conspiring against the crown. If she fails, her life will be forfeit.
This gripping, emotional book charts the power struggle going on in the highest level of society. Those with the most magic are in control and treat everyone else with a chilling lack of compassion. It is all about getting more influence and control and no one is allowed to stand in the way – certainly not a young couple in love and afflicted with iron rot… I very much enjoyed this savage world and look forward to getting hold of more books in this series in due course – see my review here.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before. Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…
This is a lovely story with a big heart – and no, that is not some coded warning that this is a saccharine read. For in amongst the quirky charm, Hogan tackles head-on issues such as dementia and features characters that fall outside society’s ideas of what is normal. I very much enjoyed this one and will be reviewing it in due course.

I also managed to clear eleven books from my TBR pile. They are:
Spellbound – Book 2 of the Spellwright series by Blake Charlton
Francesca DeVega is a healer in the city of Avel, composing magical sentences that close wounds and disspell curses. But when a newly dead patient sits up and tells her that she must flee the infirmary or face a fate worse than death, Francesca finds herself in the middle of a game she doesn’t understand—one that ties her to the notorious rogue wizard Nicodemus Weal and brings her face-to-face with demons, demigods, and a man she hoped never to see again. Ten years ago, Nico escaped Starhaven Academy, leaving behind his failed life, in which he was considered disabled and felt useless. Now, in Spellbound, he’s starting fresh, using his newfound gifts in the dark Chthonic languages to pursue the emerald that holds his birthright. Unfortunately, he can’t escape the chaos of his old life. His mentor suffers from an incurable curse, agents of the fabled Halcyon hunt him day and night, pieces of Francesca’s story don’t add up, and the prophesized War of Disjunction looms on the horizon.
This epic fantasy adventure is about magical systems and how those imbued with magic have to cope with the way it bends and warps their lives in unimaginable ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book or series where the rules of magic are so pervasive. This inventive, clever series deserves to be far better known – see my review here.

A Second Chance – Book 3 of The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor
St Mary’s is back and nothing is going right for Max. Once again, it’s just one damned thing after another. The action jumps from an encounter with a mirror-stealing Isaac Newton to the bloody battlefield at Agincourt. Discover how a simple fact-finding assignment to witness the ancient and murderous cheese- rolling ceremony in Gloucester can result in CBC – concussion by cheese. The long awaited jump to Bronze Age Troy ends in personal catastrophe for Max and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse – it’s back to the Cretaceous Period again to confront an old enemy who has nothing to lose. So, make the tea, grab the chocolate biscuits, settle back and discover exactly why the entire history department has painted itself blue
As you may have gathered from the blurb, in parts this book is laugh-aloud hilarious – what isn’t quite so obvious is that in other places it is heart-breakingly sad. What it never does is stand still. I love the roller-coaster ride – even though I need some breathing space between books. See my review here.

The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.
Another gem of a series that deserves to be read far more widely. This second book has provided plenty of twists and given the story a cool science fiction twist that has me longing to pick up the next book – see my review here.

Assassin’s Fate – Book 3 of the Fitz and the Fool series and Book 16 of The Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb
Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river. Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee’s only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.
This is the final book in this trilogy and for my money is her best book yet. Action-packed and full of emotion, with a real twist in the end, this is one of my favourite books of the year so far and is my book of the month. See my review here.

The Ninth Rain – Book 1 of The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
The great city of Ebora once glittered with gold. Now its streets are stalked by wolves. Tormalin the Oathless has no taste for sitting around waiting to die while the realm of his storied ancestors falls to pieces – talk about a guilt trip. Better to be amongst the living, where there are taverns full of women and wine. When eccentric explorer, Lady Vincenza ‘Vintage’ de Grazon, offers him employment, he sees an easy way out. Even when they are joined by a fugitive witch with a tendency to set things on fire, the prospect of facing down monsters and retrieving ancient artefacts is preferable to the abomination he left behind. But not everyone is willing to let the Eboran empire collapse, and the adventurers are quickly drawn into a tangled conspiracy of magic and war.
Tension winds through the story as we are pitchforked right in the middle of this fascinating wrecked world and then try to figure out exactly what is going on as slices of information is steadily fed our way. Another cracking read – see my review here.

Sweep in Peace – Book 2 of the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews
Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance. Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…
I really enjoyed this unusual urban fantasy set in an inn with a difference. This particular peace conference certainly provides plenty of opportunity for mayhem and turmoil – review not yet posted.

Cold-Forged Flame – Book 1 of the Ree Varekai novella series by Marie Brennan
The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. Its clarion call creates ripples, substance, something more. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need.
And so, in reply, there is a woman.
At the beginning—no—at the end—she appears, full of fury and bound by chains of prophecy. Setting off on an unexplained quest from which she is compelled to complete, and facing unnatural challenges in a land that doesn’t seem to exist, she will discover the secrets of herself, or die trying. But along the way, the obstacles will grow to a seemingly insurmountable point, and the final choice will be the biggest sacrifice yet.
This novella certainly packs a punch with an impressive protagonist full of rage and power – and no recollection of who she is and where she came from. She just knows she has a quest and is bound to carry it out. Review not yet posted.

A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons – Book 6 of the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
It’s Hiccup’s birthday, but that’s not going to keep him from getting into trouble. To save his dragon, Toothless, from being banished, Hiccup must sneak into the Meathead Public Library and steal the Viking’s most sacred book. But the Vikings see books as a dangerous influence, and keep them locked up and under heavy guard. To save his friend, Hiccup must brave the Hairy Scary Librarian and his dreadful army of Meathead Warriors and face off against the formidable Driller-Dragons. Will he make it out and live to see his next birthday?
Once more Oscar and I settled down together to enjoy this madcap adventure with all the unexpected plot twists, wondering how Hiccup is going to escape this next lethal threat. Great stuff!

Silent City – Book 1 of the Corin Hayes series by G.R. Matthews
In the Corporation owned cities life is tough. All Hayes wants is money and a bar to spend it in. He is about to learn that some jobs in the abyss can be killers. For a man who has lost everything, is life even worth fighting for?
Lots of adventure and incident in this underwater, military science fiction offering, featuring a flawed protagonist with a dark backstory… Enjoyable and engrossing.

 

 

 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
I loved this one. It could so easily have descended into a sentimental mess and didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the unpredictable, dangerous nature of the monster… Review not yet posted.

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
See above.

So that is my May roundup. Due to my illness back in April, I still have a backlog of reviews waiting to be posted, which is a nice position to be in – and a change for me! Have you read any of the above books? If so, what did you think of them?

*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