Tag Archives: outstanding book

#Sunday Post – 6th May, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog

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

And the sun is shining! Yesterday my sister and I wandered along the beach eating ice creams and watching the sun glinting on the water at Littlehampton beach. It’s been a much easier week, I’m glad to say.

On Monday evening, I had a particularly wonderful Creative Writing lesson – my students rose magnificently to the writing exercise and the quality of the writing we heard had me walking out of the room on air. I always enjoy my teaching – but that was definitely a golden moment… On Thursday, my wonderful friend, Mhairi came over for more talk about books and marketing and suchlike – and the dark arts are looking a little less murky. I am now working on the final book in my Sunblinded trilogy, Breathing Space, going through the final editing phase and hope to have it out sometime in June/July… watch this space.

This week I have read:

The Hyena and the Hawk – Book 3 of the Echoes of the Falls by Adrian Tchaikovksy
Tchaikovsky’s epic fantasy trilogy, Echoes of the Fall, following The Bear and the Serpent. From the depths of the darkest myths, the soulless Plague People have returned. Their pale-walled camps obliterate villages, just as the terror they bring with them destroys minds. In their wake, nothing is left of the true people: not their places, not their ways. The Plague People will remake the world as though they had never been. The heroes and leaders of the true people – Maniye, Loud Thunder, Hesprec and Asman – will each fight the Plague People in their own ways. They will seek allies, gather armies and lead the charge. But a thousand swords or ten thousand spears will not suffice to turn back this enemy. The end is at hand for everything the true people know.
This was yet another in the fabulous run of books I’ve read, recently. A wonderful end to an outstanding series… I reviewed this one during the week.

Song of Blood and Stone – Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope
Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive–an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.
This was an interesting dystopian fantasy adventure that was a solid start to this series with an engaging protagonist. Recommended for fans of romance fantasy.

 

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 29th April 2018

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Before Mars – Book 3 of the Planetfall series by Emma Newman

Teaser Tuesday featuring Song of Blood and Stone – Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Furyborn – Book 1 of the Empirium by Claire Legrande

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Hyena and The Hawk – Book 3 of the Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovksy

Friday Face-off – The hand that writes and having writ moves me… featuring The Moving Finger – Book 4 of the Miss Marple Mysteries by Agatha Christie

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Song of Blood and Stone – Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles by L. Penelope

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

Have You Joined Our Banned Book Club? https://thisislitblog.com/2018/05/04/have-you-joined-our-banned-book-club-yet/ This sounds like a really cool idea – have a group read of a book that has previously been banned… Check it out.

All Is Ready for the Mars InSight Lander http://earthianhivemind.net/2018/05/04/ready-mars-insight-lander/ Steph has provided a fascinating video clip from NASA explaining what they hope to achieve with this new Mars mission.

Thursday Doors https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/thursday-doors-99/ Whether you use these wonderful photos as a writing prompt, or admire the wild, tumbledown beauty – these are a delight

The reality of a loss of faith
https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/the-reality-of-a-loss-of-faith/ Viv’s articles are always worth reading – and this one is no exception…

Interview with Emma Newman https://fantasy-hive.co.uk/2018/04/interview-with-emma-newman/ Emma Newman, author of the fabulous Planetfall series, discusses her writing in this riveting interview.

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook #Before Mars – Book 3 of the #Planetfall series by #Emma Newman #bookreview #Brainfluffbookblog

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When done well, there is no genre I love more than science fiction – I’m not sure why except there is something about a cracking well-told tale out in the stars that speaks uniquely to my soul… I loved Planetfall and After Atlas – so would this final instalment live up to the astonishing standard Newman has set so far?

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist-in-residence. Already she feels like she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth–and she’ll be on Mars for over a year. Throwing herself into her work, she tries her best to fit in with the team. But in her new room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note written in her own handwriting, warning her not to trust the colony psychologist. A note she can’t remember writing. She unpacks her wedding ring, only to find it has been replaced by a fake.

Once again what hooked and then held me, is Newman’s nuanced and layered characterisation. I found Anna a deeply poignant character, who ends up on Mars as much because she is escaping her former life, rather than due to the fact that joining the tiny colony has been a lifetime’s achievement. Her struggles to come to terms with her post-natal depression, which prevented her from fully bonding with her baby really held me – it is an issue which isn’t written about nearly enough in SFF. Kudos to Newman for providing such a sympathetic, poignant insight into the struggles some women encounter in the weeks, months and years after having a baby.

I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound like it’s all about a rather broken woman wandering around and agonising about the baby she has left behind on Earth. While that is a minor story strand – actually, this book is a tense thriller whereby the newest visitor to a small scientific community cannot shake the sense that something is very badly wrong… I had figured out some of what is going on – but as ever, Newman has a number of other twists I didn’t see coming.

In addition, there is a strong supporting cast featuring the other characters who are also on the Mars base alongside Anna. I really appreciate the fact that there are no out and out villains – and the one character who has not behaved particularly well comes across as weak and out of their depth, rather than evil. As ever, after I put this one down, I found myself constantly thinking about it – and wondering how I’d feel in the same situation.

Like the other two books, this one can comfortably be read as a standalone. In fact, I’m not sure it wouldn’t be more satisfactory to do so – after that amazing cliff-hanger ending of After Atlas I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. I generally don’t reread anything – there are too many other fabulous books out there waiting for me. But this is the first time in a long while I’ve been strongly tempted to read through the whole trilogy, one after the other… Highly recommended for anyone who loves a gripping adventure featuring a well written, complex protagonist.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The King’s Name – Book 2 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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I read the first book, The King’s Peace, in this superb series the Christmas before last – and it has taken far too long to track down this second book in this wonderful retelling of the Arthurian legend.

“The peace of the nation of Tir Tanagiri had been bitterly won. But after years of fighting against rival kingdoms and Jarnish invaders, the warrior Sulien ap Gwien and her lord, King Urdo, had finally won it, through great strength of arms – and greater strength of vision. For Sulien was inspired by Urdo’s dream of a kingdom ruled by justice, whose subjects all were equal under a single code of law. But where many see a hopeful new future for the land, others believe they sense the seeds of a new tyranny.”

Soon the land faces the terrible blight of civil war, and Sulien ap Gwien must take up arms again. But where once her enemies were barbarian invaders and unrepentent usurpers, now they are former comrades and loved ones. And as the conflict tears her country and her family apart, and life-long friends go to meet their destinies, Sulien must fight harder and harder to hold on to Urdo’s shining dream. Sulien is now older, though still a mighty warrior and now a Lord who has a settlement to protect and administer. Her son is now grown. This should be a time when the hardwon Peace carved out from years of bitter fighting and enforcement against the lawless banditry that had prevailed should be enjoyed. But Urdo has implacable enemies – and some of them are far closer than they should be…

Once again I was pulled into this tale of Sulien, the woman warrior, who has devoted her life to protecting the weak against the strong. Walton’s prodigious talent is once more evident as this tale of betrayal and scheming slides inexorably once more into warfare. Sulien, writing her memoirs years later, is devastated. I love her character as her sense of hurt rings off the page when Urdo’s attempts to broker a council to reach an agreement between the different factions fail and the country is braced once more for war. I was absolutely gripped even though I had a fairly good idea what happens. Walton’s version of the court of Camelot is layered with Sulien’s forthright views on the nobility along with conjecture and gossip. If you have ever read any of the Arthurian legends and become fascinated with that particular time, then this is a joy. I particularly like her take on Urdo’s wife, Elenn.

I finished this book with a lump in my throat as once again, Walton magnificently succeeds in creating a wonderful, magical time that has passed into our folklore and legends. And this retelling is right up there with the best of them.
10/10

Review of Kindle Ebook The Stone Sky – Book 3 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

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I’ll be honest – I’ve had The Stone Sky for some weeks and have been putting off reading it because the first two books, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate were such powerful reads, I didn’t want to risk being disappointed if the ending was fumbled. Fortunately, I came to my senses and realised that the slew of glowing reviews evidently meant this hadn’t happened.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe. For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

I’ve been interested to note that some people classify this series as fantasy, while others, like me, regard it as mostly science fiction with a fantastic twist. While it is probably one of the most epic, wide-ranging stories I’ll read – given that it tackles humanity’s complicated and grim relationship with their home planet – at its heart is a mother’s desperate search for a lost child who was snatched by her father after committing an unthinkable crime. A crime that most would have regarded as wholly justified.

In addition, there is that viewpoint – the one I am always advising my creative writing students never to use – the second person POV, ‘you’. And yet, I dived back into this POV without so much as blinking. I regularly gush over books I love on this site – but I rarely claim that a series, or a book takes the genre of SFF in another direction and to another level. The Broken Earth trilogy does just that. Like many other reviewers, I find I am scrambling to think of words that adequately sum up my emotions and feelings when I read this book. Inevitably, whatever I say will fall short. However, I do have just a couple of words of advice. Whatever you do, do NOT start this book unless you have read the other two in the series. They are essentially a single book covering a single narrative arc, sliced up into separate volumes and if you don’t start at the beginning, you won’t have any hope of being able to sensibly work out what is going on. And above all, this story deserves to be told in its entirety.

When you start The Fifth Season all set to fling the book across the room because of the odd viewpoint, do hang on in there for at least 30 pages. I am not going to claim for one minute that this series will appeal to everyone, but reading through a number of reviews I am aware that most readers find the POV offputting initially, before finding themselves sufficiently engrossed so that it doesn’t matter. The main question remains regarding The Stone Sky – does it bring this immense story to a satisfactory conclusion? And this was what had prevented me from picking it up, because I couldn’t see any way that Jemisin could pull that one off. However, she does. Although it is only February, I am not expecting another book this year to top The Stone Sky. Never mind 10 stars, I would give it 100 if I could.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Snap!

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a mirror image or reflection, so I’ve chosen The Dark Mirror – Book 1 of The Bridei Chronicles by Juliet Marillier.

 

This cover, produced by Tor Books in June 2006, is my least favourite. While the hint of a reflection and the gnarled tree behind the seated girl does give a sense of the otherworldly tone that pervades this outstanding historical fantasy series, it doesn’t do it justice. I also think the lettering is clunky and unsuited to the genre and content.

 

This edition was produced by Tor books in March 2006 and is far more appropriate. The lone tree, reflected in the water in a wild landscape beautifully evokes the mood of the book and would immediately have me wanting to pick it up. This one is my favourite.

 

Published in 2007 by Bertrand Editora, this Portuguese edition has also manages to capture the magical sense of the book, though I’m not quite sure what that fraying piece of lace at the top is all about… But those brooding trees reflected in the lake are very effective.

 

This Australian edition, published in November 2007 by Pan Australia, is also effective and haunting. I particularly like the title font, which fits the period without being too fussy or taking away from that stunning landscape – this is a very close second for me. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

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I enjoyed Angelmaker and loved The Gone-Away World, so when I saw this one on Netgalley, I immediately requested it.

Gnomon, which took Harkaway more than three years to complete, is set in a world of ubiquitous surveillance. Pitched as “a mind-bending Borgesian puzzle box of identity, meaning and reality in which the solution steps sideways as you approach it”, it features: a detective who finds herself investigating the very society she believes in, urged on by a suspect who may be an assassin or an ally, hunting through the dreams of a torture victim in search of the key to something she does not yet understand; a banker who is pursued by a shark that swallows Fortune 500 companies; Saint Augustine’s jilted mistress who reshapes the world with miracles; a refugee grandfather turned games designer who must remember how to walk through walls or be burned alive by fascists; and a sociopath who falls backwards through time in order to commit a murder.

I normally read quite quickly – I’ve read 157 books so far this year. But this one took me nearly two weeks to complete. Partly it’s the fact that it is something of a doorstopper at over 700 pages, but the main reason was that early on I took the decision that I wouldn’t speed-read through this one. The prose is too rich, too dense – there are too many allusions and clues scattered throughout and as you may have gathered from the blurb, the structure isn’t all that straightforward, either.

It might have been tempting to have accelerated through it if I hadn’t been enjoying the experience so much. Harkaway is a remarkable writer and this is him at the peak of his capabilities. For all the depth and complexity, I found the book highly readable and engrossing. It would have been a real shame to have thrown away the experience by trying to skim through it. The writing is immersive and each character has their own flavour so that after a while, it only took a couple of lines to realise whose head I was in. Essentially, it is a thriller. But the puzzle is far more of the slow-burn variety, which doesn’t stop there being some jaw-dropping twists near the end.

For all their quirkiness, I was fond of all the characters, though my favourites remained dogged, persistent Inspector Mielikki Neith whose investigation of the untimely death of Diana Hunter in custody triggers the whole chain of events – and fierce, beautiful Athenais, once-mistress to Saint Augustine, before he decided to become so saintly. The characterisation is masterly and as I’m a sucker for character-led stories, it was their vividness and sheer oddness that sucked me in and kept me reading.

I also feel a similar anger that sparks through the book – the apathy of too many of us, the blind belief that if we put in place a whole raft of cameras and electronic surveillance, it will somehow be alright, no matter who ends up at the helm and in charge. This is a remarkable, brave book, deliberately constructed and written on an epic scale. Does it work? Oh yes. I loved it, but my firm advice would be – don’t rush it. If you try reading this one in a hurry, you’ll end up throwing it out of the window – and given its size, it may cause serious injury if it hits someone…

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

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Heir to the North – Book 1 of the Malessar’s Curse by Steven Poore

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This is a book I picked up by a fellow Grimbold author a long time ago which has spent far too long stuck in my TBR pile – and this week I rediscovered it. So I dusted off the virtual fluff and got stuck in. I’m so glad it did!

“Caenthell will stay buried, and the North will not rise again until I freely offer my sword to a true descendant of the High Kings—or until one takes it from my dying hands!”
With this curse, the Warlock Malessar destroyed Caenthell. The bloodline of the High Kings disappeared and the kingdom faded into dark legend until even stories of the deed lost their power. But now there is an Heir to the North.

Cassia hopes to make her reputation as a storyteller by witnessing a hardened soldier and a heroic princeling defeat Malessar and his foul curse. But neither of her companions are exactly as they appear, and the truth lies deep within stories that have been buried for centuries. As Cassia learns secrets both soldier and warlock have kept hidden since the fall of Caenthell, she discovers she can no longer merely bear witness. Cassia must become part of the story; she must choose a side and join the battle. The North will rise again.

There are so many classic elements to this story – a lost civilisation that has fallen into ruin… evidence of arcane knowledge now gone… some grumpy powerful magic-users… a lantern-jawed warrior with a shiny family tree… If you are an epic fantasy fan these tropes are as cosily familiar as a cup of hot chocolate at bedtime. And then Poore adds his own spin on this epic storyline. Think of the absolute opposite of George R.R. Martin’s approach. There is a single protagonist – and no… it isn’t the shiny warrior – it is the daughter of a drunk storyteller who is constantly on the road.

Somehow – and this is a masterclass on the intelligent use of a protagonist – through this worm’s eye view, we are shown the bones of a lost culture and the way the current world works as young Cassia is given the chance to make her own way as a storyteller. I’ll be honest – epic fantasy isn’t always my go-to genre. I’m rather allergic to a horde of unpleasant main characters scrambling for power or survival, depending on the politics. I’m not a fan of pages of explanation about the world, either. Poore nicely side-steps these pet peeves of mine and unpeels a wonderful, vibrant world, alongside an engrossing storyline that held me throughout as I really cared about young Cassia.

She is a delightful protagonist – wary and neglected after an abusive childhood, she gradually begins to see there are opportunities for her other than just trying to stay out of trouble and survive. And when threats or dangers loom, she is reasonably good at reacting. All of this is written into her story without her coming off as a Mary Sue.

So as the book progressed – much faster than I generally take reading an epic fantasy as the pages pretty much turned themselves with this one – I was gearing up, waiting for the nasty warlock to unleash his world-ending magical mayhem. And Poore changes it all. While I had already figured out some of the reveals, I didn’t see that final twist coming – that came as a real shock. I’m so very glad that I had bought the next book in this series, The High King’s Vengeance, during the last Fantasycon – which I shall be tucking into just as soon as I can. Because I really, really need to know what happens next.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook One Fell Sweep – Book 3 of The Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews

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I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far and decided to treat myself with this third slice in Dina’s adventures with Gertrude Hunt, her magical inn…

Gertrude Hunt, the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, is glad to have you. We cater to particular kind of guests, the ones most people don’t know about. The older lady sipping her Mello Yello is called Caldenia, although she prefers Your Grace. She has a sizable bounty on her head, so if you hear kinetic or laser fire, try not to stand close to the target. Our chef is a Quillonian. The claws are a little unsettling, but he is a consummate professional and truly is the best chef in the Galaxy. If you see a dark shadow in the orchard late at night, don’t worry. Someone is patrolling the grounds. Do beware of our dog. Your safety and comfort is our first priority. The inn and your host, Dina Demille, will defend you at all costs. We ask only that you mind other guests and conduct yourself in a polite manner.

Dina has proved herself to be resourceful and powerful – particularly when in her magical inn, as evidenced by the last eventful adventure in Sweep in Peace – see my review here. So the trick is to produce a scenario where she is under threat right in the heart of her stronghold – what about when a smelly, ramshackle alien lurches onto the property pleading for sanctuary? What if this desperate creature is being pursued by a horde of fanatical aliens who believe their path to everlasting life and glory is to run down the first species, the Hiru, until they are extinct? And they will stop at nothing to get to them…

We also get to learn more about Dina’s background as another family member surfaces, bringing with her a familiar guest. I always enjoy it when characters we’ve known from previous adventures reappear – especially when we see another side to them, as is the case with a certain vampire who featured in the last book. Yet another favourite character who also heavily features in this book is the Alpha werewolf, Sean. Dina has been attracted to her neighbour for some time, but innkeeping has been rather hectic recently, so she hasn’t had much opportunity to give those feelings a chance. However, when desperately battling for her very existence, she and Sean find those feelings become intensified. This romance between the two of them is well handled, to the extent that even cynical old me felt an ‘ahh’ moment when they sorted out their feelings for one another.

Once again, I found it very difficult to put this one down before the end. I love this series – it goes on delivering one storming read after another. As for those smelly, downtrodden aliens – there was a wonderful moment of true poignancy near the end that was magical. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever enjoyed an urban fantasy or space opera adventure, given this is a glorious mash-up of the two. Now, I’m just waiting for the next book in the series…
10/10

Series I Have Continued or Completed in 2017 – Part 1

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Over the past year, I’ve becoming increasingly conscious that I’ve getting into the habit of plunging into a series with a book that has caught my eye and simply not getting any further. Given my go-to genres heavily feature series books, which are always part of a longer narrative, this is a habit I’d like to break. So this year, I’ve decided to make myself more accountable by recording my progress with series that I have either completed, or brought right up to date – hence this post now that we’re more than halfway through this year.

The Tide Dragons duology by Sarah Ash
The Flood Dragon’s Sacrifice and Emperor of the Fireflies
This delightful fantasy series is strongly influenced by Japanese mythology and culture, so as well as the wonderful dragons of the title, there are kitsume and demons, emperors and generals and a formidable goddess all weaving through this richly textured world. I loved it and Emperor of the Fireflies is one of my outstanding books of the year so far.

 

The Wayfarers by Becky Chambers
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit
This science fiction space opera series made a big impact with the hit debut book which had a real vibe of the hit TV show Firefly as an ensemble piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The second book featured one of the ship’s crew and a waif who needed refuge and while it is set in the same world as the first book, you don’t need to have read it to appreciate what is going on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these two books and am keen to discover where Chambers next takes this series.

 

The Witchlands by Susan Dennard
Truthwitch and Windwitch
This epic fantasy initially features two young witches, Safi and Iseult, who manage to get themselves into an almighty scrape at the start of the first book, entangling them in a major plot. I like the fact that their friendship is one of the main emotional drivers throughout the story so far and that the magical system is structured with clear rules and involves a high price from magic-users. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the third book, Bloodwitch, due to come out next year.

 

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne
I love this sand and sorcery adventure! Hamilton’s punchy writing style and vivid scene setting means both of these books have stayed with me as memorably enjoyable, exciting reads and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, which will hopefully arrive next year.

 

 

Echoes of the Fall by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Tiger and the Wolf and The Bear and the Serpent
This epic fantasy adventure takes place in a pre-agrarian world where clans divide depending on what animal they shape-shift into. Both books are full of incident and tension, along with splashes of humour as Tchaikovsky’s vivid, three-dimensional characters leapt off the page and into my heart. I’m very much hoping there is going to be more of this amazing story…

 

The Falconer trilogy by Elizabeth May
The Falconer; The Vanishing Throne and The Fallen Kingdom
This riveting series features a young, well-bred woman, Lady Aileana, who leads a double life – by day she is the wealthy heiress in an alternate Victorian society, while by night she hunts and kills the fae after witnessing her mother’s brutal murder. Violent and enthralling, this trilogy is one of the reading highlights of the year so far.

 

 

The Song of the Shattered Sands by Bradley Beaulieu
Twelve Kings and Blood Upon the Sand
This sand and sorcery epic fantasy is set in a brutal world ruled by twelve kings possessing great magical power – and the efforts of one lowly-born girl to overturn their stranglehold on the desert city-state. I loved the story so far and will be looking out for the third book, A Veil of Spears, due to be published next year.

 

Planetfall by Emma Newman
Planetfall and After Atlas
This dystopian science fiction series is amazing. Both books are set in the same world, but on different planets and can be read as standalones – I loved each one, though the tone and mood were quite different. After Atlas is my book of the year so far and I will be pouncing on the next book, Before Mars, just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

 

 

Luna by Ian McDonald
New Moon and Wolf Moon
This duology envisages that the industrialisation of the Moon has been divided between five families, all ruthless entrepreneurs who have taken capitalism to the extreme as they continue vying for yet more power – with shocking consequences. McDonald has called this series ‘a game of domes’. I loved the brutal, detailed world and the charismatic characters.

 

Penric and Desdemona novella series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and the Demon; Penric and the Shaman; Penric’s Mission; Mira’s Last Dance
This series is a joy. Each one of these engrossing, beautifully written stories gives us another slice of Penric’s adventures as he copes with the demon he accidentally acquired while helping an elderly woman at the side of the road. Fortunately, Himself is also a serious fan and immediately buys up these gems as soon as they published. Quite right, too.

 

 

Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison
The Drafter and The Operator
Harrison explores a fascinating premise in this military science fiction thriller, where black ops agents are able to shift small amounts of time to kill or dodge attacks. The snag is that as they alter the timeline, they forget chunks of their lives with the aid of a drafter who helps them avoid a catastrophic neural overload that occurs if they remember more than one version of reality. This is really well done and I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining duology.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes
This lush, eastern-influenced classic fantasy duology is another one of those which is set in the same world with a few linking characters, but follows different storylines. Each one is a delight, full of incident and beautiful descriptions that pinged off the page and lit up cold rainy days as I read.

 

 

The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
An Accident of Stars and A Tyranny of Queens
This delightful portal worlds adventure is gritty, wise and astonishing. It is one of my favourite series with its emphasis on a number of nuanced, feisty female characters of all ages. This one has lodged in my head and won’t leave – particularly the poignant ending…

 

There are more to come – but I’ll be rounding up the others in another article.

Review of Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

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As I have spent the past couple of years writing and re-writing Miranda’s Tempest, my follow-up to Shakespeare’s The Tempest after teaching it as part of the GCSE syllabus, I was intrigued to find out how such a respected author would tackle this one.

The Tempest is set on a remote island full of strange noises and creatures. Here, Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, plots to restore the fortunes of his daughter Miranda by using magic and illusion — starting with a storm that will bring Antonio, his treacherous brother, to him. All Prospero, the great sorcerer, needs to do is watch as the action he has set in train unfolds.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

This book starts just as Felix is retreating, licking his wounds after having been ejected from this prestigious post of Artistic Director. What will he do next? In third person viewpoint, we follow Felix as he struggles to come to terms with this latest body blow in a life punctuated by tragedy. As a response, or perhaps even a retreat from his grief, Felix has thrown himself into his work by creating increasingly edgy and challenging productions. While his ever-ready assistant Tony, is all too willing to attend the boring meetings and charity functions that come with his post in his stead.

This apparently straightforward tale is a joy to read – particularly if you have a detailed knowledge of The Tempest. During the parallel retelling, there are all sorts of echoes and nods to the original text which I very much appreciated – all the more because Atwood leaves it to us to play that particular game. For the usurping brother Antonio, who deposes and exiles Prospero, read Tony the double-crossing assistant for instance. It takes twelve years for Felix to regroup, before putting on this keynote play and decide to make a move against his enemies, just as Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, languish on the enchanted island for twelve years before the tempest strikes, bringing Prospero’s enemies to him… It goes on throughout the book and is great fun to spot.

I very much liked the prison setting and the fact that Felix decides to give the prisoners an annual project of learning about a Shakespearean play, rehearsing and preparing it and then filming it. Atwood’s story very neatly reflects all sorts of themes that run through The Tempest such as the idea of imprisonment, revenge and the healing power of forgiveness – and what happens when there isn’t sufficient forgiveness. I’m aware I have talked at some length about the similarities between the Shakespeare play and Felix’s journey after losing his career – what this isn’t is some dry-as-dust, semi-academic treatise on a classic play by some long-dead playwright. This is a vibrant, interesting story about a sympathetic protagonist down on his luck and who gradually manages to retrieve his sense of self-worth and a place in society after years of privation.

You don’t need to know a thing about The Tempest in order to enjoy the story, though there are all sorts of enjoyable little extras if you do. Atwood is known for her rather grim endings – so I was rather dreading the end as I’d grown unexpectedly fond of Felix, which was a surprise as I loathe Prospero in The Tempest. However, Atwood very satisfactorily brings his story to an appropriate conclusion, after my favourite part of the book – when each prisoner playing the main part had to give a report on what he thinks happens to his character after the play ends. I thought their ideas were brilliant and quirky – but then this is Atwood. So of course it’s brilliant and quirky.

I shall remember this book with great affection for a long time to come. Very highly recommended.
10/10