Tag Archives: outstanding book

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Women of Troy – Book 2 of The Women of Troy series by Pat Barker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheWomenofTroybookreview

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I encountered The Silence of the Girls last September – see my review – and it blew me away. While it was a powerful, disturbing read, I have always had a soft spot of Greek myths and this retelling really stayed with me. So I was thrilled to see this turn up on Netgalley – and even more thrilled to be approved to read it.

BLURB: Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

REVIEW: As should be evident from the punchy blurb, there are trigger warnings for rape and violence. Although I’d like to emphasise that there is nothing graphic or sensationalised about the plight of the women who find themselves part of the booty looted from Troy. Probably the most visceral scene is King Priam’s death – and that isn’t as grisly as some of the vicious hand-to-hand fighting depicted in epic fantasies written by the likes of John Gwynne, Joe Abercrombie and Miles Cameron.

What is undeniable is the power of Barker’s prose, as she immerses us in the daily lives of the captured women, experienced in first-person pov by former Princess Briseis, who witnessed the death of her family at the hands of Achilles in the early stages of the Trojan campaign. And was then captured by him. Now he’s dead, her life has once more become uncertain – particularly as she is carrying his child. It’s Briseis who tries to make life easier for the newly captive women, traumatised by the death of their husbands, fathers and sons – and are now having to cope with being owned by those responsible for killing their families. Barker could have so easily turned this into a sensational, stomach-churning read, but her immersive, intelligent writing – while not in any way belittling what is going on – gives us a ringside seat in the camp where the Greeks are still living. For despite being the victors, they are now imprisoned on the shores where they’ve been living for the past decade…

The unfolding story of what happens within that camp, as political alliances shift and rebalance in the light of the Greek victory, makes a riveting read. I fell in love with beautiful, brave Briseis in The Silence of the Girls and this book has only strengthened my admiration for her. If you enjoyed The Silence of the Girls, then this sequel comes very highly recommended. And if you like the idea of reading a retelling of the Trojan war and haven’t yet done so, then I suggest you look out The Silence of the Girls. This engrossing series gives you a version of the story from the viewpoint of the women caught up in it – something the Greek canon never bothered to do. While I obtained an arc of The Women of Troy from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Witness for the Dead – Book 2 of The Goblin Emperor series by Katherine Addison

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I recently had a conversation with a couple of my book blogging friends, who were enthusing about The Goblin Emperor – one of them being the Cap of The Captain’s Quarters. When the Cap mentioned it was one of his all-time favourite fantasy reads, then I knew I had to spend some of my birthday money on it. I’m so very glad I did – it was a marvellous read. And in a stunning gift of coincidence, I also discovered that this offering was available on Netgalley.

BLURB: When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly.

REVIEW: The strapline mentions that this sequel is a standalone read – and I would endorse that. While I’m delighted to have read The Goblin Emperor for the sheer joy of having experienced such a layered, complex world – you definitely don’t need to have tucked into it in order to appreciate this one. Although there are a couple of apparently throwaway references that will especially resonate if you have read The Goblin Emperor.

The engine that drives this narrative is essentially a murder mystery. And as someone who can communicate with the dead, Celehar finds himself embroiled in a couple of investigations that start attracting unwelcome attention. In a world where an instinct for political niceties is a very useful survival trait, Celehar’s inconvenient tendency not to bend his moral compass to go with the flow gets him into a lot of trouble. As with The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead provides us with an engaging protagonist, who is on the outside and needs to tread carefully in order to get any kind of result.

Addison’s rich, detailed world of goblins and elves, where there are unspoken and unacknowledged frictions, is wonderfully portrayed. This isn’t a book you can speed through – the tricky names, the nuances and careful accretion of small, yet significant details meant that I had to slow right down and pay attention throughout. And even as I did so, I dreaded finishing this one, as reading it was an immersive, slow-burning delight that I didn’t want to end.

Of course, it’s all well and good building up a wonderful mystery that is freighted with plenty of tension and high stakes – but then, the denouement has to be sufficiently strong so that there isn’t that horrible sinking feeling of a fumbled ending that doesn’t live up to the thrill of the investigation. And fortunately, Addison delivers that, too, with a thoroughly satisfying finale that had me sighing with pleasure as I came to the end. All in all, this is a worthy addition to the series – and I’d pre-order another one of these in a heartbeat, which is something I very rarely do. Very highly recommended to fans of excellent fantasy. While I obtained an arc of The Witness for the Dead from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stranding by Kate Sawyer #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheStrandingbookreview

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To be honest, I’m still not quite sure why I decided to go ahead and request this one, given that I’ve been in quite a dark place. Except that some of my decisions have been a tad skewed, what with one thing and another. However, I’m glad that on one of my spells of energy, I got sufficiently carried away to get hold of this one, as it has provided me with one of the reading highlights of the year…

BLURB: Ruth lives in the heart of the city. Working, drinking, falling in love: the rhythm of her vivid and complicated life there is set against a background hum of darkening news reports from which she deliberately turns away.

As a new relationship becomes increasingly claustrophobic, and the discussions of impending political crisis are harder to avoid, she starts to dream of water; of escaping entwining tentacles through deep blue seas. She sets out to the other side of the globe to find that vision of freedom, and to decide who she wants to be when she returns. But when she arrives at her destination, she finds instead that the world, and life, she left behind no longer exists.

REVIEW: I won’t deny that there’s a devastating event that occurs right at the heart of this book. It’s tied up with the whale in an unusual way and sets the tone for what happens to Ruth during the rest of her life. If it had been written differently, it could have been unbearable to read. But Sawyer’s beautiful, poetic prose does exactly what literary writing should do – it supports the story by deepening the emotional impact and giving us an immersive, sensory experience. This isn’t instead of a cracking plot and well depicted, believable characters, which happens all too often when the writing is at such a wonderful standard – it’s in addition to those other vital ingredients.

The result is a stunning book that hooked me in and had me reading till my eyes ached. There were times when I cried and times when I held my breath – until I finally surfaced, feeling lightheaded and slightly euphoric. Though with that familiar sense of loss that there was no more time to spend in this story. I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as while the blurb gives a sense of what happens – there is so much more that the reader should discover on Sawyer’s terms. Her crafting of this plot worked perfectly for me – and I loved how I increasingly came to be more and more in Ruth’s corner as the story wore on. And if you pick this one up and find that in the beginning, you don’t like her all that much – do persevere for a bit longer. I promise that she will grow on you…

This is a remarkable book by an author who knows exactly what she is doing. It’s an ambitious book – to define the life of a character through such a major event and I don’t know many that could pull it off. Sawyer does more than that – she has created a highly memorable read that will stay with me for a very long time. And although we are only just over halfway through the year, I do know The Stranding has already made my list of Outstanding Reads of 2021. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Stranding from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WeAreSatellinesbook review

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That cover first attracted me – and then the blurb. Any parent will recognise that opening line as the battlecry their offspring invariably use when they want the latest gismo – and the truth of it snagged my attention. And the fact that Tammy of Books, Bones and Buffy was highlighting it also made me look twice – she has a great knack for sniffing out the special ones…

BLURB: Everybody’s getting one.
Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all. Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

REVIEW: Initially, I started this one waiting for the family dynamic to twist into something darker… For there to be a hidden, nasty past that would catch up with Val or Julie; for there to be something dire about the children’s origins; for an alien something to come crawling out of the woodwork and capitalise on the Pilot. And I’m delighted to say that nothing like that happened. This book is more intelligently plotted than that.

Instead, it is a real look at a likely scenario that could unfold within our present near-future if an app is invented to increase the brain’s ability to multi-task and focus – and it’s ongoing impact on a specific family over a number of years… And if that sounds a bit dull, or workaday, it isn’t. While this isn’t the book to go to if you want full-on action with lots of explosive battles, the dilemmas created by using the Pilot had me turning the pages waaay into the night to discover how it pans out. And what happens to those who can’t or won’t use the Pilot, once it has been successfully rolled out to most of the population…

I loved both Val and Julie, who are thoughtful, caring parents who want the best for their children and agonise about David’s desperate desire to be able to keep up with his richer classmates. Julie, who works for a high-profile politician, also comes under pressure to acquire a Pilot to keep on top of her boss’s schedule. And then, there’s Val who hates the very idea of having anything so intrusive anywhere near her brain, especially as their daughter, Sophie, will never be able to have one fitted because of her epileptic seizures. We follow their fortunes as the consequences of their difference decisions unspool over a number of years.

The depth of the characterisation, the quality of the narrative arc and the final fallout worked really well for me. In particular, I found David’s plight really poignant – and I would just add a trigger warning for drug abuse and PTSD. I’m aware that I might have made this sound rather drearily worthy. It’s nothing of the sort – there are shafts of humour within the family snark, the prose is punchy and the tight pacing keeps the story rolling forward at a brisk lick. I haven’t encountered this author before – but this certainly won’t be the last time I’ll be reading her work. Highly recommended for both sci fi fans and those who enjoy reading family-centred stories with an unusual dynamic. While I obtained an arc of We Are Satellites from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheRoyalSecretbookreview

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I’m a solid fan of this series – see my reviews of The Ashes of London, The Fire Court, The King’s Evil and The Last Protector. The first book starts during the Great Fire of London and introduces us to two young people caught up in the drama – Cat Lovett and James Marwood. They both have a shameful past – their fathers were for Oliver Cromwell and against Charles I – and that has impacted on their subsequent fortunes.

BLURB: Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.

Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…

REVIEW: I love this series – especially the way that Taylor has woven real historical events into his fiction. This latest book does a wonderful job of bringing both our protagonists into a fascinating area of history, involving Charles II in an intrigue that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond thriller.

Once more we revisit the lives of James Marwood and Cat Hakesby, who have now struck up a steady friendship due to their shared past – though it isn’t without some bumps along the road. Meanwhile a rich merchant who hires Cat to do some work for him has acquired a lion called Caliban. And his daughter-in-law and young granddaughter come to live with him, after a family tragedy. These are the threads that are woven into a wonderful, detailed adventure that had me turning the pages far too late into the early morning to discover what happened.

Reading this tale, I was glad all over again that I live now, rather than in a time when a woman doing anything else other than domestic chores drew surprise and unwelcome attention – a bit like that hapless lion. Taylor has nailed the period, which is vividly depicted right down to the clothing, the smells of the time, the food and drink. When Cat goes on a journey, it is more of an endurance test, particularly when the weather isn’t playing fair. No wonder everyone wore layers and layers of clothing, if they could afford it.

Meanwhile, Marwood is yanked from his usual duties to perform yet another dangerous, unpleasant task that will derail his career if he is caught, or fails to uncover what is going on. And once again, Cat somehow becomes emboiled in the middle of the nefarious events, so their interests collide – and so often seems to happen to this pair. Taylor’s writing means that I don’t find it difficult to believe how this happens.

The climax of this adventure is shocking – and left me thinking a great deal about this one after I’d finished reading it. All in all, a thoroughly accomplished, gripping historical adventure that comes very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The King’s Secret from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – If you want something in Life – reach out and grab it… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffgrabbycovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring covers that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.

Henry Holt & Co, March 2021

This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.

Picador, May 2021

Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.

Fourth Estate, March 2020

This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.

HarperCollins, March 2020

This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.

Turkish edition, January 2021

This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Book 4 of the Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheGalaxyandtheGroundWithinbookreview

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This has been one of my most keenly anticipated reads of 2021 – even though I’m aware that said anticipation is something of a poisoned chalice. For if it doesn’t blow me away as the previous three books have – see my reviews of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit and my mini-review of To Be Taught, If Fortunate – then I’ll be very disappointed. But I’m aware that it’s not reasonable to expect an author to produce four books in a row that all blow me away…

BLURB: With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop. At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

REVIEW: I needn’t have worried – once again, Chambers weaves her magic. We are drawn into the lives of these disparate individuals as they are temporarily trapped at a small stop-over. Each one of these characters are aliens with very different bodies, customs and cultures – Roveg is a Quelin, though exiled from his homeworld; Speaker is an Akarak, frantic at being separated from her twin, and Pei is the one character who links us back to the first book, as he is Ashby’s lover. Their needs are being catered by a Ouloo and her adolescent child Tupo, who both captured my heart more than any of the other characters. That said, each one of them have their own challenges and simply do the best to get by – which resonated with me.

What leapt off the page was everyone’s striving to do their best to be accommodating and polite, despite finding themselves stranded in quite difficult circumstances. Which was often in stark contrast to what has been unfolding during 2020, while we grapple with our own difficult circumstances… Nonetheless there are cultural tensions – and they flare one evening when at least one of the characters has had too much to drink. And it is Ouloo’s response that brought tears to my eyes when she announces that she knows that what has happened to both Pei’s and Speaker’s people is completely unacceptable – but there is nothing that she can do about that. She is simply overwhelmed by the complexity of the arguments on both sides. What she can do is try to help people feel at home and relaxed when they stop off for supplies – and serve desserts they find delicious.

I am conscious that I’ve made this story sound rather sappy and Pollyanna-ish and it’s nothing of the sort. Despite the relative gentleness of Chambers’ writing, she doesn’t shy away from some gnarly subjects our small band of aliens are encountering – sexual and cultural prejudice, and the plight of refugees who through no fault of their own have no planet with no imminent hope of being allocated one because they fall outside the accepted norms in appearance… I’m aware my review hasn’t begun to adequately describe the magic of Chambers’ writing – probably because I’m not really sure how she does it.

However, I urge you to go looking for this one if you’re scratching your head at my inane attempt to try and sum up this book – and try it for yourself. If you fall under her spell, chances are, you’ll be thanking me if you do. It’s made my Outstanding Reads of 2021, that’s for sure. While I obtained an arc of The Galaxy, and the Ground Within from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – Every great love starts with a story… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffromancecovers

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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 meme is being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we are featuring ROMANCE covers. I’ve selected A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which I read as a girl and absolutely loved. I know it’s not a classic love story – but if the hero actually gets himself crucified for the love of his life, that’s got to be romantic, right?

Vintage Classic, Sept 2009

This cover, produced by Vintage Classics in September 2009 is one of the better ones, I think. I like the bright yellow which contrasts well with the black silhouette figures. The juxtaposition of Jean and Joe works really well and I think the Japanese guard in the background also gives a sense of threat. What I don’t like is the lack of contrast between the title font colour and the cover. The title disappears – in fact initially I thought the book was called Vintage Classics…

Ballentine, August 1985

Published in August 1985 by Ballentine, this is an interesting cover. It looks as though the original was painted in watercolours, which gives an oddly insubstantial look to the hero and heroine. I did wonder if this was because the cover had faded over time, but there are several renditions of it on Goodreads, and they all have the same slightly transparent look to the figures. That said, I think it has a rather lovely charm all of its own.

Kindle edition, Jan 2013

This Kindle edition, published in January 2013 is my favourite. I’m guessing that it takes the image from an earlier publication – this book was originally published in 1950 and has been in print ever since – but I really like it. And yes – don’t faint, but I even like the textbox in this one, too. It doesn’t intrude on the powerful images of a very ragged Jean staring straight out at us, as if begging for help. With the terrible procession of women and children who were forced on a death march across Malaya in the background. The lettering really pops against the background and its styling gives a strong sense of the period in which the story is set.

Pan, 1968

Published by Pan in 1968, this cover is so very nearly my favourite. The strong yellow background immediately draws the eye, giving a sense of the heat. I love the grouping of the characters, with Jean hunched and clearly in distress and the Japanese guard scowling in the background. The lettering is bold and clearly shows the title, even in thumbnail. So why isn’t this one my favourite? Because there is something a bit stagey and contrived about the way the woman is sitting forward, ensuring we get a good view of her cleavage.

Dutch edition, 1952

This Dutch edition, published in 1952 by Zuid-Hollandsche Uitgeversmaatschappij, is a cover design inspired by the film of the book. And the Jean Paget looking anxiously over her shoulder is taken straight from the poster featuring Virginia McKenna. The problem with this one is that the textbox in this cover does rather squash the image. And the colours, given that this is set in a tropical country, are curiously cool, so don’t give a sense of the heat. So which one is your favourite?

Review of INDIE Ebook A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher #BrainfluffINDIEbookreview #AWizardsGuidetoDefensiveBakingbookreview

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I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…

BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…

REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.

The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…

I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen.
10/10

Déjà vu Review of Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton #Brainfluffdéjàvubookreview # DéjàvuToothandClawbookreview

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This review was posted on 4th November 2013, and I’m reposting it in honour of Jo Walton, whose writing and book covers I’m celebrating today. Here are my thoughts about the first book of hers that I encountered… She continues to be one of my favourite authors. Tooth and Claw won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004.

BLURB: A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.
And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

REVIEW: If you thoroughly enjoy Fantasy, particularly depictions of dragons along the lines of Anne McCaffrey and Robin Hobbs – but also like Victorian novels, especially those by Anthony Trollope, then Tooth and Claw is sheer delight. It could so easily been a tale of offbeat whimsy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Walton has given us a few extra twists. Dragons in her world are obsessed with social position in a strictly hierarchical society. But, in order to ‘get on’, you need to be able to defend your position. With force. So females need protection as they don’t possess claws or breathe fire, like large, powerful males. And it is all about size. Dragons are constantly comparing their size – and will devour sickly children, elderly servants that have outlived their usefulness, and the bodies of their parents. For nothing nourishes and increases a dragon’s size like dragon flesh. So servants – who have bound wings to stop them flying off and escaping – rarely grow beyond seven or eight feet long because they simply don’t have access to dragon flesh.

Another interesting kink in this tale, is that female dragons are carefully protected because if they get too close to a male, they turn a bridal pink. If the proprieties have all been observed, this is fine – but if a male manages to corner a young female against her will and she flushes pink, she is ruined if he doesn’t marry her. So we have an interesting parallel with the Victorian obsession of keeping unmarried girls pure – and how fragile their reputations are if they encounter an unscrupulous male.

There is also a fascinating sub-plot about religion, where a more socially acceptable version has superseded an older and a more troubling account of how dragonkind managed to prevail against a race that sounds uncannily like humans. Pockets of high-born dragons still worship the older sect, but have to do so in secret and risk social disgrace, even though theoretically, there is no religious discrimination… It’s all very well done.

By adopting the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, and providing details of each character’s social class and standing, Walton manages to give us the same cosy feel-good atmosphere we get from Austen and Trollope’s books. Which reads very enjoyably when set against the inevitable explosions of visceral violence that underpins dragon society…

Of course, Walton is not just discussing dragon priorities – Trollope’s books are all about power and ambition. Who has it, who wants it and how far they are prepared to go to achieve it. And how the romantic heroine will cope in a world where her appearance and wit are all she has to offer, when respectable employment is out of the question. Walton could have so very easily made a real mess of this conceit – but in handling all her characters with such humour and adroitness, she presents us with another mirror to our own natures – one red in tooth and claw.
10/10