Tag Archives: outstanding book

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Outskirter’s Secret – Book 2 of The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

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This is the second book in this excellent series – read my review of The Steerswoman here – and it takes the stakes ever higher and in a fascinating plot twist, this series then acquires a science fiction dimension. I’m not the only one who thinks this author is special – awesome book blogger the Captain over at Captain’s Quarters recently highlighted Rosemary Kirstein in her Broadside series.

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.

I love this book – Kirstein’s adventurous, intelligent protagonist pings off the page. Steerswomen are constantly on the road, mapping and enquiring about anything that takes their interest – they wear a livery that lets everyone know who they are and the deal is they are bound to honestly answer any question that is put to them. However, if someone refuses to answer one of their questions, they are then entitled to ignore any of their subsequent questions. Rowan has become intrigued by rare blue gems she has noticed – and that interest has put her on a dangerous path.

The Outskirts are known to be hazardous and Rowen is accompanied by Bel, who was born there – which is just as well. The area is full of life-ending traps for the unwary and becomes almost another character, given the detail of this imaginary lethal landscape Kirstein portrays, as Rowan and Bel try to track down where they think the fallen Guidestar may have fallen. We get a ringside seat as the intrepid duo tangle with the insects, fight off demons and goblins and attempt to navigate their way through these hostile grasslands. They also encounter the nomadic tribes that cris-cross the vast terrain and end up travelling with them, sharing their triumphs and their catastrophes as they make their way towards the crash site of the Guidestar.

I’m not in the business of providing spoilers, so I won’t be mentioning more about the story arc – but I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I completed it. The progression and consequences of what happens left me with my jaw dragging on the ground. I’d already worked out that one of the main supporting characters wasn’t all he seemed – but the climactic conclusion to this leg of Rowan’s travels was so coolly apt, I am raring to get hold of the next book in this superb series.

While this one could easily be read as a standalone, I do recommend you go back and get hold of The Steerswoman – this series is simply too good to skimp. As for me – I’ve got some books I need to read first, but as soon as I’m able, I’m going to revisit this world with The Lost Steersman.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook of Assassin’s Fate Book 3 of The Fitz and the Fool trilogy – Book 16 of Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

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Robin Hobb is one of my favourite authors – I’ve read all the books in the Realm of the Elderlings series. She has been clever with her series as her epic fantasy books are all set in the same world, but each trilogy or quartet deals with a particular storyline featuring a few of the characters and their adventures. Fitz and the Fool featured in the very first Farseer trilogy. If you are daunted at the thought of reading the whole world before plunging into this book, you don’t have to. My advice would be to read that first trilogy, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Hobb’s books as those first three books deal with Fitz’s eventful backstory.

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 while you can get away with plunging into this one, you would be better off to start with the first book, Fool’s Assassin – see my review here, followed by Fool’s Quest – see my review here.

The dual narrative alternates between kidnapped Bee, struggling to cope with her brutal captors and the grieving Fritz who believes that Bee is dead. Each of these protagonists is involved in a major adventure which draws in a lot of characters we’ve previously encountered throughout the series. As well as the Fool being completely involved in this storyline, we also revisit the dragon city of Kelsingra and discover the fate of some of the liveships and a number of the dragons and the characters caught up with them. I found this one unputdownable. Robin Hobb is one of the most successful fantasy authors on the planet and there’s a solid reason for that. Her characterisation is layered and sophisticated, the worldbuilding – as you might expect with sixteen books – is detailed and delightfully complex.

She has an original take on the dragons inhabiting her books – they hatch into serpents which spend a certain amount of time in the ocean, which then form up into a tangle and make their way up the acidic Rain Wilds river to transform into the dragons they are destined to be and the humans who are glamoured to spend time around them, grooming them and providing them with food also become scaled or changed to reflect the appearance of their particular dragon. But after a cataclysmic natural disaster a number of years previously, the serpents are trapped in the sea unchanged and unable to fully recall how to do so. I’ve always enjoyed this storyline and particularly appreciated that this aspect makes a reappearance in this book.

In addition, I’ve always loved Fitz, from the time he was an unwanted royal bastard and also found Bee a compelling, unusual child with an unlikely ally who helps to keep her alive in very difficult circumstance. This all adds up to an emotional and exciting conclusion to a great series. If your taste runs to quality epic fantasy, then give this series a go.
10/10

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

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I love Sullivan’s writing – read my review of Lightborn here – and it doesn’t hurt that she is a lovely person. I met her fleetingly at Eastercon a few years ago during a Kaffeeklatsch session (which is when you can sign up for a session where numbers are restricted so you get to have a chance to talk to your favourite author over coffee and biscuits) and she came across as charming, clever and very modest. So I was delighted when I came across this offering.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. It starts with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over. And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Yes… I know it sounds mad and a complete mess. But Sullivan’s superpower is that her writing is so solid and strong, she immerses you in her worlds alongside her amazing characters doing amazing things and it seems utterly normal. Pearl is a fantastic character – it’s never easy to write from an alien or ‘other’ viewpoint, because if they are sufficiently different, it is often difficult to sufficiently care for them. But Sullivan manages to make Pearl vulnerable enough that we do bond with her.

Initially I thought she was some sort of fallen angel – but that is far too predictable for Sullivan’s fervid imagination. She writes the unusual brilliantly with wonderful descriptions that are punchy and to the point. Just as importantly, there is a strong structure and causality underpinning her original take on what powers the universe. Wild it may be, but there is nothing loose or wafty about the theory behind her worldbuilding.

As for the main players in this story – while Pearl, the main protagonist, was my favourite by a long country mile, the cast of supporting characters also leap off the page. There is Dr Sorle, conflicted and suffering, who is literally pulled in two directions; the corrupt dying plutocrat; and Alison, a stroppy vet. And in the midst of all this amazing story are regular shafts of humour – not jokes or comedy set pieces, but the kind of manic funniness that often occurs when we are pushed to our extreme.

This story grabbed me from the first page and wouldn’t get go – I was beguiled, challenged, amused and thoroughly entertained. Another outstanding read of 2017.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Steerswoman – Book 1 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

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I read this book longer ago than I care to recall and when I discussed this with Himself, it transpired that somehow this one passed him by. On my recommendation, he bought the ebook which meant I could revisit it – yay!

thesteerwomanSteerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any question put to them with as truthful a response as is possible within their own limitations. However, they also require anyone of whom they ask questions to respond in the same manner, upon penalty of the Steerswomen’s ban; those under the ban do not receive answers from the steerswomen.

This is a delight – an adult fantasy with a nuanced, capable heroine who is comfortable with who she is and commands respect without being a Mary Sue. The world is sharply depicted, mostly through Rowan’s viewpoint without any info dumps and I enjoyed the way the pace steadily picks up as her interest in the jewels begins to attract the wrong sort of attention. The supporting cast are also excellent – no one is depicted as being entirely evil and the gulf between wizards and the rest of the populace is well demonstrated. I love how Kirstein manages to portray the ‘magic’ so the reader is immediately aware of how it works, while it continues to flummox the characters within the story. It’s one of the many deft little touches that continued to please me throughout this well written and thoroughly enjoyable story.

Plenty occurs throughout and the pacing is beautifully judged as the consequences of Rowan’s initial curiosity about those gemstones continue to snowball. By the end, it became an effort to put the book down and I read far later than I should to discover the denouement. I’m aware this is part of a series and couldn’t quite recall how it ended, but was concerned that there might have been the dreaded cliffhanger.

However, the storyline running through the book is satisfactorily tied up, while leaving a couple of major plotpoints dangling for the next book. I’m delighted that Himself decided to buy the other books in the series, so I won’t have to wait before diving back into this enjoyable and fascinating world.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK of The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

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In a year that so far has been characterised by a long run of fantastic reads – here is another outstanding offering…

manyselvesofkatherineKit has been projecting into other species for seven years. Longer than anyone else at ShenCorp. Longer than any of the scientists thought possible. But lately she has the feeling that when she jumps she isn’t alone… Since she was twelve, Kit has been a phenomenaut, her consciousness projected into the bodies of lab-grown animals for the purpose of research. Kit experiences a multitude of other lives – fighting and fleeing, predator and prey – always hoping, but never quite believing, that her work will help humans better understand the other species living alongside them. But after a jump as an urban fox ends in disaster, Kit begins to suspect that those she has trusted for her entire working life may be out to cause her harm. And, as she delves deeper into the events of that night, her world begins to shift in ways she had never thought possible.

Geen’s writing is amazing as she immerses us in Kit’s projections into a variety of animals in the beautifully depicted first person viewpoint. This is firmly in the realm of science fiction, so we have a ringside seat as Kit struggles to acclimatise to the new body – there is even a plausible-sounding name for the sensation overload – Sperlman’s syndrome – as her human sensibilities have to adapt to the new sensory input produced by different bodies. Geen’s prose gives us a masterclass in sensory writing at its best.

The trauma of the accident leads to a series of events that takes us right inside Kit’s life and we learn exactly what it means to be a phenomenaut at ShenCorp, as she struggles to work out her own identity. We also get an insight into her homelife – and why spending chunks of her existence as a wild animal, completely removed from Katherine North, might be such an attractive option for her.

Any niggles? While I’m aware NetGalley arcs often have the odd formatting/editing glitch, the formatting on this edition was misery to read, with words split in all sorts of random places and the scene break symbols scattered amongst the text. If it hadn’t been clear right at the beginning of the book that it was something special, I probably would have done my aching eyes a favour and not bothered to continue reading it.

As it was, I was immersed in her world, as the story pulled me right into the heart of what is meant to be a girl who spent her days living in the wild. And her shock and dismay, when she learns exactly what ShenCorp has planned for her… I stayed up far later than I should, reading to discover what happens. So did the ending deliver? Yes… I think it did – though it wasn’t what I was expecting. But after I put the book down, I thought long and hard about the whole story arc and it makes absolute sense. I highly recommend this one – you won’t have read anything else quite like it…

The ebook arc copy of The Many Selves of Katherine North was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook Planetfall by Emma Newman

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I treated myself to this one, as I’d heard lots of good things about it and I had already read and enjoyed Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns.

planetfallRenata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown. More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harbouring a devastating secret. Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost.

Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi. The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…

Ren is a wonderful protagonist – smart, wary and so achingly vulnerable while maintaining a tough exterior that precludes any sort of self pity. When such a great character bounces off the page, I realise how rarely this depth and poignancy is achieved. I love the world and the fact that from the very first page, we learn there is some terrible secret surrounding planetfall which has compromised the colony and hangs over Ren like a swinging sword.

The pin-sharp writing prismed through Ren’s pov gives us a vivid view of the accompanying cast of characters, particularly Mack, who has engineered the cover-up surrounding the circumstances that took place all those years ago. And there’s the young stranger who staggers into their small settlement, who has clearly been living off the land in ways the far more pampered colonists could never do. Who changes everything…

But in order for this story really to work, not only do we need to be heavily invested in the internal politics governing the colony, we also need to fully believe in the alien structure that was the point of their journey to this planet in the first place. Is it strange and disturbing enough? Oh yes. The forays that Ren take inside the structure are visceral and disorientating, without any real answers. I love the nature in which the traumatic events impact upon Ren’s behaviour – awesomely original and yet, heartbreakingly logical and so very human. As I was luxuriating in this eerie, beautifully crafted book, there was a small niggling worry at the back of my head in case the ending would be a disappointment.

I needn’t have worried. The ending is so very right that I closed up my Kindle with tears in my eyes, which doesn’t happen all that often. This one comes with a strong recommendation if you enjoy science fiction on any level – it’s an outstanding read.
10/10