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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

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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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Dichronauts by Greg Egan

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I always enjoy Greg Egan’s writing. Coupled with his scientific background and fertile imagination, he manages to come up with places and aliens unlike any others – read my review of his amazing The Clockwork Rocket, the first book in the Orthogonal series.

Seth is a surveyor, along with his friend Theo, a leech-like creature running through his skull who tells Seth what lies to his left and right. Theo, in turn, relies on Seth for mobility, and for ordinary vision looking forwards and backwards. Like everyone else in their world, they are symbionts, depending on each other to survive.

In the universe containing Seth’s world, light cannot travel in all directions: there is a “dark cone” to the north and south. Seth can only face to the east (or the west, if he tips his head backwards). If he starts to turn to the north or south, his body stretches out across the landscape, and to rotate as far as north-north-east is every bit as impossible as accelerating to the speed of light. Every living thing in Seth’s world is in a state of perpetual migration as they follow the sun’s shifting orbit and the narrow habitable zone it creates. Cities are being constantly disassembled at one edge and rebuilt at the other, with surveyors mapping safe routes ahead. But when Seth and Theo join an expedition to the edge of the habitable zone, they discover a terrifying threat…

In order to be better able to visualise this world, my firm advice is to visit Greg Egan’s site at the link:
http://www.gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/DICHRONAUTS.html
where you can discover how he came up with this intriguing creation and the inhabitants. Alongside all the maths, the world is also more fully explained before you plunge into this one. Inevitably, I discovered the site after I had completed the book and although I had picked up the gist of what was going on, it would have been helpful to have understood more of the complexities of the world and this remarkable indigenous species as I was reading it. However, if this story was simply about an enjoyably weird world and creature with little story or dry-as-dust descriptions bulking up the book – while I would doubtless have something enthusiastic and polite to say about Egan’s extraordinary imagination, I wouldn’t be nearly as excited about this one as I am.

For not only does Egan offer a unique world and alien race – he also provides a cracking adventure story full of tension and excitement right from the start through to the climactic ending. I quickly bonded with Seth and his parasitic companion Theo and enjoyed the tensions and teamwork evident in their linked partnership. What happens if the Walker host has a major quarrel with his Sider? This premise is also explored within the story. I stayed up far later than I should to find out what happens to this embattled species as Seth and Theo struggle to discover a river big enough to support the large city where he was born and bred.

I love this one. Brilliant and inventive, this book reminds me all over again just why I love science fiction so much…
10/10

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