I can’t lie – once again, it was the lovely 1920s cover that first caught my eye. And then, skimming the blurb, the phrase ‘intricately-plotted 1920s mystery’ jumped out. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed whodunit and the 1920s setting generally means it won’t be too grisly or grungy. So I requested it and I’m so pleased I was approved for this one…
BLURB: “There’s something in those woods that shouldn’t be there . . .”
Enjoying a weekend in the country with his cousin Isabelle, Jack Haldean is intrigued to learn that the neighbouring estate of Birchen Bower has been bought by wealthy Canadian businessman Tom Jago. Determined to restore the place to its former glory, Jago has invited the local villagers to a fete to celebrate the grand re-opening of the 17th century family chapel.
But the afternoon’s entertainment is cut short by the discovery of a body, mauled to death as if by a wild animal. Previously owned by the eccentric Cayden family, Birchen Bower has a long and colourful history, and is rumoured to be haunted. Is there any truth to the ancient family legend of the Jaguar Princess . . . and could she have claimed another victim? And what’s happened to Jago’s employee, Derek Martin and his wife, who have disappeared without trace . . . along with Mrs Jago’s diamonds? Refusing to believe the wild tales of man-eating beasts prowling the grounds, Jack sets out to uncover the truth. But then a second badly-ravaged body is discovered . . . Could the rumours be true after all?
REVIEW: You’ll probably have noticed that I’ve done it again – jumped midway into a series, given this is the eleventh book. And while I’m sure that if I’d have read the previous ten instalments, there would be allusions and plot threads that I’ve missed, but having all that go over my head didn’t stop me appreciating this thumping good murder mystery.
The setup is wonderfully familiar – a small social clique when an acquaintance issues an invitation to our plucky protagonist and his lovely wife and they are confronted with an upsetting and mysterious death. Gordon-Smith has a nice grasp of her characters and writes well in the conventions of the golden age of murder mysteries without sounding forced or tongue-in-cheek. The pages flew by as the initial disappearance and subsequent murders became a real puzzle that flummoxed the protagonists to the extent that I became a bit concerned that the denouement would be unbelievably silly – something I hate. I needn’t have worried – there were a cascade of plot-twisting surprises that suddenly had me rethinking the whole situation. I love it when I find myself flipping back through the book to ensure the author hasn’t cheated.
Not only did Gordon-Smith play it absolutely straight, I was then able to see the various clues that she’d seeded throughout that made complete sense now that I understood what was going on. Nicely done! The plotting and whole approach reminded me of Agatha Christie’s writing – and I don’t generally make those kinds of comparisons. All in all, this is cracking whodunit and very highly recommended for fans of the genre. I shall certainly be backtracking and getting hold of more of Jack Haldean’s former adventures. While I obtained an arc of The Chapel in the Woods from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
One of my targets for last year was to go back and resume following series that I’ve loved, but subsequently neglected in favour of the new and shiny. This is one of those series – I have formerly loved this series – as my review of Revelation makes clear. So I got hold of Lamentation to see if Matthew Shardlake’s adventures still had the power to enthrall…
BLURB – truncated: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr. Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal of this very chatty blurb that reveals far too many early plotpoints in the book.
REVIEW: Shardlake is older and during this period of religious tumult, continuing working as a lawyer and trying to keep his head down. For he no longer has the patronage of Thomas Cromwell and during some of his former adventures, managed to incur the wrath of some powerful men, especially Richard Rich. I very much liked how Shardlake is affected by his traumatic involvement in the sinking of the Mary Rose, which gives a nice ring of authenticity to his character. And I also enjoyed how he is unable to resist the draw of once more getting involved in matters concerning the highest in the land – even though such involvement comes at a very high cost.
He has loved Catherine Parr from afar for a long time – and there is no one in his own life to blunt the edges of his yawning loneliness, which seeps through his account. Often shunned and verbally abused for having a hunched back, he is nonetheless a highly intelligent, sensitive man with a brilliant mind. Sansom’s characterisation is pitch perfect – and I also love his descriptions of London, where a sudden crackdown leading to four public burnings, has left many feeling frightened and exposed. As for Shardlake, he now finds it difficult to gain any real comfort from praying to God – a response to an increasing sense of disgust at the lack of religious freedom. Despite the risk to himself, and to his long-time right-hand man, Jack Barack, Shardlake gets involved in one of the most dangerous cases of his life. With almost catastrophic consequences…
I whipped through this fairly hefty book (600+ pages) in just four days, because once I’d picked it up, it was very, very difficult to put down again. Once more Shardlake beautifully blends historic fact with gripping fiction – and this being the reign of Henry VIII – the fact is every bit as enthralling as the fiction. I’m so very glad I decided to make this the year where I went back and completed series I’d dropped – because Lamentation is one of my reading highlights of the year. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of this series and your taste runs to well-written historical fiction, then give yourself a Christmas present and get hold of the first book, Dissolution. 10/10
Over the last few years, I’ve become a solid fan of Hair’s writing – see my reviews of the Olympus trilogy, Athena’s Champion, Oracle’s War and Sacred Bride which he co-wrote with Cath Mayo. I was also fortunate enough to be approved to read an arc of the first book in this adventure, Map’s Edge – see my review here.
BLURB: Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.
Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation?
REVIEW: Firstly, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first book, Map’s Edge, I strongly advise that you do so before tucking into this one. The action picks up right where Map’s Edge left off and you’ll probably be floundering at the start. That said, if you did read the first book a while ago and can’t quite recall all the important details, Hair has thoughtfully provided a very useful ‘Story So Far’ which handily jogs the memory. However, I don’t recommend that you rely on it instead of reading the first book – you’ll lose far too much of the detail, nuances and sheer energy of this cracking fantasy adventure for that to be a remotely satisfactory substitute for the actual book.
Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the unfolding emergency as two cultures collide. One group is on the run from a powerful regime committed to stamping their own way of doing things onto the subjects of a recently defeated nation, while the other group is the remnant of a mighty magical people responsible for the environmental catastrophe that has overtaken the planet. Hair explores this fascinating dynamic through a number of vivid, well written characters whose adventures and experiences had me reading far later than I’d intended. And at a climactic part of the story, my stomach was churning as I kept turning the pages – which doesn’t happen all that often.
I loved the directions in which the story went – and while there are some villains in the story that I loved to hate, I could understand why they made the choices they did. It takes a storyteller with power and charisma to provide that depth of characterisation and clarity of vision within a narrative crammed with action. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this one since I put it down – the powerful characters and the discovery of a lost civilisation has resonated with me. Very highly recommended for fans of epic fantasy full of memorable characters, a riveting setting and a twisting plot full of action. While I obtained an arc of World’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
This is my fortnightly update on how I’m doing while coping with Long Covid now it’s been 9 months since I first got ill, which I’m adding to my Sunday Post blog, hosted by Kimberly at Caffeinated Reviewer.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. My energy levels have plummeted, meaning that I am now once again spending much of the day in bed. Getting up and showering feels like a huge mountain to climb and there are days when I simply cannot do it. The night-time sweats have also returned and as my inner ear is still draining, my tinnitus is very loud – which means I’m struggling to sleep at night. Several times I haven’t managed to fall asleep until dawn. This time around, I’m not finding it as easy to remain calm and positive – particularly as Himself has also been struggling. It was recently his father’s birthday, which has been hard as he died in May and the family home is in the process of being sold, so he has also been involved in helping to clear the house. And I’m too ill to be able to help in any way.
My reflexologist thinks my downturn is still the consequence of the flu jab that I had a fortnight ago. As my system is very stressed, she thinks the vaccine has hammered my energy levels and healing and warned me that it could go on causing problems for at least another week. That said, I’d still rather deal with the fallout from the vaccine than a full-blown attack of flu. I vividly recall suffering from the illness when I was a fit young woman in my 20s – and there is no way I want to cope with that on top of dealing with Long Covid.
Needless to say, my editing and the work I was doing on my manuscripts has come to a screeching halt. And as you’ll already realise, I haven’t had the energy to post anything on my blog, either. Hopefully if I continue to rest as much as possible and go on taking the supplements, eating sensibly and meditating, things will start to swing back round again. At least I’m still able to walk without a stick. I’ve also been reading and listening to audiobooks. It’s been a lifesaver, particularly on nights when I’m bathed in perspiration and the continual high-pitched whine in my ears won’t let me sleep.
This week I’ve read:- World’s Edge – Book 2 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair Chasing a dream of wealth and freedom, Raythe Vyre’s ragtag caravan of refugees from imperial oppression went off the map, into the frozen wastes of the north. What they found there was beyond all their expectations: Rath Argentium, the legendary city of the long-vanished Aldar, complete with its fabled floating citadel.
Even more unexpectedly, they encountered the Tangato, the remnants of the people who served the Aldar, who are shocked to learn that they’re not alone in the world – and hostile to Raythe’s interlopers. What awaits Raythe’s people in the haunted castle that floats above them, the lair of the last Aldar king? Everlasting wealth – or eternal damnation? This epic fantasy series continues to deliver wonderful action scenes and fascinating plot twists as two cultures crash together in very difficult circumstances. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot and it’s definitely making my Outstanding Reads list this year. Review to follow 10/10
Double, Double, Tart and Trouble – Book 2 of the Spellford Cove Mystery series by Samantha Silver
Just when Robin thought things were settling down a bit in Spellford Cove, she finds herself mired in a murder investigation once more when a customer of hers is poisoned. Then just to make matters worse, a photo of Queen of Tarts cheesecake in front of the body is printed on the front page of the local paper.
Robin soon realizes that once again she has no choice but to try and find the killer, this time to save her business. But with the main reporter in town deciding to tank Robin’s bakery, and that strange woman making another reappearance, Robin feels like a woman juggling too many muffins. Can she find the killer and save her business? Or has Robin baked her last batch of brownies? I wasn’t quite as invested in this murder mystery as I was in the first book. Partly because I found the victim rather unconvincing. That didn’t prevent it from helping me to pass a long, difficult night when the shafts of snarky humour were very welcome. 7/10
AUDIOBOOK Asylum – Book 9 of the Star Kingdom series by Lindsay Buroker
A young woman with cybernetic upgrades, Mari Moonrazor has decided to flee the restrictive machine-worshipping cult she was raised in. She longs to know what it’s like to live among normal humans and experience simple biological pleasures like consuming alcohol, kissing a boy, and—most importantly—eating chocolate.
But her mother, the infamous astroshaman leader Kyla Moonrazor, is determined to get her back, even if it means sending a bounty hunter after her. Mari’s only hope for freedom is to be granted asylum from the leaders of the powerful Star Kingdom. First, she must prove that she has knowledge and resources she can offer them. Second, she has to earn their trust. This all would have been easier if her people hadn’t bombed their planet… This book is a standalone, as it occurs after all Casmir’s adventures are over and features one of the intriguing astroshamans. I did miss dear Casmir’s viewpoint – but it was fun seeing how other characters regarded him. And as I now feel like all the regular Star Kingdom characters are old friends, revisiting this world was huge fun. Buroker is now one of my favourite authors. 9/10
Death’s Rival – Book 5 of the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter For a vampire killer like Jane, having Leo Pellisier as a boss took some getting used to. But now, someone is out to take his place as Master Vampire of the city of New Orleans, and is not afraid to go through Jane to do it. After an attack that’s tantamount to a war declaration, Leo knows his rival is both powerful and vicious, but Leo’s not about to run scared. After all, he has Jane. But then, a plague strikes, one that takes down vampires and makes their masters easy prey.
Now, to uncover the identity of the vamp who wants Leo’s territory, and to find the cause of the vamp-plague, Jane will have to go to extremes…and maybe even to war. This series just goes from strength to strength. I’m loving the quality of the writing and the ongoing development of Jane as she emerges from yet another devastating adventure. 9/10
The Queen’s Pardon – Book 6 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Trapped on a hostile world, hunted by pirate bands and abandoned by her fellow captains, Alexis Carew must lead her small band to safety, even though it seems every hand is set against her.
Stalked by pirates in the skies above and shadowy, alien figures on the planet below, Alexis must convince former enemies to trust her even as she discovers where the tendrils of her true enemies lead. This is the final book in this entertaining Hornblower-in-space adventure series. I thought Sutherland handled this twisting action-packed plot particularly well and while I’m sad to get to the end of Alexis’s story, I was very happy with how the whole thing ended. 10/10
Licence to Howl – Book 2 of the Wolfbrand series by Helen Harper Devereau Webb is riding high. He’s a powerful werewolf with a killer combination of intelligence, wits and strength and he’s learning more and more about his abilities every day. He isn’t usually the type to take orders, however, and that has to change with his new role as a supernatural spy within the British security services.
Tasked with heading to Rome to infiltrate a mysterious gang with terrorist links, Devereau has to call on all his newfound skills to prevent disaster from happening. That might be prove to be the easy part. He’s also determined to convince a certain sexy vampire that he’s the man for her. What could possibly go wrong? Helen Harper is another favourite author – and this spinoff series featuring Devereau is a bundle of fun. While there is plenty of action and danger – there is also a lot of humour. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the adrenaline-junkie, alpha male and his former Vampire girlfriend. After their fling, it’s Devereau who has been left heartsick and pining – and determined to woo her back, which is a nice change. 9/10
Risen – Book 12 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Alex, the Council, and the Dark mage Richard Drakh agree to call a truce in their war, and plans are made for a joint attack.
Alex knows that it’s only a matter of time before Drakh and the Council turn on each other . . . and neither cares about keeping Anne alive. Can Alex figure out a way to stop Anne and to free her from possession before time runs out for the people he loves? This is the final book in this classy, well-written series. I haven’t read another author who so effectively portrays the issues facing a divination mage – and Alex’s character development, particularly in this book, is outstanding. Jacka also manages to bring this popular, long-running series safely home. Review to follow. 10/10
I haven’t published any blog posts since 7th November. Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. I’m aware that right now, it’s a very one-sided relationship and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fully reciprocate. In the meantime, do take care and try to keep well.
BLURB: Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world.
As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord’s control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they’re closing in fast.
REVIEW: First things first – if you happen to pick up this offering without having read The Obsidian Tower, then put it back on the shelf and track down the first book. This one follows immediately on from the climactic ending, and you’ll struggle far too long trying to work who is doing what to who – and the plot doesn’t hang around.
I love this world. Caruso’s vivid depiction of this extraordinary place, where beauty is all too often lethal and people regularly die in horrible ways drew me in and held me entranced throughout. At 480 pages, it’s not a short book – but I tore through it as I was unable to put it down. I fell deeply in love with Ryx from the first time I encountered her and her heartbreakingly terrible magic – if she comes into contact with any living thing, it dies. Ways are found to halter her magical power, so that eventually she is able to touch plants, animals and people without harming them. But those long years when she couldn’t has left scars. At the end of The Obsidian Tower, I was left with some mighty big questions – and I’m delighted to say The Quicksilver Court answers them.
Ryx’s desperate gratitude that at last she has friends and allies who really care for her makes her wonderfully vulnerable, which works well in a character with such powerful magic. And the magical group she belongs to – the Rookery – all have complicated and desperate backstories that we learn about in amongst the plotting, politicking and mayhem that ensues. But… oh my goodness – I didn’t begin to guess the big plot twist that comes about three-quarters into the book. What a doozy! I was tempted to rush back to reread The Obsidian Tower and look for the clues and see what I’d missed. Though of course, I didn’t. But it literally changes the whole dynamic, ramping up the stakes and danger to the world – and of course, to Ryx. Caruso writes with power and commitment that makes all her main characters larger than life – particularly her antagonists. The demon, Nightmare, is really a satisfying villain I loved to hate.
This was one of the most intense, emotional reads of the year and I finished it with a sigh – because there is also a whopping big cliff-hanger right at the end. You may have gathered that I enjoyed this one – indeed, it’s made my Outstandings Reads of the Year list. Very highly recommended for those who like their fantasy swathed in mystery, vivid settings and charismatic characters possessed with murderous magic. While I obtained an arc of The Quicksilver Court from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
BLURB:“My mother’s going to kill herself . . . That is, if I don’t kill her first.” When Alexandra Richards approaches professional declutterer Ellen Curtis to ask her to help sort out her mother’s chaotic flat, Ellen gets the impression Alexandra doesn’t like her mother very much. But after hearing the local news, Alexandra’s exasperated words don’t seem such a joke…
REVIEW: And that’s as much of this very chatty blurb that I’m inclined to share – don’t read it as it spoils far too much of the plot. I loved this one – indeed, it’s on my Outstanding Reads of the Year list. Ellen is a lovely character, who is briskly efficient and clearly extremely intelligent. She also has dealt with a devastating tragedy in her life with fortitude and resilience. And yes… I know she’s fictional, but I finished this book full of warmth towards this wonderful, three-dimensional protagonist. Brett is an accomplished, experienced author whose main characters are often a bit larger than life, but Ellen isn’t one of those. Her thoughtful, quieter outlook drew me right into the story as she tries to unpick what appears to be an accidental death that she increasingly feels is something else.
Ellen is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast – I love her relationship with her ebullient mother, who is clearly dissatisfied with Ellen’s life choices and delights in emphasising her closeness with Ellen’s daughter. Unlike so many fictional families, they don’t get to hurl hurtful truths at each other that in real life would probably cause complete estrangement. And I also found Ellen’s relationship with her son, who suffers from clinical depression, achingly realistic.
I’m conscious that I’ve managed to make this one sound a rather fraught, dreary read – and it’s nothing of the sort. Set in my neck of the woods, I found myself spluttering with laughter at Brett’s pithy descriptions of local settings. Meanwhile, the murder mystery is beautifully plotted. The pacing is spot on, there are a satisfying number of potential suspects – and of course, I’d spotted the perpetrator. Until halfway through the denouement scene, when I realised it wasn’t who I thought it was… Nicely done! All in all, this is by far the best written murder mystery I’ve read this year and while I’d recommend that you grab the first book, just because it’s also a cracking read – it isn’t necessary to appreciate this gem. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of An Untidy Death from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I regularly visit Diana’s blog – and when I saw the Youtube trailer for this offering, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did…
BLURB: The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells. The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.
Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange. Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.
And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.
REVIEW: This sea adventure is a real page-turner. Reading about Callum’s life since his impulsive act of generosity, I was reminded of the saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ as poor Cal’s punishment seems to go on and on… I liked that though he is one of the good guys, he is on the spikier and darker side of that line. And that the ongoing price has worn grooves into his soul. But despite this being in many ways a classic swashbuckling adventure, all the characters are complex and nuanced, giving the story extra heft as I really cared about most of them. And those who I didn’t like – I really loved to hate.
Wallace Peach is a highly experienced, talented writer and it shows. The characterisation is layered and the world vividly portrayed – I particularly loved the depiction of the storms and her lyrical descriptions of the seascape. As someone who has spent extended times aboard small seagoing craft, I was struck at how well written those scenes are. And the plotting is outstanding – I sort of guessed at how the story was going to go. There are, after all, only so many ways that a revenge/bargain tale can play out. But Wallace Peach added extra twists and surprises throughout that had me reading far into the wee small hours to discover what happens next.
All in all, this is a stormingly good read that stands out in my memory and comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoys reading twisty adventures with strong characters and a splash of magic. And the bonus is – it’s also excellent value for money. 10/10
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 CLASSIC SCI FI covers.
I’ve attempted to find an older science fiction book to feature that I particularly enjoyed – and discovered that I generally don’t read vintage stories, these days. So I finally settled upon To Say Nothing of the Dog – Book 2 of the Oxford Time Travel series by Connie Willis, one of the most magnificently funny and joyful books I’ve read in the past few years – see my review. Which isn’t a surprise when a lot of the inspiration of it comes from the wonderfully ageless Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.
This edition was produced by Spectra in January 1998. It’s busy and the scenes do relate directly to the content – but that’s all I can say in praise of it. You’d never guess that this is a humorous book with a strong Victorian inspiration, looking at this cover. And given that a cover should also give a sense of the overall tone, then it is doesn’t hit the mark.
Published in May 2013 by Gollanczs, this cover again successfully tackles much of the subject matter within the book. But that dark blue and distorted view of Coventry Cathedral evokes a sense of dread or foreboding – where is the glorious lazing along the river? The sheer joy of the farcical plot and the wonderfully eccentric characters? Nope, not getting a HINT of it here…
This edition, published by J’ai Lu in May 2000, has taken us onto the water. But while the sepia tones and the stiffly posed characters on the riverbank do give me a strong sense of the Victorian era – I’m expecting either a man-eating eel to suddenly erupt from the water, or some ghostly menace to creep from the head of one of those spooky-looking characters. Where is the joy and madcap chaos and sheer cleverness of this wonderful book? I know, I know… I’m sounding like a cracked record!
This edition, produced by Allen & Unwin in February 2012 has at least effectively evoked the correct tone – I don’t get the sense that an axe murderer is about to jump out from behind the bridge. And we also have the dog of the title. BUT anyone who has spent any time on this site will know that I LOATHE textboxes and here is a ghastly example slap bang in the middle of the cover.
This Japanese edition, published by Hayakawa Shobō in April 2004, FINALLY hits the mark. Here we have the main characters punting down the river. I love the fact that the design has been slightly tweaked so there is an eastern flavour to it. But shame on alll those UK publishers who dismally failed to evoke the zany Englishness that Willis, a remarkably talented American author, so wonderfully wrote. Needless to say – this is my favourite! Have you read the book? Which cover do you prefer?
BLURB: The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened. Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.
REVIEW: The previous two books are in Elma’s viewpoint and are all about her struggle to get accepted as a woman astronaut in an alternate world where unfortunately sexism and racism are still prevalent. However, this slice of the adventure changes both the dynamic and viewpoint, so if you wanted to know what all the fuss is about, yet are reluctant to read the previous two books – you could pick this one up without struggling too much. That said, you would be missing out on two wonderful books, so my recommendation is that you then hunt them down, too. But I suspect once you’ve got to the end of this one – you’ll want to do that anyway…
I loved Elma and was a bit taken aback when I saw this one was in Nicole’s viewpoint – particularly as Elma isn’t always a huge fan of Nicole and believes – rightly – that her husband’s position guaranteed her slot on the space programme. However, I fell in love with her. Nicole is such a gutsy woman, who has overcome so much in her life – and continues to do so. There were times during this story when I was struggling not to cry – and yet at no stage is she portrayed as a helpless victim. Kowal writes powerful women so very well – along with their vulnerabilities, and I thought once again she absolutely nailed it.
But what had me reading throughout the night, unable to put this one down, is the fact that it turns into one of the most nail-biting thrillers set in space that I’ve ever read. The Moon colony is a fragile community and Nicole is put into the position of trying to ensure its survival. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, non-stop adventure, but a tense, high-stakes scenario, where those implacably opposed to any kind of solution that diverts money and effort from Earth, do their level best to scupper the whole project.
It’s very well done, with plenty of details that portray the struggles of living in space without overloading the story with too much techy stuff – yet make the environment wholly believable. Kowal’s ability to pull this off is far harder than she makes it look, and this one is right up there as one of my best reads of the year, so far. I’m just really sorry I’ve now reached the end of this exceptional series. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoyedThe Martian. 10/10
I have been regularly blogging on this site since 2009, and have stacked up a reasonable number of reviews. So I thought I’d start a series where I’d regularly reblog a review of a particularly outstanding book that has made an impact. As I featured N.K. Jemisin’s wonderful covers earlier this week,I decided to revisit my first impression of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I started reading while sitting at Victoria Station, waiting for a train home. Such a vivid memory!
This fantasy debut novel is different – no, really… I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time – urban, paranormal, high, low, dark – and this isn’t like any of them. The closest in feel, I suppose, is Liz Williams’ Inspector Chen series, and even then, there are at least a dozen ways in which this book differs.
BLURB: Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky – a palace above the clouds where the lives of gods and mortals intertwine.
There, to her shock, Yeine is named one of the potential heirs to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with a pair of cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.
REVIEW: Written in first person viewpoint, we are immediately sucked into a world where nothing is as it seems and the impossible and improbable occur at least a dozen times a day. Yeine finds herself fending off the unwelcome attention of all sorts of people. And gods. The bar-tight tension twanging throughout this tale relies in a large part in our belief in the capricious, lethal mutability of the immortal beings who crowd into this story and upstage everyone else – particularly Nightlord Nahadoth who fascinates and terrifies Yeine in equal measure. The stakes are high – if for one moment we decide that Naha (his nickname) and his equally lethal sidekick, Sieh, aren’t convincingly scary, then the whole plot crashes with all the grace of a duck landing on ice.
Not only do we have to believe that these gods are terrible, but come to accept and understand why Yeine falls under their spell and start to pity them and want them to behave well – in other words empathise and care about them. That’s always a tough call – to make really ‘other’ characters become sympathetic to the reader. It’s one of the major problems I have with so many hard science fiction books set hundreds of years into the future when Humanity becomes Posthuman – I often don’t bond with the main protagonists because they are just too different. I’ll bet that I wouldn’t have that problem if Jemisin wanted to write that genre, though. She is good at connecting her reader with the weirdly creepy.
She manages to sustain the tempo, while juggling a cast of outstandingly difficult characters in a bizarre setting and suck us right in to this page-turner until the climax and denouement – which I didn’t see coming. At no time did I feel that I was in the hands of some newbie feeling her way into this novel-writing business. Jemisin writes as if she’s been doing this all her life. As if she’s written a good dozen books and got another batch still cooking in her head. I surely hope so – because with a debut like this, I’ll want to jump into her worlds, again. That difference is addictive… 10/10