Tag Archives: steampunk adventure

Review of KINDLE Ebook Children of the Shaman – Book 1 of the Children of the Shaman series by Jessica Rydill

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This cool cover caught my eye a while ago, and as Rydill is also a Grimbold author, I added it to my Kindle. And there it stayed for far too long until I needed some fantasy in my life.

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel.

That’s as much as I’m prepared to share of the rather chatty blurb, which gives the impression that it is a children’s book, due to the young protagonist. However, to be honest, that isn’t how it read. It doesn’t even have a YA vibe. Young Annat is extremely precocious – and like many youngsters growing up in difficult places at difficult times – very observant of the adults around her. Thus we get a sharp-edged look at tangled, often painful adult relationships through the eyes of someone not yet fully able to understand the power and misery of doomed love affairs.

I really enjoyed this perspective. Annat’s unfolding relationship with her formally estranged father is extremely well handled and certainly rings true to someone who also had an absent father when growing up. I am also impressed at the way Rydill approaches the shifting dynamic between Annat and her older brother. Previously, when they were both living with her aunt, her brother is the special one as he is singled out for his academic cleverness. However, once they are tipped into the middle of this adventure with their charismatic, unstable and magically gifted father, who drags them along on a journey filled with physical hardship and constant danger – it is Annat’s growing powers and stoical toughness that gets the paternal approval, while he merely sighs over her brother’s timidity and clumsiness.

I’m aware I may have given the impression that this is all about relationships within a family dynamic – perhaps clustered around the kitchen table. In reality, it is nothing of the sort. This book is full of adventure, ranging from action surrounding a steam train to a castle stronghold controlled by a fanatical lord, intent on executing anyone who doesn’t share his beliefs. Once I opened it up, it was always difficult to put this one down again. And since I have finished reading it, I have found myself thinking about those cleverly nuanced characters and wondering how I would have coped in those circumstances.

The good news is that this is the first in a series and I won’t be leaving it too long before once more getting back in touch with Annat and her family. Highly recommended for fans of quality fantasy.
9/10

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Review of The Vanishing Throne – Book 2 of The Falconer Trilogy by Elizabeth May

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I encountered the first book, The Falconer, at the beginning of the year and loved the intense, brutal writing style of this YA genre mash-up, so was delighted when this offering became available at the local library.

thevanishingthroneAileana took a stand against the Wild Hunt, and she lost everything: her home, her family and her friends. Held captive by her enemy, and tormenting herself over her failure, escape seems like only the faintest possibility.

Whatever you do – don’t start with this book. Go back to The Falconer, which ended on a devastating cliffhanger and pretty much picks up exactly where the first book left off. So if you start with this one, while you may not be floundering too much, you will definitely be missing an important chunk of the story. Having your main character being subjected to sustained torture can be tricky business, especially in a YA read, and needs careful handling. Fortunately May deals with it well and Aileana certainly is left with wounds that run deeper than the scars inflicted as the storyline progresses.

I was concerned that as the first book galloped towards an apocalyptic climax, the second book would necessarily be something of a let-down – and it proved to be nothing of the sort. May doesn’t ease up on the pace one iota and Aileana is immersed into another series of twists and turns that reveals yet more of the fae and their tortuous relationship with humanity reaching back millennia.

It was also a treat to meet up again with the strong supporting cast of characters who people The Falconer… I was very relieved that Derrick, the stroppy pixie, survives. Apart from anything else, the repartee between Aileana and Derrick provides some very welcome humour. Not that this is particularly downbeat – there is too much going on and too many issues for our protagonist to consider for the mood to become too gloomy. However, it is gritty – wounds cause scars. People sustain losses. And bear grudges…

Once more, I was swept up into this enticing, edgy world. Though as I approached the ending I became increasingly concerned that it could not compete with The Falconer’s shocking conclusion. But I need not have feared – as I got to the final page, I was scraping my jaw off the floor, while being very relieved that I shan’t have to wait too long for the final book, The Fallen Kingdom, in this exciting, entertaining series. Highly recommended.
9/10

2016 Discovery Challenge and Tackling my TBR – December Roundup

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I’m not quite sure how it happened, but despite December being a really busy month I managed to continue reading more than two books a week. As for my Discovery Challenge, which I undertook after reading this post by Jo Hall to read and review at least two books a month by women authors previously unknown to me – I managed to read and review five books during December, though one of those reviews hasn’t yet been published.

Split the Sun – Book 2 of the Inherit the World series by Tessa Elwood
splitthesunThe Ruling Lord of the House of Galton is dead, and the nation is in shock—or celebrating, depending on the district. Kit Franks would be more than happy to join him. Kit’s mother bombed the digital core of the House, killing several and upending the nation’s information structure. No one wants the daughter of a terrorist. Kit’s having dreams she can’t explain, remembering conversations that no longer seem innocent, understanding too much coded subtext in Mom’s universal feed messages. Everyone has a vision of Kit’s fate—locked, sealed, and ready to roll. The question is, does Kit have a vision for herself?
I really enjoyed this one. Foot-to-the-floor, action-packed dystopian sci fi adventure with an appealing spiky heroine, I was scooped up into the middle of this world and didn’t want to pull away until the last page. Great fun – see my review here.

Rebel of the Sands – Book 1 of The Rebel of the Sands trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton
rebelofthesandsShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands. Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from, as she’s destined to wind up “wed or dead”.
There has been a real buzz about this YA desert fantasy offering, and I can see why. Hamilton tips us right into the middle of the action from the first page as Amani’s spiky first person narrative pulled me into the story and didn’t let go. It is a foot to the floor, non-stop adventure where she careens through the vividly depicted landscape that borrows much from eastern influences. It’s a delight and I’m now hoping to be able to hunt down the sequel. See my review here.

Ever the Hunted – Book 1 of Clash of Kingdoms series by Erin Summerill
Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her everthehunteddays tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer. However, it’s not so simple. The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart.
It was pure chance that I read two YA fantasy adventures back to back. They both featured teenage female protagonists on the run, both had secrets and issues they knew nothing about at the start of the adventure. Both had a romantic sub-plot. Both are cracking reads. However, Britta isn’t so carelessly, gloriously reckless as Amani – she is wary and untrusting of everyone. The pace in this one isn’t quite so full-on, either, but I thoroughly enjoyed this tale set in a more traditional medieval fantasy setting. There were some pleasing plot twists in this adventure I didn’t see coming – and I certainly didn’t guess who had murdered Britta’s father. See my review here.

The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley
thecityoficeDeep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.
It took me a while to get into this genre mashup, where epic fantasy meets a steampunk-type world using magic to power machinery. However there are unforeseen consequences to harnessing such power in that particular way… I love the intricate, layered world with a number of interesting creatures including the tyn, powerful godlike rulers who nevertheless are somewhat down on their luck – and a number of ambitious humans trying to get what they can. Altogether, this becomes an engrossing world with a number of fascinating stories – I’m definitely going to be looking out for the sequel. See my review here.

It was also a good month for my other reading challenge of the year – Tackling my TBR as I read and reviewed five books from my teetering To Be Read pile, which were:-

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
The story is about a lonely child who is made to see the world through her cousin’s unusual eyes. When thornyholdthe child becomes a young woman, she moves to Thornyhold where she is thought by the local community to be a witch. However, as she finds out, this is no normal community, and worries quickly present themselves. And not everyone who initially greets her is as friendly as they seem…
An enjoyable, initially slightly eerie read that becomes a more conventional romance – as ever Stewart’s writing is a joy. See my review here.

 

 

A Natural History of Dragons – Book 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here, at last, in her own words, is the story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.
This was recommended to me by the wonderful Kitvaria Sarene during an intense evening at Bristolcon talking books, so I made it a top priority on my TBR list and decided to treat myself this week. And I’m delighted I did – it’s a gem and you can find review here.

Judged – Book 3 of the Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jagar
judgedKit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . . Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop. In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.
I really enjoyed the previous two books in this series, Vowed and Banished so was pleased to be able to wrap up Kit’s adventure before the end of the year. Though whatever you do – don’t start with this book, go back to the start and experience this charming series in the right order. See my review here.

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

“History is just one damned thing after another.” Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a jsutonedamnedthingdifferent kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet. Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.
This is time-travelling adventure is a joy. Funny, anarchic with a reckless sense of derring-do, this tale is told in first person viewpoint by Max as we follow her initial introduction to St Mary’s, training and early adventures. That said, the attrition rate is high and a number of folks die in this – some of whom I was really sorry to see go… I think this would make a marvellous TV series, however – not yet. There are a raft of these books out there and I want to read them all, first.

The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton
thekingspeaceSulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, where the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.
I loved this version of the King Arthur story. As ever, Walton took me somewhere different and engrossed me in the life of someone with other values and ideas. Another great addition to a wonderful reading year…

What about you – how did your December reading targets go?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Ice – Book 2 of The Gates of the World series by K.M. McKinley

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Once again, I crashed into the second book of a series. Would this impact my enjoyment of this wide-ranging, multi-viewpoint epic fantasy?

thecityoficeDeep in the polar south stands a city like no other, a city built aeons ago by a civilisation mighty and wise. The City of Ice promises the secrets of the ancients to whomever can reach it first. It may prove too little knowledge too late, for the closest approach of the Twin in 4000 years draws near, an event that has heralded terrible destruction in past ages. As the Kressind siblings pursue their fortunes, the world stands upon the dawn of a new era, but it may yet be consumed by a darkness from the past.

It did take a while to get going, but then I wasn’t invested or aware of the cast of characters featuring in this sprawling fantasy as I hadn’t read the previous book, The Iron Ship. However, once I worked out who was doing what to whom, I became engrossed in this interesting and original take on a very familiar format. For starters, this is something of a genre mash-up. The society depicted is in the early stages of an industrial revolution and use magic to power their machinery, which is having some unfortunate side effects. While the Kressind family were clearly at the heart of the previous book, the plot has since snaked off into all sorts of directions, so that there were a number of intriguing storylines that had me wanting to know more.

The main one I really enjoyed was the progress of the intrepid explorers heading towards the City of Ice in a bid to uncover more of the secrets of an ancient race that, until recently, ruled over humanity. McKinley is very good at scene setting, so the biting cold allied to the constant need for chipping away the ice constantly forming on the superstructure of this metal ship sprang from the pages. Add to the mix a stowaway and talking dogs and you’ll appreciate this is a voyage where plenty is going on other than an exploration to a fabled city.

The other interesting plot that held me throughout the book was that of Madalyn, who offered herself to the Dark Lord, a horned godling with a fearsome reputation. She has got herself into something of a financial muddle, so offers to be his female companion in return for a very generous settlement if all goes well. If it doesn’t – she won’t need to worry about her finances, anyway… This is a fascinating subplot that also included the story of the Godhome, an abandoned palace that was attacked by the most powerful mage in history who drove out the gods on the grounds that they didn’t have mankind’s best interests at heart.

There are also the tyn, demons who will happily feast on humans but who can also be brought under control by magical means. They exist more or less alongside humanity, though as you can imagine, it isn’t always an easy relationship… I could go on about more of the interesting stories McKinley portrays in this rich, multi-faceted world, but instead I suggest you give yourself an early New Year’s treat and get hold of The Iron Ship. For fans of epic fantasy – even if it isn’t your go-to genre – this is an enjoyable, nicely intricate world with plenty to ponder once you’ve reached the climactic ending.

Receiving a copy of The City of Ice from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

Favourite London Spec Fic Tales – Part 2

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There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.

The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has theatrocityarchivesdeveloped to date.

Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.

 

 

Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod
thesweetscentofbloogThis is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!

My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.

 

The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five theamuletofsamarkandand sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.

Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.

 

The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann
theaffinitybridgeThe entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.

Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.

When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.

The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.

 

The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found thecity'ssonenthralling.
Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.

The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.

 

 

The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina
magnificentdevicesThis is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.

 

 

 

The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, whichalchemistofsouls gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.

The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.

 

 

Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett
triumffThis is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.

Review of Green Sky & Sparks by Kate Coe

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This novella is the beginning of a fantasy tale with a strong steampunk theme running through it.

In a world of magic, wind and electricity, Catter Jeck is offered the chance to explore a myth. Travelling from city to Green-Sky-Final-Front-1-616x1024city, his search for the centre of the magic catches others in its coils. When the Lord Heir of Meton offers to continue the search in his flying machine, the consequences of their crash – and Toru’s accidental link to a dying healer – suddenly become of central importance to all of their lives.

This character-led tale packs a great deal in this slim volume, where the world is vividly depicted. Catter and Toru both sing off the page – in fact the character I found I cared most about was the volatile, headstrong Toru, who is larger than life in both his virtues and his faults. His frustration at the limits his title places on his life, along with his passion for flying pack a punch – as do his emotions. I love the world and the way the unintended mental link completely upsets everyone’s plans.

A novella doesn’t have any wriggle room to get any of the components badly wrong – in a full novel if the dialogue or scene setting is below par, I can forgive these flaws if the narrative tension, storyline and characterisation are good. But when there are fewer words, just like a short story, it all has to work as there isn’t sufficient content to diffuse any major problems with the technique or writing.

Coe hits the ground running with this engrossing, enjoyable tale that has me wanting to read the next slice of the adventure – although I would have loved it even more if the two novellas had been rolled into one longer story, as it ended just as I was really getting into the world.
8/10

Review of The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Book 1 of The Cinder series by Jim Butcher

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For fans of the Harry Dresden Files comes another treat, this time in the shape of far-future steampunk. As Butcher embarks on a completely different project, has he successfully mastered this sub-genre, too?

theaeronautswindlassSince time immemorial, humanity has lived inside the Spires, habitats towering for miles over the dangerous, monster-infested surface of the world. Captain Grimm of the merchant airship Predator was dismissed from Spire Albion’s military in disgrace – now his ship and crew are all he has, and he’s fiercely loyal to both. When the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a choice – take on a clandestine mission for Albion’s leaders, or stay grounded for good.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I am prepared to reveal, but I can say that this opening conflict is merely a preliminary salvo to the full-tilt action that fizzes through this book from the start. While the world, particularly their weapons and airships, are powered by crystals rather than coal, this book recognisably falls into the steampunk genre. Steampunk is generally characterised by a chippy, derring-do tone and Butcher has kept to this convention. Captain Grimm is implacably proper at all times, leading his crew by his dauntless heroism. And while there is a certain tongue-in-cheek flavour, Butcher manages to keep this from being too knowing.

Grimm is accompanied on this multiple third person pov adventure by an enjoyable cast of characters, including a ferociously skilful aristocrat and his ferociously confident cousin, a plucky young woman and her talking cat, a mad etherealist and his fey apprentice and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist. The overall feel and tone of this book is far closer to Butcher’s Codex Alera series than the better known Harry Dresden Files. As you might expect with an author of Butcher’s calibre, the action kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the last page, making this a book that I stayed up reading waaay into the early hours.

In amongst all the mayhem, a lot of world-building needed to be slipped in to give the reader sufficient context to really care about the stakes, which Butcher manages without holding up the pace. He also changes viewpoints smoothly enough that I didn’t find myself skimming any of the various plotlines to get back to my favourite.

But what boosts this book to one of my memorably favourite reads so far this year, is the gripping nature of climactic battle scenes, which worked brilliantly for me. This first book in a major new series has left me keenly anticipating the sequel to discover what happens next – I am especially keen to meet up again with Rowl the talking cat.
10/10

Review of Shanghai Sparrow – Book 1 of the Gears of Empire series by Gaie Sebold

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I met up with Gaie at Bristolcon, who kindly gave me a copy of her book as it sounded right up my street. I’m already a fan of her writing – read my review of Babylon Steel here, which is memorably enjoyable adventure.

Eveline Duchen is a thief and con-artist, surviving day by day on the streets of London, where the glittering spires of progess rise on the straining backs of the poor and disenfranchised. Where the Folk, the otherworldly children of fairy tailes and legends, have all but withdrawn from the smoke of the furnaces and clamour of iron. But events overtake Eveline and as she is forced into someone else’s schemes, she begins to realise that her actions could affect everyone she knows and cares about…

shanghaisparrowI’ve tweaked the blurb somewhat – but this fantasy thriller set in an alternate Victorian England has all the classic steampunk ingredients. With an additional splash of Sebold magic. Eveline is a cracking protagonist – full of spirit and ingenuity, yet with sufficient vulnerability that I really cared what happened to her. And plenty already has… Eveline certainly has the family knack for getting sucked into life-threatening adventures – and as investigations into etheric science gather pace, Eveline draws down the unwelcome attention of powerful people who want results.

The supporting characters are also great fun – Uncle James bounces off the page with his smug arrogance and conviction that he should be the family inventor; Mr Holmforth is suitably menacing and driven; while the scatty and very likeable Beth who enjoys nothing more than fiddling around with the new-fangled steam engines, is a great foil for Eveline’s dare-devil nature. As well as producing a cast of strong characters, Sebold manages to make them all entirely plausible by providing strong motivating factors for each one without silting up the action, or lessening the pace. It’s a trick that is a whole lot harder to accomplish than Sebold makes it look. And for all the forward momentum and breeziness in this book that is characteristic of steampunk, Sebold doesn’t hesitate to show the darker side underbelly of her world, where the poor and sick are left to fend for themselves. Where children roam the streets begging or stealing. Where women can be bundled off to asylums if they annoy their male relatives by their ‘unwomanly’ behaviour. I’d like to say that aspect of Sebold’s story is pure fiction – but it isn’t.

The fantastic elements are also well handled – her otherworldly protagonist in many ways mirrors Eveline with his sharp wit, ability to think outside the box – and the fact that for all his cleverness and strong survival instincts, he is also trapped.

Sebold gives more than a nod to the likes of Dickens and Conan Doyle with some of the plot twists as this adventure unfolds – some I saw coming and some I didn’t… But with the energy crackling off the page, I just wanted to read on. In fact I finished off the book in three greedy gulps, staying up waaay too late to find out what happens to Eveline. Though I understand that this is the start of a series, so I shall be looking out for the sequel. And if you enjoy steampunk adventure tales with characters who ricochet off the page, then give this one a go – it’s a blast.
9/10

Review of Indie EBOOK Lady of Devices – Book 1 of Magnificent Devices by Shelley Adina

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I’ve a real soft spot for steampunk and Himself had downloaded this book onto his Kindle a while back, and reported enthusiastically on it after he’d finished it. In fact, I think he went out and bought the rest of the series…

London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up.

ladyI’m not including the rest of the blurb on the grounds that it contains far too much of the story arc. But if you dip into the first couple of chapters and get the impression that this is a period romance with steampowered gismos lurking in the background, then grit your teeth and keep going… Of course, like me, you might have been completely snagged by Claire’s feisty personality since the first page. But if not, keep going – really. It’s worth it. Oh – and avoid the blurting blurb at all costs, or your pleasure will be significantly spoilt.

This incarnation of Victorian society has the upper classes divided into Bloods and Wits, where nobility whose lineage have entitled them to their lands and riches don’t mix socially with the Wits – those whose intellect and entrepreneurship have provided them with wealth, but not necessarily a position in the Best Society. Claire’s mother is a crushing snob, who refuses to have Peony Churchill to the house unless she is related to the correct branch of the family.

I skimmed some of the reviews on Amazon and was slightly taken aback to find so much critical head-shaking over terms like fall instead of autumn, accusing Adina for being sloppy in muddling her Victorian English with American English. Um… my reading of this book is that it is an alternate version of Victorian England – which is what steampunk does. I don’t think Adina has made a mistake – she several times refers to the Colonial Territories, meaning the Americas, which means that in her timeline they haven’t declared Independence from Britain. Therefore words and phrases from the Colonies would be far more likely to mix with UK English – she has the best ball gowns designed in America, for instance. Neither do I think Adina slipped up in having Prince Albert around when she sets her steampunk adventure – I think she has chosen to keep him alive in her world. However it would have been helpful if she’d actually flagged where she tinkered with historical fact in an appendix, as does C.J. Sansom in his alternate history Dominion.

So, having established that Adina is obeying the best conventions of steampunk, rather than being a sloppy writer – does she go on to produce a story sufficiently filled with the magnificent devices promised in the series title? Oh yes, she certainly does. I love the scene where Claire finds herself at the Great Exhibition, looking at some of the cutting edge technologies of the time and discussing whether electronick weapons will work. The other defining genre convention is pace – steampunk tends to bounce along with the throttle fully open, with all sorts of madcap OTT adventures along the way. Adina also provides these in spades – in fact the only grizzle I have is that the book ended far too soon, by dint of being only fifty-something thousand words long. But, as I picked it up on Kindle for less than a pound, it still provided me with excellent value – and a determination to get hold of the second book in the series.
9/10