I’ve been reading a lot of murder mysteries recently – particularly those with an SFF element. So when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it, even though it is already published.
BLURB: Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago. Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers.
REVIEW: I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The setting is a fantasy world where the industrial revolution is taking off – there are steam-powered trains and cars, but they are being superseded by the new dragon-bone engines. However they require fairies to drive these vehicles as the inherent magic within the dragon bones needs to be controlled by someone with magical ability – and other than a handful of noble families, most humans don’t possess magic. So we have fairies working long hours for low pay, often being exploited and they are becoming increasingly resentful and angry, which is beginning to lead to inter-species conflict. For humans all too often regard fairy magic with suspicion and dismiss them as being stupid and sub-human.
Enter our plucky investigators, Agent Beka Finley, the only woman to date who has succeeded in becoming one of the elite Royal Investigators, and her partner Agent Lester Donovan. They are both interesting characters with fascinating backstories. One of Coffeen’s superpowers is that she keeps the story moving along, without resorting to info-dumps that silt up the narrative. This means we are immediately tipped into the story and learn about our protagonists and the world as the story moves along in Agent Finley’s first-person viewpoint. I very much like this mode of story-telling, but I’m aware it isn’t to everyone’s taste.
There is an interesting dynamic in this Victorian-type society, where manners and dress conventions are formal and social mobility is clearly not easy, while Agent Finley is from a much humbler background than Donovan. As the rebel son who walked away from his powerful and rich noble family, we get a ringside seat into some of the pressure points within the class system and the inter-species prejudice – not to mention the general lack of enthusiasm to towards women working in anything other than a domestic setting. This could have turned into a glib commentary on social inequality that is becoming an increasingly popular sub-plot within modern SFF. But what saves it from making the usual facile judgements is the strong characterisation. Yes, Agent Finley has to work twice as hard as her male colleagues – but I get the sense that she would do, anyway, given her driven nature. And I also like the fact that our protagonist isn’t all that sympathetic to the outbreaks of violence and demonstrations from an increasingly beleaguered fairy workforce. She’s a law enforcement officer – of course she thinks they should find another way to express their dissatisfaction. Though she starts to reconsider her opinion after having seen first-hand just what a raw deal a particular fairy family are undergoing.
The murder mystery is well handled, with plenty of potential suspects, a steady increase in the stakes involved and a dramatic climactic denouement. I was impressed with the overall quality of writing – and as a bonus, there are a series of beautiful pen and ink illustrations in a 19th century style drawn by the author. After this impressive debut, I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in the series. 9/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been a long, miserable week. Until yesterday when the sun came out. My daughter and her family moved house a couple of weeks ago. This time around, we weren’t there to help – in fact I’ve only seen them twice since Christmas and we’re part of their support bubble. But yesterday, she drove over to pick me up, and organised for me to spend part of the day with them, before she dropped me back again. Unfortunately half the country decided they wanted to visit the Littlehampton/Brighton area yesterday so the roads were clogged solid and the journey took over two hours and would have been longer if she hadn’t gone across country. It was wonderful to see the children again, catch up with them all and be shown over the house. They now have a bedroom each and the house is lovely and bright with a real homely feeling. I can now visualise where they are…
Before I went, I hadn’t appreciated just how very down I’d become. After all, I didn’t cry, and though it took some effort and a lot of books – I wasn’t feeling utterly miserable. But that shot of absolute joy on seeing the family again felt like waking up. So this morning we went for a walk along the beach – just a short one, as we don’t have much stamina yet. But it was lovely to get out again!
The photos this week are of our little walk along the beach.
Last week I read: Traitor’s Blade – Book 1 of the Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell Falcio is the first Cantor of the Greatcoats. Trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia, the Greatcoats are travelling Magisters upholding King’s Law. They are heroes. Or at least they were, until they stood aside while the Dukes took the kingdom, and impaled their King’s head on a spike.
Now Tristia is on the verge of collapse and the barbarians are sniffing at the borders. The Dukes bring chaos to the land, while the Greatcoats are scattered far and wide, reviled as traitors, their legendary coats in tatters. All they have left are the promises they made to King Paelis, to carry out one final mission. But if they have any hope of fulfilling the King’s dream, the divided Greatcoats must reunite, or they will also have to stand aside as they watch their world burn… This is an engaging and action-packed swords and sorcery adventure that packs an emotional punch. It kept me turning the pages to the end, with plenty of surprises along the way. Mini-review to follow.
The Royal Secret – Book 5 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers.
Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world.
Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe… This series continues to go from strength to strength. Taylor’s ability to weave real life events into the affairs of his fictional protagonists, James and Cat, is impressive. His depiction of the historical period is masterly and gives a vivid backdrop to the engrossing action that left me slightly reeling by the end. Review to follow.
The Daydreamer Detective – Book 1 of the Miso Cosy Mysteries by Steph Gennaro aka S.J. Pajonas Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.
As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she? I thoroughly enjoyed this charming murder mystery, as poor Mei finds herself having to admit defeat and return home to her mother. I’m sure many young people these days are finding themselves in the same miserable position. But this is also set in Japan, so there is a different slant on family life, and the investigation which was enjoyable to read. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The House of Hades – Book 4 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan Hazel stands at a crossroads. She and the remaining crew of the Argo II could return home with the Athena Parthenos statue and try to stop Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter from going to war. Or they could continue their quest to find the House of Hades, where they might be able to open the Doors of Death, rescue their friends Percy and Annabeth from Tartarus, and prevent monsters from being reincarnated in the mortal world. Whichever road they decide to take, they have to hurry, because time is running out. Gaea, the bloodthirsty Earth Mother, has set the date of August 1 for her rise to power.
Annabeth and Percy are overwhelmed. How will the two of them make it through Tartarus? Starving, thirsty, and in pain, they are barely able to stumble on in the dark and poisonous landscape that holds new horrors at every turn. They have no way of locating the Doors of Death. Even if they did, a legion of Gaea’s strongest monsters guards the Doors on the Tartarus side. Annabeth and Percy can’t exactly launch a frontal assault.
Despite the terrible odds, Hazel, Annabeth, Percy, and the other demigods of the prophecy know that there is only one choice: to attempt the impossible. Not just for themselves, but for everyone they love. Even though love can be the riskiest choice of all. This book takes our plucky protagonists into some very dark places indeed. And yet, Riordan’s adroit use of humour, without minimising or disrespecting their evident ordeal, managed to allow me to listen to this without finding it unbearable. I shall really miss this series, once I’ve finished it. Review to follow.
Southern Spirits – Book 1 of the Southern Ghost Hunter mysteries by Angie Fox When out of work graphic designer Verity Long accidentally traps a ghost on her property, she’s saddled with more than a supernatural sidekick—she gains the ability see spirits. It leads to an offer she can’t refuse from the town’s bad boy, the brother of her ex and the last man she should ever partner with.
Ellis Wydell is in possession of a stunning historic property haunted by some of Sugarland Tennessee’s finest former citizens. Only some of them are growing restless—and destructive. He hires Verity to put an end to the disturbances. But soon, Verity learns there’s more to the mysterious estate than floating specters, secret passageways, and hidden rooms. There’s a modern day mystery afoot, one that hinges on a decades-old murder. Verity isn’t above questioning the living, or the dead. But can she discover the truth before the killer finds her? I like Fox’s upbeat, quirky writing style – and this ghostly murder mystery with a splash of romance was an entertaining read with some real creepy moments and a very satisfying ending. Review to follow.
A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.
The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death. I’ve omitted the final paragraph in the blurb, which is completely wrong and led me to expect something quite different from what I got. And this clever, enjoyable story set in Jane Austen’s Regency England deserves better than that. Overall, this is classy murder mystery that very much impressed me and I look forward to reading more from this promising writing. Review to follow.
The Case of the Dragon-Bone Engine – Book 1 of the Royal Investigative Service by Galadriel Coffeen Dynamite couldn’t cause such a big explosion. It must be something worse, Agent Beka Finley is sure of it. As she and her partner investigate the devastating train crash, she’s convinced the train was sabotaged. But everyone seems bent on persuading her it was an accident. Just like the crash that killed her father six years ago.
Determined to protect more lives from the growing unrest between humans and fairies, Beka puts her own life and reputation on the line to find the truth. But that truth might lead to more questions than answers. This is the industrial revolution played out in a fantasy version of the early Victorian period where fairies live alongside humans, and sell their magical abilities to the factory owners for a pittance. Though Agents Finley and Donovan are more concerned with the catastrophic explosion that has ripped through a new dragon-bone train… I thoroughly enjoyed this difference spin on a period of history I know very well. And the bonus is that the book has a number of beautiful pen and ink drawings executed by the clearly talented author in the style of the period. Review to follow.
Empire of Sand – Book 1 of the Books of Ambha by Tash Suri The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda. Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance… I acquired this offering as it is on sale – and very good value it has proved to be. I’m always a sucker for a well-told tale of sand and sorcery. Mehr’s journey is full of drama and emotion, and the world she creates along with the magic system, is vivid and enjoyable. Very highly recommended.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Music and the Art Show – Part 2 https://jenniefitzkee.com/2021/04/08/the-art-show-part-2/ The biggest problem for teachers is to inspire children to be fearless in their creativity. In our modern world, they never get a chance to see ‘works in progress’. They only ever see the shiny, flawless, final effort and particularly as they get older, they are aware that what they produce can’t possibly rival that – so they often give up before they even get going. Unless they met up with a wonderful teacher like Jennie when they were younger, who inspired them to have a go…