Tag Archives: the Shkode Trilogy

2016 Discovery Challenge – November Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During November, I read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to thirty four books I’ve completed written by women authors I haven’t previously encountered.

Synners by Pat Cadigan

In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and thesynners external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.

This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.

 

Renting Silence – Book 3 of the Roaring Twenties Mysteries by Mary Miley
renting-silenceCan 1920 s script girl Jessie do Mary Pickford s bidding and uncover a real killer? When Jessie is asked by her idol, the famous actress Mary Pickford, if she can do some private investigating for her, Jessie reluctantly accepts. A girl was found stabbed in her bedroom with another woman lying unconscious on the floor next to her, a bloody knife in her hand. With no police investigation into the murder, it’s up to Jessie to hone her amateur detective skills and prove the girl’s innocence before she hangs for murder.

While I was aware that I’d once more crashed midway into a series, this isn’t a major deal as Miley is far too adept for keep her readers floundering. Instead I quickly bonded with Jessie, a sparky character with plenty of spirit who is embracing the opportunities Hollywood has presented for her. It is also the perfect setting for all sorts of mayhem and murder.

As with all the best historical whodunits, Miley uses the adventure to present us with a slice of Jessie’s life. While I cared about seeing the mystery solved, I was every bit as involved with Jessie’s ongoing concerns, such as her wardrobe choices, her problematic romance and interest in the Hollywood gossip. Miley vividly recreates the 1920s world for us, from the clothes and the Hollywood glamour and the thrill of drinking forbidden alcoholic drinks.

 

Tackling my TBR
In a bid to try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Last month, I’m pleased to say, I managed to read four books languishing on my To Be Read pile:

Penric’s Mission – a Penric and Desdemona novella by Lois McMaster Bujold
Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on penricsmissionhis first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems and Penric is forced to use his own wits and resources. As well as those of the demon that lives alongside him in his body…
Firstly, avoid reading the blurb – it gives away far too much of the story and given this is a novella, there simply isn’t time for the narrative arc to recover from such a reveal. I’ve included a modified version that doesn’t contain any spoilers.

Fairly rapidly, Penric’s mission is in trouble and from then on, he is forced to think on his feet. I really like the way Bujold sets this up as one kind of story – and then suddenly changes everything around. I had intended to begin this book this morning and break off to complete it later tonight – except that once I started it, I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached the end. Once more, Penric’s wry humour, his self-effacing manner and the real danger he and his companions find themselves in hooked me in and wouldn’t let go.

 

Bloodrush – Book 1 of The Scarlet Star trilogy by Ben Galley
bloodrush“Magick ain’t pretty, it ain’t stars and sparkles. Magick is dirty. It’s rough. Raw. It’s blood and guts and vomit. You hear me?”
When Prime Lord Hark is found in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his halls, Tonmerion Hark finds his world not only turned upside down, but inside out. His father’s last will and testament forces him west across the Iron Ocean, to the very brink of the Endless Land and all civilisation. They call it Wyoming.
This is a story of murder and family.
In the dusty frontier town of Fell Falls, there is no silverware, no servants, no plush velvet nor towering spires. Only dust, danger, and the railway. Tonmerion has only one friend to help him escape the torturous heat and unravel his father’s murder. A faerie named Rhin. A twelve-inch tall outcast of his own kind.
This is a story of blood and magick.
But there are darker things at work in Fell Falls, and not just the railwraiths or the savages. Secrets lurk in Tonmerion’s bloodline. Secrets that will redefine this young Hark.
This is a story of the edge of the world.

I immediately liked the premise of a fantasy set in the Wild West as the railroad is being built and very much hoped the book would live up to the punchy blurb. It does. Merion is a really appealing protagonist – a suddenly orphaned thirteen-year-old, who is uprooted from all he knows and shipped out to the wilds of the frontier to live with an aunt he’s never met.

 

Synners by Pat Cadigan
See above – this offering also had languished on my TBR pile FAR too long…

 

The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a thebanishedcraftsecret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

So that’s where I am so far on Tackling my TBR challenge. Once again, November was a far better reading month than I’d expected and my Discovery Challenge target, which was twelve books now looks stupidly unambitious, but then I’d expected to be doing a great deal more writing this year. How are you getting on with your reading challenges now the year is rapidly drawing to a close?

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Review of KINDLE edition The Banished Craft – Book 1 of the Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

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I’d read and reviewed the second book in the series, The Fettered Flame, and enjoyed it sufficiently to want to go back and read the first book – not always something I bother to do. Would I enjoy it as much, given that I largely know the outcome of most of the plotpoints?

thebanishedcraftStruggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it. A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

One of the reasons why I wanted to return to this world is its richness and sheer quirky difference. I’m used to worlds being endangered by maniacal gods/powerful mages/artefacts – I can’t recall another world risking extinction because the child of a powerful being accidentally touched it… However, any impulse to burst out laughing is steadily eroded as we become engrossed in the lives of our protagonists on the sundered worlds. Bell handles the epic nature of her narrative really effectively, as both societies – stressed by the environmental upheaval – start to fall apart.

As well as providing an interesting, unusual take on the nature of the overwhelming disaster, Bell also gives us an insight into two uncomfortably familiar repressive societies as they seek to expunge any differences or political opposition. In the human world, women aren’t permitted to read or enter public life in any sphere, and although people travel from different parts of the planet, anyone with different colouring is treated with suspicion and hostility. Dragonkind is no better – a ruler who has been on the throne far too long is determined to continue to rule through whatever means she can. Her paranoia is creating an increasingly harsh regime where the majority are too cowed to rise up and protest. I don’t want you to go away with the idea that this is some political polemic, however. Bell is far too dedicated to the story to break her narrative with undue hand-wringing over the sorry state of our governing systems, but I liked the fact it is there.

What I mainly gained from reading this first book was a greater understanding of the characters, in particular Cor’s backstory and why she is such a cagey character. There is also an intriguing magical element in this story, which again is unique and I very much enjoyed watching it develop as Cor fumbles towards coping with this ability. The other unfolding story is that of the dragons, though I did feel Atesh’s main decision near the end of book was somewhat sudden and, given his ties to his family, was not wholly convincing. I’ll forgive Bell this slight inconsistency, however as I loved Zee, the twitchy ruler and her uncomfortable relationship with the brutal General Dronna.

Overall, the worldbuilding is excellent and as I continued reading, I was aware of not wanting the book to finish too soon as I was enjoying the unfolding drama in this detailed, troubled world. I’ll definitely be looking out for the last book in the series, which is highly recommended – though to get the best out of it, do please read The Banished Craft and The Fettered Flame in the right order.

Despite acquiring an advanced readers’ arc from the publishers via NetGalley, I can confirm my review is an honest, unbiased opinion of The Banished Craft.
8/10

2016 Discovery Challenge – September Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During September, I managed to read two Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to twenty seven books read by women I haven’t previously encountered.

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of the Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals.

I really enjoyed the intriguing world Bell has set up. Two worlds have been accidentally sundered by one of Mother’s children while she was observing them. One is peopled by humans and the other by talking dragons who adorn themselves with jewellery and scarves, each believing the other a myth. Both societies are intolerant and prejudiced – the human society refuses women any agency other than staying at home and raising children, while the dragon society is ruled by the paranoid and aging Zee. As the two worlds become increasingly shaken by earthquakes and natural disasters, their societies are also churned up and Cor, a female scholar with an outlawed tattoo on her midriff teams up with Atesh, a dragon who manages to travel through a portal between the worlds.

Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzy Ford
avelineIn post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly. Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Aveline’s skills as an assassin may have kept her alive to date – but she’ll need every ounce of ingenuity and grit to keep herself safe once she enters the household of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas…

Ignore the misleading cover – this is no soft-focused lurve story, this is a gritted battle for survival by a gutsy heroine who had me hooked from the first page.

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Again, I’ve only managed one book during September that wasn’t a Netgalley arc:-
Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton
The Cities, founded on the precepts laid down by in Plato’s The Republic by Pallas Athena, are necessityflourishing. Then, on the same day, two things happen. Pytheas dies as a human, returning immediately as Apollo in his full glory. And there’s suddenly a ship approaching, wanting to make contact…

I finished the book feeling enormously moved and excited. I can’t recall the last time I felt like that over any book. And all through the year, since reading The Just City I’ve found this series has stolen into my head and taken up thinking space, often when I should have been considering other things. That doesn’t happen all that often. It is the glory of reading – where marks on a page can transform, terrify or anger you. Or, in this case, have me pondering about why we are here, what is our purpose and what should we be striving for.

Sunday Post – 18th September

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It feels like a long time since I touched base with everyone here, as I wasn’t around for the Sunday Post last week having gone to stay with my lovely mother. We don’t see enough of each other, though thank goodness for Skype. But we had the loveliest time catching up and hitting the shops for some retail therapy at Castlepoint on the outskirts of Bournemouth. It was also Himself’s birthday and as it was a Big One with a zero on the end, he asked for a guitar, which he duly got.

harleythedavidsonsWhile staying with Mum, Robbie contacted me to say that the mini-series, Harley and the Davidsons would be showing, so we had the pleasure of settling down to watch him on TV together as a family. It was a thoroughly entertaining story and I wouldn’t have known he wasn’t American as he’d absolutely nailed the accent as Ira Mason, while his grandmother didn’t recognise him in in the period costume.

Last Monday, I was back home again and off to London with Sally and Tim to attend the BGC Charity Day at their HQ at Canary Wharf – an amazing experience. We were there to represent the Caudwell bgccharitydayChildren’s charity, who have supported Tim with a variety of treatments and therapies not available on the NHS which have been instrumental in helping him overcome the more distressing symptoms connected to his autism. There were a constant stream of celebrities who went up to the trading floors to help close deals, where the commission went to an impressive list of charities. Tim, Sally and I had a fabulous day and he coped brilliantly with a completely different day to any other, as well as the trip up to London and back.

You won’t be surprised to learn that writing has taken something of a backseat this last couple of weeks. I haven’t done all that well on the reading front, either:

The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of The Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell
thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals.

I really enjoyed the intriguing world Bell has set up. Two worlds have been accidentally sundered by one of Mother’s children while she was observing them. One is peopled by humans and the other by talking dragons who adorn themselves with jewellery and scarves, each believing the other a myth. Both societies are intolerant and prejudiced – the human society refuses women any agency other than staying at home and raising children, while the dragon society is ruled by the paranoid and aging Zee. As the two worlds become increasingly shaken by earthquakes and natural disasters, their societies are also churned up and Cor, a female scholar with an outlawed tattoo on her midriff teams up with Atesh, a dragon who manages to travel through a portal between the worlds.

 

Twilight of the Dragons – Book 2 of the Blood Dragon Empire by Andy Remic
During a recent dwarf civil-war deep under the Karamakkos Mountains, the magick-enslaved twilightofthedragonsdragonlords have broken free from centuries of imprisonment and slaughtered tens of thousands throughout the Five Havens before exploding from the mountain and heading in fire and vengeance for the lands of Vagandrak. Two once-noble war heroes of Vagandrak – Dakeroth and his wife Jonti Tal, an archer and scholar, the Axeman, the White Witch and a Kaalesh combat expert find themselves in a unique position: for they have discovered the ancient dragon city of Wyrmblood, and a thousand unhatched dragon eggs. Dakeroth and his companions must work with their enemies, Skalg and the Church of Hate, in order to bring down the dragonlords and save the world of men and dwarves. But there is no bartering with these ancient dragons; for they seek to hatch their eggs and rebuild the cruel Wyrmblood Empire of legend.

While I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the first book in the series, the amazing The Dragon Engine, the story still pulled me into the world and I’m keen to discover what happens next.

 

Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn
childrenofthedifferentNineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals. In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.

This post-apocalyptic science fiction/fantasy mash-up immediately feels different in that Flynn vividly depicts the Australian landscape, which features throughout, helping to define the mood and frame the action. I quickly bonded with the main protagonists, especially Arika, but I can imagine any teenage boy would equally enjoy reading and identifying with Narrah’s adventures. It is a relief to read a YA book that is absolutely age-appropriate – I’ll have no qualms in offering this read to my granddaughter in another year or so, when she is old enough to appreciate it.

My posts last week:
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of The Shkode series by E.D.E. Bell

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Twilight of the Dragons – Book 2 of The Dragon Blood Empire series by Andy Remic

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn

Friday Faceoff – A Bouquet for you, M’Lady… featuring The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly trilogy by Jo Walton

2016 Discovery Challenge – August Roundup

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Killer Apps for Writers http://writerunboxed.com/2016/09/17/killer-apps-for-writers/ by Bill Ferris, one of my favourite regular contributors to Writer Unboxed. This had me spluttering into my tea – I warn you – he REALLY means killer…

The Blog Awards! https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/the-blog-awards/ I was delighted to read that Ballyroan Reads – a gem of a site for booklovers – had been honoured with an award. They even were nice enough to namecheck yours truly at the end.

This untitled photo has stuck in my mind from this excellent site. Like all the great ones, it can be looked on several levels https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/untitled-86/

The excellent Interesting Literature offered this interesting and shocking biography…
https://interestingliterature.com/2016/09/16/a-very-short-biography-of-anne-askew/ I hadn’t even heard of her – and I certainly should.

One of my guilty pleasures is visiting this site when I should be writing and enjoying John Grant’s excellent film noir summaries and discussions… https://noirencyclopedia.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/intruder-2011/

Seumas Gallacher writes about returning after a lifetime back to the place where he put down roots. https://seumasgallacher.com/2016/09/16/part-one-of-the-magic-of-a-return-visit-to-mull-in-the-scottish-hebrides/

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE ebook The Fettered Flame – Book 2 of The Shkode trilogy by E.D.E. Bell

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In an ideal world, I would have read the first book, The Banished Craft, before plunging into this epic fantasy. However, I’ve fallen behind my reading schedule and wanted to ensure this review appeared within touching distance of the book’s publication date, so jumped to this one after reading just a couple of pages of the first book.

thefetteredflameThe Fettered Flame is a genre-bending fantasy novel that continues the saga of two dying worlds, plagued by their own unique struggles for power. Follow the journeys of Cor – a woman striving to understand her powers of magic and how the connect to her past, Atesh – her contemplative dragon companion, and Jwala – a dragon plunged into a rebirth of ancient ideals.

I really enjoyed the intriguing world Bell has set up. Two worlds have been accidentally sundered by one of Mother’s children while she was observing them. One is peopled by humans and the other by talking dragons who adorn themselves with jewellery and scarves, each believing the other a myth. Both societies are intolerant and prejudiced – the human society refuses women any agency other than staying at home and raising children, while the dragon society is ruled by the paranoid and aging Zee. As the two worlds become increasingly shaken by earthquakes and natural disasters, their societies are also churned up and Cor, a female scholar with an outlawed tattoo on her midriff teams up with Atesh, a dragon who manages to travel through a portal between the worlds.

The dynamic is fascinating, as Bell’s nuanced worldbuilding produces an engrossing book, which could so easily have turned into a foot-to-the-floor, non-stop action adventure. There’s nothing wrong with such books, of course, but I loved the fact this tale raises interesting questions along the way about the nature of power, who has it and why. I particularly enjoyed the dragon world where might is right and the terrifying General Dronna keeps Zee’s subjects suitably cowed – except for a breakaway sect who believe there has to be more to dragonkind and that love and forgiveness are what they should be striving for. Human leadership is also undergoing some almighty shocks as the President’s loving and supportive spouse of many years turns out to be… different. I enjoyed Bell’s inclusion of homosexual relationships and how they are treated on both worlds – a refreshing change in a genre where such differences are generally not addressed.

The main protagonists are all engaging and brave – and struggling to communicate with Mother, who is urging them to find the way to recombine their worlds and prevent their imminent destruction. Cor and Atesh, the two protagonists at the heart of the story, make a strong pairing, though there are often misunderstandings and tensions as well as odd moments of humour as each tries to understand the other. I liked the fact they very much missed their own partners and yearned for normality and safety.

However, the character I increasingly enjoyed is Mother, the omniscient being who observes these worlds and provides a running commentary throughout. Initially, I found these musings intrusive but grew to enjoy her guilty efforts to put right this dreadful accident. All in all, The Fettered Flame is a thoroughly satisfying read that didn’t grip me from the start, but continued to draw me in with the intelligent characterisation and interesting worldbuilding that has me looking forward to the next book in the series – and a promise to myself that as soon as I can fit it in, I’ll be tracking down the first book, The Banished Craft.
8/10