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 covers that made us want to grab the book. I’ve selected The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel, which I loved – see my review.
This edition was produced by Henry Holt and Co in March 2020, and is attractive and appropriate. I really like the simplicity of the design, with the thorny branches roaming through the title font and the single Tudor rose featured in the middle of the cover. If I hadn’t already immediately lost my heart to another particular cover, then this would have been my favourite. My main niggle with this one is that although Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both mentioned, nowhere on this cover does it tell us that this is the third book in the series – which I think is vital information that readers need to know.
Expected in May this year by Picador, I have found that this cover has grown on me. Initially I didn’t like it much – turning half the cover into a textbox is never going to find favour with me as I don’t like them. But I appreciate that this cover gives the reader all the necessary details, while that image of Thomas Cromwell, reproduced from the famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, is surprisingly effective. Fracturing it like that gives a sense of a distorted reflection – and a sober foreshadowing of Cromwell’s fate.
This edition, published by Fourth Estate in March 2020, is my favourite. Yes… I know there is nothing in this design that remotely references the life and times of Thomas Cromwell in any way. And I know that this cover doesn’t bother to tell the read that this is the third book in the series… And that while the author and title fonts are wonderfully clear – rather oddly, they have right-hand justification, rather than being centred. But the minute I laid eyes on this particular design, I yearned to have this book.
This edition, produced by HarperCollins in March 2020, is overwhelmingly dreary. That gradation from funereal black around the edges through to misery blue in the middle gives no sense of the vividness of the prose and the three-dimensional depiction of a cast of extraordinary characters during one of the most interesting and tumultuous periods in English history.
This Turkish edition, published by Alfa Yayınları in January 2021, is another strong offering. I like the fact the artwork features part of a family portrait by Holbein which includes Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Because in the latter part of his reign, apart from indulging in disastrous and expensive wars, Henry was obsessed with the question of his succession. It shaped both the foreign and domestic policy of the country and ultimately brought about the downfall of Cromwell, though there were also other factors as this book makes clear. I also like the textbox being in the shape of the Tudor rose. Which is your favourite?
I have been working through this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring young single father, Kellen, who is trying to rebuild his life after his wife’s tragic death. This means moving back to be near his family to get help raising his young daughter and get a job teaching at the local college, though his tendency to trip over dead bodies rather gets in the way of things. See my reviews of Academic Curveball, Broken Heart Attack and Flower Power Trip.
BLURB: A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night. When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton?
REVIEW: It’s been longer than I originally intended, before I became reacquainted with engaging Kellen and his eventful life. It was a delight to jump back into this busy world and get back in touch with not just our rather frayed hero, but many of the other characters that also feature in this charming series. Like many other readers, my personal favourite is Kellan’s feisty grandmother, Nana D, whose peppery comments hide a fierce love for her grandson and his daughter. Now she is local mayor, she is determined to root out any corruption and get things running more smoothly.
However, there are a string of jewellery thefts – and once again, Kellen does his trick of unexpectedly encountering a dead body. Fortunately, his relationship with the local sheriff has now markedly improved, and instead of having to run the gauntlet of her scornful remarks and prickly attitude, she is now prepared to accept his help. So long as it’s on her terms…
Once more, I’m struck at how strong the characterisation is and how very well plotted the mysteries are – both of the jewellery thefts and the murder. And bubbling away in the background is a massive issue that has thrown a shadow over Kellen’s whole life and also very much impacts his daughter’s wellbeing, too. It would have been all too easy for Cudney to have slightly faltered with a loss of momentum, or overlooked a plot hole, while keeping all these narrative arcs moving forward. But his assured, readable writing style rolls the story forward such that I stayed up far later than I’d intended to find out what happened.
The denouement of this one worked particularly well and I thoroughly enjoyed where the story went. Fortunately, I have the next book in this entertaining series already on my ereader – and I won’t be waiting so long before giving myself a treat and tucking into it. Highly recommended for fans of cosy murder mysteries with plenty of plot twists and a cast of likeable characters – though whatever you do, start this series at the beginning – you’ll miss far too much vital backstory and enjoyable shenanigans, otherwise. 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.
If you are celebrating, Happy Easter!
I’ve been away for a while, because Himself and I went down with Covid just after my last Sunday Post and we were both very poorly. Himself narrowly escaped being admitted to hospital due to his breathlessness and I was coping with aching joints and slept more or less round the clock. Thank goodness we are now on the road to recovery, though I’m still struggling with my energy levels and Himself has been left with a nasty cough.
We are part of a study whereby we take a Covid test every month. On Thursday, the monthly event rolled around again – and this time, they also asked us for a blood sample. They want around 5 ml and the catch is that we have to administer the procedure ourselves. It was a hoot stabbing my finger and squeezing the blood out, then encouraging it to drop into the little phial. By the time we got the hang of it, the first little cut had clotted and both of us had to start again with another finger! By the time we’d finished the whole procedure, we were giggling hysterically. Hopefully by next month, we’ll get the hang of it with only one stabbed finger…
I have no photos this week, as sadly, I haven’t yet made it outdoors since I was ill. Maybe next week…
Last week I read: To Fire Called – Book 8 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
Captain Ishmael Wang finally gets the Chernyakova out of the yard and embarks on a voyage into the Toe-Holds where the Confederated Planets Joint Committee on Trade has no authority. Where the law is whatever you say it is as long as you can enforce it. Where he learns that some will do anything to hide their secrets and everybody has a secret. This is a space opera series that I tore into while we were ill, which is highly readable and provided escapism without too much darkness or gore. As you see, I found it difficult to leave it alone… Mini-review to follow.
The Invitation by A.M. Castle Thirteen guests. One killer. No escape. On an island on the coast of Cornwall, cut off from the mainland by the tides for most of the day, thirteen old friends meet at Tregowan Castle for a weekend of revelry. By the next evening only twelve are still alive.
Amongst them is a killer – but who? As a storm traps them on the island and past betrayals and grievances are revealed, nerves fray and friendships begin to fracture.
But with no escape and no way of calling for help it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again. And when everyone is keeping secrets, anybody could be the next victim… I thoroughly enjoyed this locked room murder mystery set on a fictionalised version of St Michal’s Mount. There was plenty of dramatic tension and the denouement was well done – I’ll be reading other books by this accomplished author.
AUDIOBOOK The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman Four septuagenarians with a few tricks up their sleeves A female cop with her first big case A brutal murder Welcome to… The Thursday Murder Club
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet weekly in the Jigsaw Room to discuss unsolved crimes; together they call themselves The Thursday Murder Club. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
When a local developer is found dead with a mysterious photograph left next to the body, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly find themselves in the middle of their first live case. As the bodies begin to pile up, can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer, before it’s too late? While this one took a while to get going, I ended up really enjoying this murder mystery featuring four elderly protagonists. Kudos to Osman for not patronising them in any way, providing plenty of food for thought and some poignant moments, along with the crimes and a mostly thoroughly likeable cast of characters. Review to follow.
The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne – Book 1 of The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne series by Jonathan Stroud Set in a fragmented future England, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne introduces us to a world where gunfights and monsters collide, and where the formidable outlaw Scarlett McCain fights daily against the odds. When she discovers a wrecked coach on a lonely road, there is only one survivor – the seemingly hapless youth, Albert Browne. Against her instincts, Scarlett agrees to escort him to safety.
This is a mistake. Soon, new and implacable enemies are on her heels. As a relentless pursuit continues across the broken landscape of England, Scarlett must fight to uncover the secrets of Albert’s past – and come to terms with the implications of her own. This YA offering set in post-apocalyptic England is a rip-roaring adventure full of drama, with some shafts of humour and lots of tension. I inhaled this one, loved it and am now very much looking forward to the next one. Review to follow.
By Darkness Forged – Book 9 of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell Profits. Coffee. Extortion. All in a day’s work.
When Ishmael takes the Chernyakova back into Toe-Hold space, he finds a lot more than profit. A quick pass through the Telluride system reveals the answer to one question but leaves him docked without a cargo until the owner of Dark Knight Station makes him an offer he can’t refuse. I’m not sure – but this book has a real feel of the final book of the series. While Lowell doesn’t generally go in for foot-to-the-floor action, this time around there was plenty of tension and danger, which worked really well. Review to follow.
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Best Thing You Can Steal by Simon R Green – release date 6th April, 2021.
#paranormal heist adventure #humour
BLURB: Gideon Sable is a thief and a con man. He specializes in stealing the kind of things that can’t normally be stolen. Like a ghost’s clothes, or a photo from a country that never existed. He even stole his current identity. Who was he originally? Now, that would be telling. One thing’s for sure though, he’s not the bad guy. The people he steals from always have it coming. Gideon’s planning a heist, to steal the only thing that matters from the worst man in the world. To get past his security, he’s going to need a crew who can do the impossible . . . but luckily, he has the right people in mind. The Damned, the Ghost, the Wild Card . . . and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Anybody. A woman who can be anyone, with the power to make technology fall in love with her. If things go well, they’ll all get what they want. And if they’re lucky, they might not even die trying . . .
BLURB:Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day. Nobody remembers how the Causality War started. Really, there’s no-one to remember, and nothing for them to remember if there were; that’s sort of the point. We were time warriors, and we broke time. I was the one who ended it. Ended the fighting, tidied up the damage as much as I could.
Then I came here, to the end of it all, and gave myself a mission: to never let it happen again.
REVIEW: One of the wonderful things about Tchaikovsky’s writing is that when I pick up one of his books, I never quite know what to expect. There is only one other author I can think of who is quite so magnificently versatile – Jo Walton – and she isn’t nearly so prolific.
Even so, this one was a complete surprise – especially the magnificently dark humour. I don’t think I’ve ever read a first-person narrator of Tchaikovsky’s with such a persona, I both loved and loathed our hero’s insouciant bounciness as he works unceasingly to keep a very broken world fixed in his own unique fashion… It would be very easy to drop spoilers here that would blunt the reader’s ability to experience this book as the author intended, so I’m going to do my level best NOT to commit that sin. I was mindful that the blurb didn’t let the cat the out of the bag, so neither shall I.
But I will say that all is not what it first appears to be – I was both captivated and horrified by the unfolding events, which also left my brain aching at times. Timey-whimey stuff happens that has major consequences. But I devoured this compelling read in two sessions and surfaced after that ending, mulling over what I’d read. And wondering what I would do in similar circumstances. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who appreciate something a bit different. While I obtained an arc of One Day All This Will Be Yours from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I absolutely loved the first book in this series The Expert System’s Brother – see my review. I particularly fell in love with Handry and his struggle to survive once his adaptations to the planet had been partially revoked. So I was disappointed not to get hold of a review copy – not that I let that get in the way of sampling this intriguing world, again.
BLURB: It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts. Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line.
But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace. And for the first time in memory, the Ancients have no wisdom to offer…
REVIEW: I struggled with this one initially, which was something of a disappointment – and not a usual experience with Tchaikovsky’s writing. There is a Prologue that goes on for 9% of the book that doesn’t include the main protagonist, Handry, who I really emotionally identified with in The Expert System’s Brother. I would have preferred more of a bonding event with Handry at the start of this adventure, because while I enjoyed the story and found the plight of the early colonists engrossing – I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters, throughout, this time around.
That said, this is still worth reading. Nobody does colonisation quite like Tchaikovsky and the sheer inventive cleverness of the story and the consequent oddity of the inhabitants had me turning to pages to discover what would happen next. Though I’m profoundly grateful I don’t live within an ecosystem that fundamentally is toxic to my body, given the ultimate adaptation that was made to provide humanity with the ability to survive the place. Wasps and snails are involved, for starters… And if Tchaikovsky produces another book set within this remarkable world, I’ll be getting hold of it. Even if this one didn’t emotionally chime with me as much as the previous book – it is still a thought-provoking, enjoyable read. 8/10
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the books I read of this series – see my reviews of Old Bones, Shadow Playand Headlong – so when this one popped up, I had no hesitation in requesting it.
BLURB: Fitness trainer Erik Lingoss is found dead in his west London flat, his head smashed by one of his own dumbbells. His heartlessly-dumped girlfriend, blood on her clothes and hands, is the prime suspect. She had means, opportunity, and motive. But is the case as clear-cut as it seems? Handsome Erik Lingoss had clients in high places; and he seemed to engender powerful emotions. If it was a crime of passion, there was plenty of that to go round: love strong as death, jealousy cruel as the grave.
Who did he let in to his flat that evening? Where is his missing mobile phone? Why is seven hundred pounds in cash stuffed under his pillow? The deeper Slider and his team dig, the clearer it becomes there’s far more to this case than meets the eye.
REVIEW: Harrod-Eagles is no slouch when it comes to concocting a well-crafted, murder mystery – I always enjoy reading her books for that reason, alone. But this time around, I think she has outdone herself. The plotting in this entertaining police procedural whodunit is masterful. It doesn’t hurt that I now know and like DCI Bill Slider and members of his team. We have all read or watched the moody, workaholic policeman whose dedication to the job takes the place of his family. His team are wary around him, but nonetheless respect his remarkable ability to get the job done. Well, Bill Slider is nothing like that. He’s happily married to a professional musician, who is about to have their second child in this instalment. And his father and stepmother live close-by and provide support in the form of meals and occasional childcare when work commitments become too pressing. It was refreshing to see a career policeman with a happy home life.
While everyone treats the victim and witnesses with professional respect, there were times when I grinned at the humour between Slider and Atherton as they questioned suspects, combed through CCTV footage, and checked out alibis. Indeed, I was interested to see just how crucial that CCTV footage became to the solving of the case. The denouement worked really well, with a sense of sadness over the waste of a young man’s life – by the end of the investigation, I felt that I knew him quite well. Highly personable and incredibly good looking, Erik with a ‘k’ had a gift for making people fall in love with him – not just inexperienced, pretty young girls – but clever, successful people, too.
Along with the strong characterisation, clever plotting and effective scene setting, and a nicely apt title – the full quote is Jealousy is cruel as the grave – I found myself thinking about this story after I finished the book, which is always a bonus. Highly recommended for fans of British police procedural whodunits – and yes… I know it’s the 22nd book in a long-running series and no, I haven’t read all of them. But I still thoroughly enjoyed this one, anyway. While I obtained an arc of Cruel as the Grave from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
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 was a quiet week. Frank stayed over until Monday evening which was a joy. He is always such very good company. We had a lazy morning in our PJ’s chatting about Life, the World and everything – as you do with a sixteen-year-old and then went for a walk along Littlehampton beach.
Once he went home, the rest of the week has been all about reading, working with my father-in-law on his memoir and getting the first draft of Trouble With Dwarves sorted out. Himself is now on his long weekend, so we went for a walk this morning along the beach. We are allowed to leave home to exercise, but we are being strongly encouraged to stay as close as home as possible for said exercise, hence the pics – once again – of Littlehampton beach and our bracing walk. As you can see, the sea was quite rough…
Last week I read:
Defending the Galaxy – Book 3 of the Sentinels of the Galaxy by Maria V. Snyder Year 2522. Oh. My. Stars. Junior Officer Ara Lawrence here, reporting for duty. Again. It’s situation critical for the security team and everyone in the base – including my parents – with a new attack from the looters imminent, a possible galaxy-wide crime conspiracy and an unstoppable alien threat. But this all pales in the face of my mind-blowing discovery about the Q-net. Of course, no one believes me. I’m not sure I believe me. It could just be a stress-induced delusion. That’s what my parents seem to believe…
Their concern for me is hampering my ability to do my job. I know they love me, but with the Q-net in my corner, I’m the only one who can help the security team beat the shadowy aliens from the pits we discovered. We’re holding them at bay, for now, but the entire Milky Way Galaxy is in danger of being overrun. With battles on too many fronts, it’s looking dire. But one thing I’ve learned is when people I love are in jeopardy, I’ll never give up trying to save them. Not until my dying breath. Which could very well be today… This is a wonderful finale to a very entertaining, action-packed space opera series. I’ve rarely seen subjects like quantum entanglement and time dilation dealt with so entertainingly, yet effectively. And Ara’s character simply bounces off the page. But whatever you do, read the other two books first… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Tombland – Book 7 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom Spring, 1549. Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos… The king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, rules as Protector. Radical Protestants are conducting all out war on the old religion, stirring discontent among the people. The Protector’s prolonged war with Scotland is proving a disastrous failure. Worst of all, the economy is in collapse, inflation rages and rebellion is stirring among the peasantry.
Since the old King’s death, Matthew Shardlake has been working as a lawyer in the service of Henry’s younger daughter, the Lady Elizabeth. The gruesome murder of the wife of John Boleyn, a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother – which could have political implications for Elizabeth – brings Shardlake and his young assistant Nicholas Overton to the summer assizes at Norwich. There they are reunited with Shardlake’s former assistant Jack Barak. The three find layers of mystery and danger surrounding the death of Edith Boleyn, as more murders are committed. During their investigation, a peasant rebellion breaks out across the country. Yeoman Robert Kett establishes a vast camp outside Norwich and leads a force of thousands to overthow the landlords. Soon the rebels have taken over the city, England’s second largest. This monster of a book (800+ pages) was wonderfully narrated and has held me throughout most of January. I have been a fan of this series for years – and I’m so glad that one of my reading targets last year was to catch up with those series that somehow slipped through the cracks. For this book is a tour de force and already, I have one of the books that will make my Outstanding Reads of 2021… Review to follow.
Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut. While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other. This was a lovely surprise! I’m not sure what I was expecting – but it wasn’t this lovely adventure, coupled with a slow-burn same-sex romance that was handled beautifully. Which didn’t swamp the fascinating political dynamic and I’m very much hoping that this is the first in a series. Review to follow.
The Monster MASH – Book 1 of the Monster M*A*S*H series by Angie Fox Ancient gods. Modern war. And a star-crossed couple who could use some divine intervention.
The day I was drafted into the army of the gods, all I knew about being a MASH surgeon was what I’d learned from Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan. Now here I am, Dr. Petra Robichaud, in the middle of an immortal war, assigned to a MASH camp with a nosy sphinx, a vegetarian werewolf, and an uptight vampire who really needs to get a life.
At least they’re all too busy with their own dramas to discover my secret: I can see the dead. It’s a forbidden gift, one that can get me killed, so I haven’t told a soul. Until the arrestingly intense Galen arrives on my operating table, half-dead and totally to-die-for. When his spirit tries to slip out of his fatally wounded body, I impulsively slip it back in. Call it a rash resurrection. One I’ll live to regret. A delightfully quirky read with a nice line in humour that prevents this being a bleak read. As a huge fan of the MASH TV series, I was pleased to see that this fantasy homage got the tone more or less spot on. Review to follow.
NOVELLA The Expert System’s Champion – Book 2 of The Expert System series by Adrian Tchaikovsky It’s been ten years since Handry was wrenched away from his family and friends, forced to wander a world he no longer understood. But with the help of the Ancients, he has cobbled together a life, of sorts, for himself and his fellow outcasts.
Wandering from village to village, welcoming the folk that the townships abandon, fighting the monsters the villagers cannot—or dare not—his ever-growing band of misfits has become the stuff of legend, a story told by parents to keep unruly children in line. But there is something new and dangerous in the world, and the beasts of the land are acting against their nature, destroying the towns they once left in peace. When I didn’t get a review copy of this one, I pre-ordered it, being a solid Tchaikovsky fan. And I’ve still to write the review of this one, as my feelings about it are a tad tangled. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 and it didn’t quite live up to my very high expectations of it – though that didn’t prevent it being a solidly good book. Review to follow.
The Lord of Stariel – Book 1 of the Stariel series by A.J. Lancaster The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is.
Everyone knows who the magical estate will choose for its next ruler. Or do they? Will it be the lord’s eldest son, who he despised? His favourite nephew, with the strongest magical land-sense? His scandalous daughter, who ran away from home years ago to study illusion?
Hetta knows it won’t be her, and she’s glad of it. Returning home for her father’s funeral, all Hetta has to do is survive the family drama and avoid entanglements with irritatingly attractive local men until the Choosing. Then she can leave. But whoever Stariel chooses will have bigger problems than eccentric relatives to deal with. Another solid delight! Himself strongly recommended this one and I read waaay into the night as I found it impossible to put down. I’ve a couple of Netgalley reads to get through – but just as soon as I can, I’ll be tucking into the next book in the series! Review to follow.
I thoroughly enjoyed Trail of Lightning – see my review – so was delighted to see this pop up and even more delighted to be approved for it. Would I enjoy this epic fantasy?
BLURB: A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy adventure treads very familiar ground. There is a Chosen, whose destiny weighs heavily upon his young shoulders and who has had to endure much in the long, arduous training for his Task. There is another Chosen, whose appointment was rather an unwelcome surprise to those who find themselves serving her. And there is an ominous prophesy. So far, so good and reasonably predictable. I never have a problem with that – after all, if I wanted something completely different from the main genre conventions, I wouldn’t be reading Fantasy.
But what does make this one stand out is the setting. Because it isn’t set within a late medieval/Early Modern European historical backdrop, like so many epic Fantasy adventures – this one is nested within the pre-Columbian American civilisation, which gives everything a fresh spin. As Roanhorse is an experienced writer, whose characters ping off the page and whose narratives produce plenty of twists and adventures, that difference works really well. I particularly liked that the currency is cacao beans, for instance, while the religion, the clothing and general customs give an enjoyable sense of originality and freshness.
My favourite character is Xiala, a Teek sea captain. Her particular sea-calming magic means she is tolerated by an all-male crew, even though they generally don’t like women aboard ships. I love her robust attitude to life, and her very straightforward view of things, which contrasts well with Serapio, whose whole outlook has been skewed by the fact he has been prepared for a particular day and a particular time since his birth. Overall, the pacing works well, although there were times when I felt it could have moved a little faster in the earlier stages of the story. But as we approached the Big Day, the action and pacing picked up nicely. I’m not a fan of being left with a cliff-hanger ending, so I very much hope that Roanhorse has the second book well on the way, because I certainly want to know what happens next.
Recommended for fans of epic fantasy adventures, especially with a fresh setting. While I obtained an arc of Black Sun from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.
However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight… 9/10
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard
BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….
Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wings – see my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.
I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series. 7/10