Tag Archives: witches

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePoisonSongbookreview

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I have thoroughly enjoyed the ongoing adventure in this excellent trilogy – read my reviews of The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins. The progression of this story, taking it from a straight epic fantasy adventure into a science fiction mash-up was masterfully handled, as are the steady revelations of new twists about aspects that we previously understood to be facts…

The very nature of the way Williams crafts her books makes it unlikely that you will be able to fully enjoy what is going on unless you read them in order – and as those of you who are regular visitors to my site know, I habitually crash midway into series without turning a hair. However, I wouldn’t want to make such a move with this series and strongly recommend that you don’t attempt it.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last installment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

And that’s the blurb. It won’t make much sense if you haven’t already read the previous books… I had thought that this final episode wouldn’t be able to deliver yet more surprises about the key figures in this full-on adventure – but I was wrong. We learn a lot more about the winnowing flame through Noon, the rebellious young fell-witch whose actions deeply affect those similarly cursed or gifted, depending on your viewpoint… And once more, Hestillion and the Queen of the Jure’lia manage to shock and repel me by their actions. I’ve grown very fond of all the characters in this adventure over the duration of this series – but for me, it’s Vintage who is my absolute favourite.

So… given that the first two books were so very good – has this finale lived up to expectations? Oh yes. Once more, we are immediately whisked right up into the middle of the action, so I’d also recommend that if you read The Bitter Twins a while ago and can’t quite recall exactly what is going on – flit back and remind yourself of who is doing what to whom – Williams doesn’t give you much breathing space before plunging you back into the thick of the plot.

In amongst all the mayhem, the recurring theme is about identity. Are we who we are because of what befalls us, or because of our genetic heritage? I was interested to note that Williams answers this question quite firmly by the end – and I was also interested to see which side of that discussion she favours. Not that the plot drifts off as this is discussed in any way – there simply isn’t room in amongst all the world-changing battles and soul-searing adventures.

As I don’t want to give away any spoilers, my comments regarding the unfolding story are necessarily vague, but I can report that the handling of the pacing, the conclusion of all the main character arcs and the climactic final battle is brilliantly done. I loved the bittersweet nature of the ending, though I was a tad devastated by the outcome regarding one of the main characters. And finished this one feeling a bit shattered, uplifted and with a lump in my throat. That doesn’t happen to me all that often, these days. But despite the fact that I have over half of 2019 still to run – I know I have just completed reading one of my outstanding reads of the year. While I obtained an arc of The Poison Song from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross – Book 2 of The Curious Affair series by Lisa Tuttle

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My attention was snagged by this title and Lisa Tuttle is an author who is been on my radar for a while, so I requested it.

“Witch!” cries the young man after stumbling unexpectedly into the London address of the consulting-detective partnership of Mr. Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. He makes the startling accusation while pointing toward Miss Lane . . . then he drops dead. Thus begins the strangest case yet to land—quite literally—on the doorstep of Jesperson and Lane. According to the coroner, Charles Manning died of a heart attack—despite being in perfect health. Could he have been struck down by a witch’s spell? The late Mr. Manning’s address book leads Jesperson and Lane to the shrieking pits of Aylmerton, an ancient archaeological site reputed to be haunted by a vengeful ghost. There they sift through the local characters, each more suspicious than the last: Manning’s associate, Felix Ott, an English folklore enthusiast; Reverend Ringer, a fierce opponent of superstition; and the Bulstrode sisters, a trio of beauties with a reputation for witchcraft. But when an innocent child goes missing, suddenly Jesperson and Lane aren’t merely trying to solve one murder—they’re racing to prevent another.

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but while I have clearly missed a slice of the adventure, that didn’t hamper my understanding or enjoyment of this story. Tuttle doesn’t hang about – she tips us straight into the case which I appreciated. While this series has been compared with the Sherlock Holmes adventures, I don’t think that Miss Lane, the narrator of this case, is all that much like John Watson. She isn’t overly gushing about Jasper Jesperson’s detecting skills, for starters – indeed, there are times when she is quite sharp about him, which I enjoyed.

The other aspect that I hadn’t expected and very much liked – while both Jesperson and Lane are middle-class and reasonably comfortably off, that doesn’t prevent Tuttle from lifting the façade on apparent Victorian respectability by depicting a young serving girl’s plight after suffering a rape. The detective duo also uncover a shocking lack of respect towards women who have the temerity to refuse or thwart a couple of apparently eligible men, who portray themselves as perfectly reasonable, educated gentlemen. Miss Lane isn’t particularly happy about the state of affairs, but isn’t overly surprised. What it reinforced for me is how much women were simply not regarded as on a par with men. Not only did they not have the same protection in law, they were not felt to be capable of the same understanding or intellect as a man – so when a woman demonstrated any independence of spirit, she frequently incurred anger at her temerity – how dare she defy him!

That said, I don’t want you to go away thinking this entertaining, engrossing whodunit is focusing on the gender inequality of the time – it is a mere side issue in this adventure. An adventure full of twists and turns as Lane and Jesperson then find themselves desperately looking for a baby. And the resolution to that puzzle had my jaw dropping…

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this one and will definitely be tracking down the first instalment in this series. Recommended for anyone who enjoys their historical crime series with a twist of fantasy.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Toil and Trouble…

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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 week we are looking at covers celebrating Halloween and I have chosen Equal Rites by the wonderful Terry Pratchett.

 

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This is the cover that I own – published by Corgi 1989, I think it is the best cover by a long country mile. Yep. I’m aware I probably come across as a bit of a fossil here, ranting about, ‘Back in my day…’ but in this case I’ll stand by it. This cover brims with mapcap energy and fun – just like the book. Love it, love it, love it…

 

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This offering is, produced by Harper Torch in 2000, is obviously aimed at women with the natty female gamete symbol zipping across a tasteful mauve cover with an equally tasteful colour-matched hat. Really? Equal Rites is a GIRLY read? It’s for EVERYONE people! It ridicules sexism by poking fun at it – surely men need to get that message, too?

 

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Harper Perennial in 2005 are still ALL about gender-specific covers. The F-word even appears in the strapline *sigh*. Course THAT’S going to encourage all the blokes to read it, isn’t it? Again we have the tasteful mauve cover – this time with a witch wearing a tablecloth and an awkwardly positioned hand holding a globe/world/who cares covering her face. Another ghastly, lack-lustre effort that doesn’t begin to hint at the quirky, off-beat humour and general craziness Pratchett has to offer.

 

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And now we lurch from politically correct to stygian gloom… You’d think this was a horror or dry literary offering, wouldn’t you? WHY the anvil?? I’ve reread this book twice and I cannot recall a hammer featuring. The wizard’s staff – yes! Hilarity and daft footnotes – yes! Gloomy anvils – not so much… For shame, Transworld Digital – this is plain DREARY.

 

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At least Gollancz in 2014 has managed to move away from insisting this book is exclusively for women – or attempting to market a madcap comedy to horror or literary fans. Again with the mauve – a colour I’m learning to HATE, by the way – they are at least flagging the fact it’s funny. But the figures are crude and simplistic, something that Pratchett patently isn’t and once more the book is woefully betrayed by a sub-standard cover that doesn’t begin to hint at the riotous fun within.

Happy Halloween, by the way…

Review of Beaver Towers – Book 1 of the Beaver Towers series by Nigel Hinton

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I’d bought this series for Frankie when the first book was read to her at school and she was desperate to discover what would happen next. And now, I’ve just finished reading it to her younger brother – was he as entranced by Philip and Baby B?

beavertowersPhilip notices a small dark cloud as he starts to fly the mysterious dragon kite he discovers in the corner of his room – but he could not imagine what happens as the wind picks up. And where he ends up…

And no – that isn’t the original blurb, which manages to give all the main plot points in this slim volume, except the finale. Hinton’s prose is economical with plenty of repetitive words for those newly independent readers, but the strength of this story is the layers of characterisation he manages to pack into his amusing dialogue. There is plenty of humour in this adventure story – we all laughed at Baby B and some of the misunderstandings that arise between the absent-minded Mr Edgar and dear old Mrs Badger. But set against the chuckles, there are also some genuinely creepy moments, when young Philip is in real danger.

I’ll forgive Hinton the rather rapid denouement, as the story is deftly continued in the sequel, which we are currently reading, as Oscar was every bit as entranced with the story as Frankie. He is far less inclined to sit still and listen as carefully, so it is a testament to the power of this pacey, enjoyable story with its cast of memorable characters. As for me – this was a second time I’d read it aloud. Did I enjoy it as much the second time around?

Oh yes. The prose is well written and I always enjoy providing various voices for strong characters. If you have some youngsters in your life of 6 or 7, who enjoy being read to and you want a slice of fantastic adventure to offer them, then you could do a lot worse than track down this engaging book.
9/10

Weekly Wrap-Up – 3rd April 2016

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This is my second short summary of my week to share at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer’s Sunday meme, which is an awesome idea…

This week I completed and wrote reviews for five books. This isn’t quite as impressive as it first appears, as one is a novella and the other is a Children’s book I finished reading aloud to my grandson. As yet, I haven’t posted any of these, because they are mostly NetGalley arcs so I am waiting for their publishing dates before posting them on my blog.

The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoylethelastgasp
This book has an interesting history. It was first published in 1983, when it was treated as straight science fiction with emphasis on the fiction. However, as some of the predictions made by Hoyle have now become frighteningly accurate, given the grim finale, Quercus are now republishing it.
I shall be posting my review of this book on Thursday, 7th April.

DeceptionsDeceptions – Book 3 of the Cainsville series by Kelley Armstrong
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this riveting series – see my review of Omens here. Now Olivia learns more about her parents tragic, bloody past and attempts to help them – when once more, a murder derails her life… I will probably be posting this review during the week, all being well.

 

Beaver Towers by Nigel Hintonbeavertowers
This charming Fantasy adventure entranced my granddaughter sufficiently that we went out and bought the series for her, and now my grandson is the right age, I started reading it to him. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting him to enjoy it, but as the book progressed, he also fell under the spell of Hinton’s storytelling, so that we have now moved straight onto the second book. This review will appear in due course.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshithestartouchedqueen
This lush, beautifully told Fantasy tale of an outcast princess and magical beings reminded me in places of N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. This book is due for publication on Tuesday 3rd May, so I will be posting my review Monday 2nd May.

 

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireEveryheartadoorway
Earlier this year, I read Rosemary and Rue – read my review here, so immediately noticed this one on the NetGalley shelves. Though novellas aren’t generally my favourite storytelling format, I gave this one a whirl and was very glad I did. I’ll post the review tomorrow.

 

These are last week’s posts:

Weekly Wrap-Up – 27th March 2016
NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of World of Water by James Lovegrove
Teaser Tuesday – 29th March 2016
Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik
2016 Discovery Challenge – March Roundup
Review of Bronze Gods by A.A. Guirre
Favourite Space Operas – Part 2

It’s been a busy week, as I am able to spend a bit more time on my blog given I am on holiday from my teaching duties at present. My most popular post, was last Sunday’s Weekly Wrap Up, closely followed by my review of James Lovegrove’s World of Water.

Many thanks to all of you who visited and I am especially grateful to those of you who took the time to comment. I keep thinking about my fabulous grandfather – and how he would have loved to chat online about his favourite books with like-minded people. This, truly, is an amazing time to be alive…

Favourite Fantasy Worlds – Part 2

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I posted my first five Favourite Fantasy Worlds a few weeks ago, so here are the next group. All of these worlds are well developed, nicely complex and provide satisfying backdrops for the stories. It’s no accident they are all series. One of the reasons I really enjoy multi-book story arcs is the extra layers of detail that can be built into the worldbuilding.

The Glass Thorns series by Melanie Rawn
This original, remarkable series is set in the equivalent age of the Tudors, with horse-drawn conveyances Touchstoneand charts the fortunes of a magical travelling theatre company. In the first book, Touchstone, they form their group and the next three books in the series records their highs and lows as they steadily get more prosperous and successful. Though that brings its own pressures. The glass thorns of the series title, are the drugs the actors dose themselves with, in order to heighten their emotions – or help them relax after the excitement of performance. I eagerly await each book and so far, have not been disappointed at the unfolding drama of these enormously talented, difficult people battling to produce their best work in less than ideal circumstances.

The Worlds of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones
This series of books covers the adventures of the state-appointed enchanter Chrestomanci, who is taskedCharmedLife with keeping law and order amongst the magical community. I have read most of these books to my granddaughter, after having devoured them myself several decades ago – my favourite is Charmed Life. And rereading them aloud has not only proved they can stand the test of time, but increased my respect at the quality of the writing, the crafting of the story arcs and the sheer quirky genius of Jones’ imagination. Yes – I know they are supposed to be for children, but give them a go if you appreciate magical mayhem. They are a joy for any age group.

The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong
nohumansinvolvedThis world is extensively portrayed in the thirteen-book series, with a number of accompanying novellas and short stories. It all kicks off with Bitten, where werewolf Clay accidentally bites his girlfriend – and her life is never the same again. But don’t go away with the idea that the series is all about werewolves – it also encompasses witches, necromancers and vampires. In short, anyone who dabbles with the paranormal or magic. Read my review of No Humans Involved. The world is enjoyable – I love the way Armstrong manages to slide from everyday normality into something else.

Einarinn by Juliet E. McKenna
Again, this extensive, detailed world has been produced over a long period of time through several series dangerous watersof books – there are five books within The Tales of Einarinn; four books in The Aldabreshin Compass; three books and a novella in The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution and her latest trilogy, still set within the same world – The Hadrumal Crisis. Juliet provides an excellent explanation of her world on her blog. They are all great reads – but my personal favourites are The Aldabreshin Compass series and The Hadrumal Crisis – see my review of Dangerous Waters.

The Inheritance trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
thehundredthousandkingdomsThis is an extraordinary series – particularly the first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms which is set in the city Sky where gods and mortal co-exist. See my review here. The book is pervaded by the sense of threat and a feeling that a set of rules apply here that our protagonist needs to know, but doesn’t fully understand. The second book, The Broken Kingdoms had me in tears at the end – and that doesn’t happen all that often, these days. If you like remarkable fantasy on an epic scale focusing on gods, then give it a go.

And there you have it… a few of my favourite fantasy worlds to date. What are your favourite fantastic worlds?

20 16 Discovery Challenge – January

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After reading Joanne Hall’s post here, I decided to also take part in the Discovery Challenge – that of reading and reviewing at least two female authors new to me every month. So how did the year start?

The answer is – extremely well. Unsustainably well, if the truth be known… During January I read and reviewed FOUR books by women authors I hadn’t previously encountered…

The Puppet Boy of Warsaw by Eva Weaver
This book was buried near the bottom of my teetering TBR pile for longer than I care to think – but I’m trying to clear the books I know I still want to read and review from… way back when.

thepuppetboyWhen his grandfather dies, Mika inherits his great coat – and its treasure trove of secrets. In one hidden pocket, he discovers the puppet prince. Soon, Mika is performing puppet shows in even the darkest, most cramped corners of the ghetto, bringing cheer to those who have lost their families, those who are ill and those who are afraid for their future – until he is stopped by a German soldier and forced into a double life of danger and secrecy.

This is an interesting read – for me, the standout aspect was that unlike so many tales set in WWII, the story continues after the war, charting the devastating effects of what happened on the protagonists, which gave it a more realistic feel for me. Read my full review here.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Himself picked this up in Waterstones with some of his Christmas money, after reading the cover blurb – and I was very glad he did…

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his Truthwitchruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together. This is full-on adventure and the key relationship that powers the narrative drive in this story is the bond between the two girls, rather than the romantic entanglement – a pleasant change. This YA paranormal coming-of-age adventure is action-packed fun – see my review here.

Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
This much-anticipated debut novel is from a writer who got a lot of attention for her short story collection Battleborn, published in 2012.

GoldfamecitrusDesert sands have laid waste to the south-west of America. Las Vegas is buried. California – and anyone still there – is stranded. Any way out is severely restricted. But Luz and Ray are not leaving. They survive on water rations, black market fruit and each other’s need. Luz needs Ray, and Ray must be needed. But then they cross paths with a mysterious child, and the thirst for a better future begins. It’s said there’s a man on the edge of the Dune Sea. He leads a camp of believers. He can find water. Venturing into this dry heart of darkness, Luz thinks she has found their saviour. For the will to survive taps hidden powers; and the needed, and the needy, will exploit it.

This literary apocalyptic, near-future scenario is of a broken, desiccated California and two people struggling to fit into the tatters of civilisation. In places the writing is brilliant and extraordinary – but it is also uneven with erratic pacing and jarring viewpoint switches that leach a lot of the power and tension from the prose. See my full review here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
I picked up this book after blogging buddy and fellow writer Sara Letourneau particularly recommended it to me during one of our many chats about books. And when I saw the fabulous cover I was instantly smitten.daughterofsmokeandbone

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. One the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; one the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’. She has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

This coming-of-age fantasy offering puts an original spin on the angel-versus-demon conflict that I really enjoyed – to the extent that I’m in the process of tracking down the other two books in the trilogy. See my full review here.

All these authors are powerful, effective writers who have crafted engrossing, readable novels and I’m very glad that I have become aware of their work. Have you come across any female authors you hadn’t previously encountered, recently?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Truthwitch – Book 1 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard

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This is the first in a series of reviews I shall be doing throughout the year on newly released science fiction and fantasy reads.

My husband scooped this up on the strength of the recommendation by Robin Hobb on the front cover. Is it deserved?

TruthwitchYoung witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home. Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

This is fun. It starts with a bang as the two girls become entangled in a harebrained scheme of Safi’s that goes wrong – there’s nothing new in that, apparently. What is unusual is the scope of the disaster, which eventually has the girls on the run from their lives just as they were planning to strike out together.

Dennard manages to deftly interleave the full-on action and the necessary information about this layered and interestingly complex world without holding up the narrative pace. However, you need to pay attention throughout because all sorts of small details that are dropped along the way suddenly become a far bigger deal down the line. I love it when authors do that…

As you might expect in any partnership, each girl has strengths the other lacks and while there is some romance developing, the relationship that drive the narrative forward is the bond between the two witches. There is also a varied and interesting supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the lethally efficient Bloodwitch, Aeduan, who is on their trail. There can be a tendency in YA Fantasy for antagonists to be two-dimensional pantomime villains, whose motives are barely explored – all we know is that they are evil. Dennard hasn’t fallen into that trap and as the story bowls along, we spend a fair amount of time in Aeduan’s viewpoint as he is desperately trying to pursue his own agenda in order to impress his father.

He isn’t the only one with family issues – my other favourite character is Evrane, aunt of the Prince Merik and warrior monk. It is a pleasant change to have a woman of a certain age swinging swords and being embroiled in the thick of the fighting, instead of the one ministering to the wounded and looking after small children. I particularly like her rather sardonic attitude towards her fiery nephew.

The story rackets along at a fair clip, with plenty of adventure and incident throughout. The magic system is logical and certainly comes at a cost – always a plus in my opinion – and the political situation is pleasingly complicated with plenty of jostling for power, with obvious victims from the last international scuffle, which certainly ups the stakes. As this is the first in a series, there are plenty of dangling plotpoints, but what is apparent is that Truthwitch has established this new fantasy series as an entertaining, enjoyable romp packed with incident and engaging characters. I very much look forward to reading the next slice of the adventure.
9/10

Review of The Shepherd’s Crown – the final Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

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We have always pre-ordered the latest Terry Pratchett novel since… forever. Pratchett’s world have developed and expanded through most of my adult life and while I love some more than others, I’ve never disliked any of them. And now, I have just finished The Shepherd’s Crown with a real sense of sadness. For Pratchett hadn’t finished saying what he had to say – and there is a sense of pent frustration and energy throughout this last Tiffany Aching adventure which he completed during the final year of his life.

theshepherdscrownDeep in the Chalk, something is stirring. The owls and the foxes can sense it, and Tiffany Aching feels it in her boots. An old enemy is gathering strength. This is a time of endings and beginnings, old friends and a new, a blurring of the edges and a shifting of power. Now Tiffany stands between the light and the dark, the good and the bad. As the fairy horde prepares for invasion, Tiffany must summon all the witches to stand with her. To protect the land. Her land. There will be a reckoning…

I’ve always enjoyed the Tiffany Aching books, set on the chalk uplands – a landscape I know and love. And the bonus is there are a hatful of my favourite characters who make an appearance in this delightful, moving addition to the canon. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, Miss Tick, Magrat all feature, along with a couple of Tiffany’s former adversaries, Miss Earwig and the terrifying Queen of the Elves. And of course the Nac Mac Feegles, the tiny, blue-skinned warriors who shadow Tiffany and guard her wherever she goes. Even in places she’d rather they didn’t…

The emotional scene near the beginning had me on the edge of tears. And in other parts of the book, I was laughing out loud – there are only a handful of books that have elicited that response from me. While I was looking forward to reading this one, I wasn’t expecting it to pack such a punch. But the story sings off the page as classic Pratchett at his best.

Tiffany is suddenly pitchforked into a role of major responsibility. A role where she is challenged and not only by those who don’t wish her well. But in addition to the threat from Fairyland, there is also the constant pressure to be the very best witch she can be in a world that is suddenly changing. A world where goblins are no longer smelly nuisances, but valued engineers, a world where railways and claques have shrunk distances. A world where a young man named Geoffrey, accompanied by his goat Mephistopheles, turns up requesting to be trained as a witch.

The story trips along at a good clip, providing all the unique Pratchett touches his fans know and love, including the whacky footnotes and the formerly obnoxious character that reveals a nicer side to her nature – a feat Pratchett regularly pulled off throughout this long-running series. And the ending provides plenty of action and excitement with a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly satisfying conclusion. Is this a detached, unbiased review? Probably not. I am discussing the last, the very last Discworld novel, ever. The series that has given me more pleasure over the years than any other.

Wherever you are, Mr Pratchett, thank you for this last gem. The magic persists…
10/10

Review of ebook Kindle edition of Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

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This children’s fantasy offering is interesting. It is an alternative history, set in the aftermath of the English Civil War during the Protectorate when Oliver Cromwell is ruling. Except what sparked this version of the Civil War isn’t the Divine Right of Kings and Charles I’s stubborn insistence on trying to wrest control away from Parliament – it is the Witch Wars, where Charles’ refusal to hound witches to extinction is the cause of the war.

firegirlTwelve-year-old Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in a magical Glade created by her mother, Hecate. She’s desperate to meet new people and find out about the world. And, more than anything, she wants to be a witch. But when her mother is kidnapped by a demon – everything changes . Suddenly Hazel is alone in the world. Well. . . not quite alone. For it turns out that Hazel does have magic – she’s just not very good at controlling it. And she may have accidentally created a grumpy familiar in the form of a dormouse called Bramley.

I really liked the nifty way that Ralphs has kept his young protagonist isolated from the rest of the 17th century world, where young girls were expected to be demure, very obedient and quiet. Not at all the attributes that would appeal to modern youngsters looking for an adventurous read – and Hazel is suitably feisty and courageous because she has been shut away from the rest of the world tucked away in the magical Glade. The relationship she has with Bramley is also sparky – literally at times, as Hazel’s control over her lethal magic is tenuous. The little mouse is thoroughly fed up at the prospect of all the adventures, and provides an amusing, running commentary on the proceedings.

Hazel is immediately swept up in a series of adventures as she wanders the countryside, trying to work out what has happened to her mother, and encounters other people who are prepared to help. I very much like the fact that none of them are what they initially seem. The antagonist and his evil team are genuinely frightening – the demon Rawhead and the giant poisonous spider Spindle in particular are full of menace. As is the smooth-talking Nicholas Murrell, who initially led the persecuted witches against Cromwell’s troops, but his thirst for power had led him down some dark paths. I enjoyed the fact that he is not some pantomime, two dimensional villain, but was evidently determined to stand up for an oppressed minority with courage and bravery during the war.

All in all, this is an accomplished, enjoyable tale set in a complex, believable world where the magical rules all nicely hang together. Any niggles? The formatting in the ebook leaves much to be desired – I very much hope it gets sorted out before the book goes live in August, as the chapter headings are accompanied by short extracts from ‘contemporary’ books, embellished by attractive decoration which is all thoroughly mangled.

I’m assuming the book is targeted at young teens, but this punchy, well written tale will have wider appeal for older fans who enjoys a well told fantasy adventure, which will be published in August 2015. The review copy was provided via Netgalley by the publisher, and all the opinions in the review are my own.
8/10