Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Savage Magic

Savage Magic does stand alone as a novel, but if you were intending to read the earlier Horton books, there might be tiny little spoilers in the pages. Abigail’s situation also refers directly to an event at the end of The Poisoned Island.

London, 1814: A young, well-off man is found slaughtered in his bed, behind locked doors with no sign of entry. He wears a satyr mask. When a second man is found under similar circumstances, Bow Street magistrate Aaron Graham, makes the connection and starts his own investigation. For he sent Constable Charles Horton to the country, to investigate accusations of witchcraft from the house where his wife and daughter now reside.

Another atmospheric, historical tale from Lloyd Shepherd set against an oppressive backdrop of a less than savoury London. In addition to the witchcraft angle, we see in the innards of Brooke House a (once real) private lunatic asylum, which gave those with money a slightly more pleasant option than Bethlem. It’s also around the time mesmerism (better known now as hypnotism) was being experimented with. The fictional doctor of this tale has his own take on mind control and it all fits together, from the decadent streets of London to the docks that Horton knows best.

1814 was a tough time for women. Whilst prostitution has been something women throughout history have been driven in to when times are tough, it’s something that seemed rife in this period. Lose your job and there’s no back-up plan, even if there’s a husband in the household. Add to that, society’s perception of women as lesser in mind and ability, you’ll be feeling fortunate to live in the here and now.

Savage Magic contains several interesting female characters, especially considering when it is set. First off, Abigail Horton gets a lot more page space in this instalment. At the start of the book, she is driven to the doors of a mental asylum, following that fateful cup of tea in The Poisoned Island. It is her own choice to commit herself, which perhaps shows she’s not crazy at all, but the mad-doctors of the time wouldn’t consider that. I loved how the psychiatric doctors of the time were called mad-doctors, like they’re the ones that need treatment. Maybe by today’s standards, they are the mad ones.

What was an overheard voice from a madwoman's cell when there was only a madwoman there to hear it?
We also hear a little of female convicts who were sent to Australia, one of which ran a successful farm, and of course was viewed with suspicion by most her male neighbours. Mrs Graham is a married woman living in sin with a man who is not her husband, and whilst society disapproves, it doesn’t seem to weigh on her mind at all.

Despite being set in a time where accusations of witchcraft was illegal, the government states there is no such thing as witches, it is all too easy to see how a woman acting beyond what was expected could lead to such rumours. It was a period of great change and whilst some shed their more supernatural beliefs many, especially in rural areas, would rather blame a woman for their woes than just bad luck. There’s always someone who will serve as scapegoat.

Savage Magic is published by Simon & Schuster and is available in hardback and ebook editions from 28th August 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights



Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Woken Gods

The world after The Awakening is living in a reluctant truce between mankind and the gods. The gods must follow the rules of mysterious Society of the Sun or face execution. Once they knew they were no longer immortal, the rules changed. Kyra Locke is living with her father in the transformed city of Washington DC, accepting of the divine presence around her but more concerned with the current status of her relationship with Tam. That’s until two trickster gods corner her on the way back from school…

I’m a sucker for a story about gods and I wasn’t disappointed with The Woken Gods. The world-building is fantastic, and it completely makes sense that the gods would have set up shop in Washington DC. The lines of good guys and bad guys are blurred, with both the Society and the gods have differing motivations. It’s not a black and white world.

I liked how it wasn’t restriction to one culture’s mythology, although very Egyptian in flavour, it mentions that gods from Norse and Sumerian also came over during The Awakening. It also doesn’t feature the obvious gods that we all know about, which helps to remove preconceptions about how you think they should act. I did know about Set (or Seth) thanks to Stargate, which I feel had some influence on this world, although these gods aren’t aliens.

Any romance element is in the background to the important stuff. Kyra is a teenage girl and does have eyes, so you can forgive her a few pages of boy stuff, but I never felt it was the focus or got in the way. She was much more focused on her dad that impressing Oz. Like many of Strange Chemistry’s titles, it portrays the parents as lifelike people who are more than just constraints on kids’ lives or absent figures. It’s important that grown-ups aren’t always the bad guys.

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Also reviewed @ A Fantastical Librarian



Book Source: Won from publisher

Friday, 22 August 2014

Vestigial Tales

The Vestigial Tales are a series of short stories by Laura Lam set in the same world as Pantomime. Some feature characters from the novels and others are completely separate. Each story contains an item of Vestige, the mysterious artefacts of unknown power, left behind by the Alder, beings who have now vanished from the world. So far, there are three ebooks available, with more to come.

In The Snake Charm, we get to revisit R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic. The story follows Drystan, the white clown, in the days before he met Micah. It’s lovely to read about the circus again even if reminded of how awful the ringmaster is. It doesn't contain any spoilers for the novels but I still think you'll get the most out of it after reading Pantomime.

The Fisherman’s Net is a short fable about greed, which doesn’t feature any character overlap. I like to think it’s something children of Ellada would be told, just as we have Aesop’s fables. It tells the story of a fisherman who finds a net which never fails to bring in a good catch.

The Tarot Reader is my favourite of the three stories and centres around Cyan who we meet in Shadowplay. As with Drystan’s story it’s a prequel, showing how Cyan ended up at Jasper Maske’s theatre and the development of her powers against a backdrop of suspicion. Again, the story works by itself but I do recommend reading Shadowplay first.


If you’ve enjoyed the novels (and who wouldn’t?) these shorts are a wonderful addition and will keep us going until Micah’s future is decided. The Snake Charm is currently free on Amazon until 25th August.

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Book Source: Purchased

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Station Eleven

No one paid much attention to the Georgia Flu at first, thinking it was localised to Russia. Day One, it arrives in Toronto. One week later, civilisation is collapsing. The death rate is estimated at 99%. Year Twenty, a band of travelling musicians and actors perform to the scattered towns of the survivors. This is the world now, few even remembering when planes flew and electricity brought light to the dark.

I read this excellent post-apocalyptic tale in a day; one of the things that kept me glued to the pages was the mystery of the dog. How did one of the same breed and name come to be there? This web of connections is a defining feature of Station Eleven. We are told the story of a man who died the day Georgia Flu hit North America, but he did not die from the plague. We know he is connected to Kirsten, one of the Travelling Symphony, but why is his backstory so prominent when he is no longer alive?

The motto of the Travelling Symphony is “survival is not sufficient” taken from an episode of Star Trek. I liked that the story focused on a time after the chaos of the plague had subsided and people had found ways to live to some extent. That maybe they could start to think about doing more than just surviving and the arts being part of that. They perform Shakespeare, plays from a time of a different plague, that also prove more popular than more modern offerings. Maybe they provide one small connection to the lost past.

Of course, after society collapses there will always be less than good people who rise up and take advantage. Sometimes the symphony meet these people on their travels. They would normally avoid these towns in future; their philosophy is to not get involved in the politics of others. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

The title comes from a series of comics, produced on a small scale, which struck a chord with Kirsten who was given them as a child. They serve as a connection to the before but the content shares characteristics with the after. As a side note, the UK cover is in the same hues as the comics (and is so much more inviting than the US offering).

The narrative jumps around between Year Twenty, which is the present and various points in the past. Much of it in the before but as the story progresses and the connections start to snowball, some of the immediate after is revealed. It’s not a story of heroes but of normal people, working out how to live their lives when nearly everything they know is gone.

Station Eleven is published by Picador and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 10th September 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Also reviewed @ The Whispering of the Pages

Shelve next to: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller




Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire is the third book in the Throne of Glass series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

When Chaol sent Ardolan’s Assassin to the land of Wendlyn, it was supposed to protect her. As Calaena plans to destroy the king from afar, the magic inside her threatens to take her as well. In this new land, magic is not so forgotten, even if it is hidden, and she must learn who she really is in order to protect the land and the people she loves.

I’ll confess, I can’t give you a very in depth review. I read Heir of Fire on holiday over 2 months ago, loved it and then didn’t write down a single word of thoughts. Except I know I loved it and… DRAGONS! I was expecting this to be a conclusion, for some reason I thought it was a trilogy (YA series assumption) but there’s another book due next year, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

This instalment sees Celaena’s story move away from Dorian and Chaol. Whilst a little disappointing not to see some resolution to their parting on bad terms, it meant Celaena got a whole load of development that had nothing to do with romance, but much more to do with magical powers. She really comes into her element in this one. The king has been a very naughty boy, and a lot of the back story is revealed as Calaena comes to realise how bad things have become in the kingdom.

Anyway, where do dragons come into it I hear you ask? There are witches (iron witches maybe, they had talons at least - I told you I'd forgotten details) who have historically ridden dragons into battle. There’s a lot of sniping and backstabbing between clans as it’s time to claim the best dragons once again. The best bit of this is a wonderful underdog (underdragon?) story that grabbed my heart and made me whiz through a storyline that had little to do with the characters I’d already met and fallen in love with.

It’s a long book by YA standards, but all this meant that I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t end so quickly. If you're not a YA reader, don't be put off at all, it's such a complex world with engaging characters, filling a gap in the epic fantasy market. Fantastic characters, fantastic world-building and the story still feels fresh and new by book three. If you haven’t read Sarah J. Maas yet, go out and get a copy of Throne of Glass right now!

Heir of Fire is published by Bloomsbury and will be available in paperback and ebook editions from 11th September 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Incoming!

AKA Showcase Sunday

I like to think I was pretty good at Nine Worlds and didn't come home with too many books. Just a couple of freebies (I even gave away one of my goodie bag books). I did buy the Discworld Ankh-Morpork board game though. It's one I've oohed and ahhed over a few times in the past, so when I discovered I hadn't spent all my money in the hotel bar, I had to go get it. This month's purchases have all been from my affiliate payment vouchers; Air was mentioned several times at Nine Worlds so I wanted to pick up a copy. The second book was because I had to make my order up to a tenner ;).


For review:
Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie (Headline)
Half-Blood by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Hodder)
The Informant by Susan Wilkins (Pan Macmillan)
Assail by Ian C. Esslemont (Transworld)

Freebies:
Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Bought:
Air by Geoff Ryman
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender
The Tarot Reader by Laura Lam

Won:
Timebomb by Scott K. Andrews



Showcase Sunday is hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Geek Girl

It takes an interaction of seventy-two different muscles to produce human speech, and right now not a single one of them is working.

The last place Harriet wants to be is at Clothes Show Live. She hates fashion and is much more comfortable with her nose in a book or reciting facts that no one else is interested in. But her best friend Nat believes this is her moment to be discovered. A series of unfortunate events leaves awkward Harriet in a position to steal Nat’s dream when she is discovered by a fashion scout. Is this something she even wants?

OK, I’m a little late to this book, and I went in knowing that everyone loves it to pieces. That can sometimes be problematic but I really enjoyed Geek Girl, the tone is friendly and engaging, with several laugh out loud moments. It was just what I needed at a point where my brain was distracted.

I liked the silliness of the fashion world, and Holly’s short career in modelling clearly hasn’t blinkered her. There’s a bit of a romance but it’s very much in the background, and it’s always nice to have a story about finding your place in the world where a boy isn’t the central focus. It’s also not an ugly duckling story, not really. Harriet doesn’t have one of those geek to swan make-overs, she’s picked because she’s awkward looking. She doesn’t magically fall in love with fashion or radically change herself.

Being transformed is incredibly dull. It's like watching somebody you don't know paint by numbers.

I did however think the lying aspect went a bit too far for me not to get annoyed with it. Everyone has little white lies, but why on earth would a teenager and her father lie to family, friends and school for such a big thing. It was so obvious they’d get caught out. It didn’t really seem logical. Your best friend is going to be so much more annoyed by lying than you getting to do something amazing, even if she’s a little bit jealous. I’m sure all of us have been jealous of our friends at some point in our lives. We get over it.

I did get a sense that being a geek was a bad thing in Harriet’s world. Are schools really still like that, considering geek jobs are now the cream of the crop? Maybe I can understand nerdiness still being out and Nerd Girl doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the whole we don’t like you because you’re a geek and only one of two in our class thing didn’t ring true.

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Also reviewed @ prettybooks | Vicky Thinks



Book Source: Purchased

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Twelve-year-old September is lonely and bored in Omaha where there are no adventures to be had. When the Green Wind turns up at her window on a leopard that flies, she accepts his invitation to go to Fairyland. But all is not well in this magical world; now ruled by the Marquess who shackles creatures in chains and demands her laws be followed. Being a good and kind girl, she soon offers to retrieve a spoon that was stolen, a spoon that is now in the possession of the Marquess.

There’s a little bit of Narnia and a dash of Oz in this otherwise original and creative fairytale. It’s full of charm and the most amazing, fantastical creatures. In fine fantasy adventure style, September is on a journey which leads her to strange lands and even stranger people. It feels like a fine fairytale for grown-ups (though younger readers with good reading skill will also be charmed, I’m sure).

My favourite characters included A-Through-L (Ell for short) the Wyverary; that’s a cross between a wyvern and a library. Though Ell had only read from A to L and therefore couldn’t answer questions on subjects starting M to Z. Also the soap golem, whose story is so sad but also gives September some wise advice like to not be ashamed of her naked body. I loved the fact that the story included some great morals that weren’t preachy and felt just like part of the story.

Oh that little lantern. It was so expressive in its simplicity and I felt so much for it. There are so many characters it feels like it should be too many, but somehow it all works. Each had their part and the style meant they didn’t need to be fully evolved individuals.

I liked that it looked at fairytales from different sides. Does anyone stop to think what happens to those children who stumble into other worlds only to have to go back to their monochrome lives? It cannot be an easy psychological adjustment. Especially if, like the children of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you’ve grown into adults while you were gone, only to be thrust back into children’s bodies.

If anyone tries to tell you girls don’t have adventures, give them The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It’s simply wonderful.

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Also reviewed @ Once Upon a Time

Shelve next to: Stardust by Neil Gaiman



Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nine Worlds: Not Just Books


The silence on the blog has mostly been because of Nine Worlds. Which was fantastic and a whole heartedly recommend it if you're thinking about it next year. I met loads of people, including plenty of new faces. I'm not going to list everyone because I would no doubt leave someone off. But some really lovely people kept me company between all the fun stuff (or when trapped in MacDonalds because of hideous RAIN).

I started the weekend off with a game of Slash followed by cheese tasting paired with cheese readings. That's reading of cheesy passages (mostly sex related) not some sort of psychic cheese thing. I kind of want to read some Stephanie Plum now.


The Shining-esque hallways of the hotel

I think the only fault with Nine Worlds is there's too much interesting stuff! Pretty much everyone I spoke to had double booked planners but I decided I should at least try and mix things up. So Friday started with some non books panels (OK breakfast first, then panels) and I popped into the Future Tech room for talks on virtual reality and 3D printing. I didn't get a chance to try out the Oculus Rift but it was interesting to hear the hardware isn't quite there yet. We were also given a list of things to look out for if we did want to buy a VR headset in the future.

I love hearing Lauren Beukes speak, every time I've heard her she's been fascinating and entertaining. She was on a few panels over the weekend including one about time travel with Kate Griffin (who has written about time travel under the name Claire North), Fabio Fernandes, Simon Guerrier and Paul Cornell. She was also on the next one, about mythology and fairytales along with the wonderful Joanne Harris, Rochita Loenen Ruiz, Aishwarya Subramanian and John Connolly. John had the best child abandonment anecdote ever. One day he'd gone home to find his house missing, he sat down on the pavement and cried thinking his family had left him. The neighbour came out to see what was wrong...turned out they'd just painted the front of his house. We also heard about lots of intriguing sounding myths from African, Philippine and Indian cultures.

I went to Laura Lam's creative writing workshop on LGBTQ characters in SFF, even though I'm not writing anything (sometimes I feel like the only one). However, it was interesting to hear the dialogue from an actual diverse group; we talk so much about the need for diversity but not a lot about what that actual means in terms of writing it into books.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lagoon

Three strangers on a beach; a marine biologist, a famous rapper and a soldier. Each has their own troubles but their world is about to change. A sonic boom hits the surface of the lagoon in Lagos and a wave swallows them up.

The narrative follows a collection of Nigerians in the wake of a life-changing event. Told mostly in third person, it occasionally veers into first person accounts from otherwise unknown characters. We hear the thoughts of the poorest to the most privileged, painting a picture of the political landscape against which first contact occurs. Let’s face it, there’s no reason why aliens would always pick America to announce themselves to. It’s refreshing to read science fiction interwoven with different cultures.

My favourite parts must be the few chapters told from the perspectives of some of Lagos’ creatures; a tarantula on a busy highway, a bat who is unfortunate enough to fly into the path of an aeroplane and not-forgetting the spider of folklore, who sits under the earth spinning tales. There are a few bits told from within the lagoon, but less than I was expecting, overall it wasn’t watery at all.

Lagoon doesn’t portray a particularly positive view of modern Nigeria; there are the 419 scammers that we’re probably all aware of, Area Boys who prowl the streets looking for trouble and plenty of abuse towards women. As the news of the aliens spreads, the characters show both the bad and the good that can come from a situation, but overall there is a sense of opportunism. Everyone’s looking out for themselves. Given an amazing event, humanity does not provide a very good impression.

I struggled to decipher the Pidgin English that was spoken by some of the characters. There is a glossary at the back which might be worthwhile reading first (of course, I didn’t think to look). I did get the gist of what they were saying at least but it probably detracted a bit from my enjoyment.

The ending lacked a little impact; it just sort of tailed off. However, I liked the point that stories kept being spun, that this is the start of something, not the end.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights

Shelve next to: The Three by Sarah Lotz



Book Source: Gifted from Kate @ For Winter Nights
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