Category Archives: Review

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

This was picked as part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge. I wanted to read things I hadn’t read before, and picked ‘classics’. I’ve already managed to pick up Never Let Me Go, and I’ve got The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on my pile as well.

left hand coverGenly Ai is an ethnologist observing the people of the planet Gethen, a world perpetually in winter. The people there are androgynous, normally neuter, but they can become male or female at the peak of their sexual cycle.

They seem to Genly Ai alien, unsophisticated and confusing. But he is drawn into the complex politics of the planet and, during a long, tortuous journey across the ice with a politician who has fallen from favour and has been outcast, he loses his professional detachment and reaches a painful understanding of the true nature of Gethenians and, in a moving and memorable sequence, even finds love . .

The Left Hand of Darkness is a short book, but it’s packed full of tangles. It’s something you read once and then need to read again, both for the plot and the intertwining of the two stories and points of view, and for the language and references once you know more about the world. It’s strange and politically detailed, with a myriad of different cultures and views that are alien to us as well as to Ai, who’s there to observe. It’s also intricately laced with details about society, kemmer, the rituals and traditions, the food…and the world itself, Winter, is as alien as the people and viewpoints are. The details are wonderful: the winter doors are ten feet up because of the snowdrifts, and Ai is constantly cold in a society that exists between two glaciers.

The story is strange, told from both Ai and Estraven’s points of view, giving us a strange duality on events. I ended up seeing Ai as an alien, as the society does; Winter was strange, yes, but Ai’s observing position and knowledge of his own strangeness gave it a reserve. The plot is interesting, and intricate; I loved the ice-field and their strange, eerie journey.

Some period gender references that have not aged well; describing something as “womanish” doesn’t sit well with me, considering I have no such construct in my head – and it’s something my father says, which doesn’t endear it. But it’s a minor point – just something that stuck out to me. I also found it interesting to consider how the same book would have been written in the modern era – and it would have been very, very different. It’s a book that’s made me think about my own writing, and my own method of storytelling; not that I am likely to change immediately, but…it’s something that will help me grow, I think.

So. Odd, eerie, intricate, detailed, political and alien. Definitely a book worth reading once in a lifetime.

Review: Wintersong

Wintersong by S  Jae-Jones

WintersongAll her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen, Liesl feels that her childhood dreams are slipping away. And when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. But with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

This is definitely fantasy. It also covers mythology, fairytale, romance-sliding-into-erotica, and…is music a trope? It should be. It’s got a lot of music in it, despite it being a book of words only.

It’s also beautiful, eerie and unsettling. In many ways it reminds me of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted; certainly if you’ve read that, you’ll love this.

The first half of the book…well, frankly, it’s a twist on Labyrinth (without the weird companions).  Having only recently watched the film, I had a very hard time not picturing David Bowie – with accompanying trouser snake – as the Goblin King! However, it’s also a lovely story; it’s about home, and family, and desires, and choices – and the sacrifices made when you have to choose one thing over another. I love the setting, and Liesl herself is excellently portrayed, as are the characters that surround her in the human world.

And then she steps into the Underground, and the book takes a different path. It’s a story about a young woman finding herself, finding her place, finding her power, finding love…and a story about her helping another find himself. She’s searching for a way out, too, and trying to decide where – and who, what – she wants to be.

It’s lyrical, beautiful, and weird. The entire story is imbued with musical knowledge, and it’s a constant thread running through the words. It’s a tale about myths and life, death, and love. It’s a tale about those left behind by the world, or those who have taken themselves away. It’s about what happens when you get what you want, and get what you wish for. After all, remember the saying, be careful what you wish for

The start is familiar enough to be a pleasure, yet different enough to be captivating. The ending is painfully haunting. And throughout, there is music.

Review: Windsinger

Windsinger by A F E Smith (Book 3 of the Darkhaven series)

windsinger cover

Ayla Nightshade prepares to meet with the Kardise ambassador to sign a treaty between Mirrorvale and Sol Kardis. However, negotiations are halted as the ambassador is discovered dead in his chambers, poisoned by the same bottle of taransey he and Ayla had shared the night before.

Ayla has been framed for murder and the peace between two kingdoms is at stake. Tomas Caraway and his Helmsmen must rush to prove her innocence before war destroys all they have fought for.

Along the way they discover the plans for a Parovian airship, the Windsinger, which reveal a chamber designed for a special cargo: a living one.

Together Ayla and Tomas set out to uncover their real enemies – a search that will lead them closer to home than they ever anticipated.

If you haven’t read the first in this series, Darkhaven, please do. Then read the second (Goldenfire). Then read this. It’s suspense, mystery, war…Smith broadens the world beyond the confines of Darkhaven’s city walls, plunging the city into the middle of international politics and showing what having a Changer as ruler of Mirrorvale really means. It’s got some unexpected twists, and the end is definitely tense – I wasn’t in any doubt over the outcome, but there’s always a knife-edge moment of “will they…will they?” that makes the story brilliant. There’s some moments of brilliant humour as well – how do you keep a baby quiet when you’re in the middle of a fight? – and some proper pangs of “ohhhhh”. It’s an excellent read.

I absolutely love the way this world and series has developed – the world is unique, unusual, yet familiar enough that we settled in without questions. The characters are fabulous; I love seeing them develop and change over the course of the books, and now – well, no spoilers, but we get to see more of the background and history of some of the inhabitants of the castle, and more of the new recruits that joined the Helm. I’m loving Ree’s development and seeing her progress through the Helm, and her difficulties in this book are in a bit of a different area to the ones she’s used to dealing with!

I’m hoping that we see more of Lewis Tarran amongst other characters – I want to see more of the children, too, as Wren in particular looks like she’s going to be quite a challenge. There’s also a fun development at the end involving Naeve Sorrow which looks like it could provide some entertainment…

If you enjoyed the rest of the series then this is an excellent next book to carry on with, and I’m looking forward to the continuation!

Review: Summer’s End

Summer’s End by Adrian Tchaikovsky et al.

Summer's end coverSummer’s End wants to see the end of the world. It’s the country that can’t stand its own prosperity, the man who refuses to abandon his son, the rulers who refuse to give up their power or those who don’t know when enough is enough. Each and every story in this collection explores how golden ages end, how great civilisations fall.

Featuring stories from award winning authors such as Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gaie Sebold, James Brogden and Sarah Cawkwell, this strange and wondrous collection of world’s ending will make you thankful for what you’ve got.

So, confession time: I did beta-read Adrian Faulkner’s short story, Bastion, but it’s definitely as good the second time around! Adrian’s another Swindon writer and if you haven’t come across him, keep an eye on him @Figures or on his blog… Bastion is a thoughtful tale of cultures and independence, personality clash and the fall of a great civilisation. It’s an excellent start to the anthology, and is possibly my second favourite story. My favourite, possibly unsurprisingly, is Ancien Regieme by Adrian Tchaikovsky; an eerie and haunting take on the armies advancing on a city, and the last day of the occupants – and the lengths they take to avoid their fate.

Global Nerfing by Andrew Lawston is a fun take on the world of computer games from the point of view of an NPC – one of those eternal lingerers, there to provide clues and occasionally sword fodder. But what happens to them when the server gets shut down, and the game does dark? In a similar vein, The Last Song of Iranon plays on the trope of the necromancer from the point of view of the monsters; I loved the characters in this story, and the action is excellent.

The Chosen One by David Thomas Moore is an excellent take on the fantasy cliche of the hero, with an amusingly cynical explanation of the ongoing Heroic Battles. After Happily Ever by James Brodgen is in a similar theme, with an old king harking back to his adventuring days, and taking some rather more direct action to rid the kingdom of monsters – with possibly my favourite line of “get a dungeon, you two!”

Cadenza is a beautifully lyrical piece about the clash of technology and nature, the ebb and flow of the world. The Guardian’s Eye by Francis Hartley is an intriguing mix of mythology and technology, with an inventor trying to create a machine to house his dying body and his son trying to help, with some devastating results. The Last Stand of the Seelie is likewise an unusual take on traditional stories; the use of magic for darker purposes, and the measures a Queen will take to protect her peoples.

Stone Sunset by Gaie Sebold is a haunting, dark tale of fallen civilisations and old cultures, and the price that a tribe’s leader will pay to keep his values. Awaken by Jared Zygarlicke is another darker tale of forgotten magics and silent guardians that are possibly not what they seem…and the final story in the anthology, A Single Word Spoken by Brian Hamilton, is a thoughtful and eerie take on an attempt to reach God, the political machinations, and the consequences of a quest.

Overall, the anthology mixes light-hearted and darker stories to great effect, and the different takes on the fall of civilisations makes for thoughtful reading. A collection that#s worth picking up.

Review: The Malice

The Malice by Peter Newman

If you haven’t read The Vagrant, this review may contain spoilers. Also, if you haven’t read The Vagrant…go and read it!

In the south, the Breach stirs.

Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.

I caught Fantasy-Faction saying they weren’t sure who to compare Peter Newman to. Well, for me, it’s China Mieville. It’s a weird, alien world with intriguing characters, twisted plots and gripping storylines. Nothing’s conventional, nothing’s cliché, and I love it.

The Malice isn’t quite as good as The Vagrant…but only in the sense that The Vagrant was a 5*, and this is 4.5*. It just doesn’t have that linear plotline, that gripping tension, that made me read The Vagrant from end to end in one sitting. But it’s as good for characters and for world-building, and I read it in two halves, so…it only loses a little! It’s as enthralling and as entertaining as the first.

It’s wonderful to see more of Vesper, and more of the same world we saw in The Vagrant. Vesper travels through the same territories, the same landscapes, as she heads towards the Breach – but her reactions are different, and I think that’s what I love most about this book. Vesper is a very different character to The Vagrant, and even with the Malice on her back, she carves her own path through the politics and problems that she encounters.

We also get more of the history behind the Shining City and the world; I’m really hoping this will all tie into the next book in the series, The Seven, released in April.

There’s also a short story to read after The MaliceThe Vagrant And The City. It definitely needs to be read after, and looks like it bridges the gap between The Malice and The Seven…with the additions of some extra characters and plot points which are quite exciting!

If you loved The Vagrant, you’ll love The Malice – and if you haven’t read either and want unique, character-filled, heart-tugging fantasy in a truly unique world…read these.