Category Archives: Review

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.

Review: The Vagrant

The Vagrant by Peter Newman

vagrant coverThe Vagrant is his name. He has no other.

Years have passed since humanity’s destruction emerged from the Breach.

Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape.

As each day passes the world tumbles further into depravity, bent and twisted by the new order, corrupted by the Usurper, the enemy, and his infernal horde.

His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race, and deliver the only weapon that may make a difference in the ongoing war.

What little hope remains is dying. Abandoned by its leader, The Seven, and its heroes, The Seraph Knights, the last defences of a once great civilisation are crumbling into dust.

But the Shining City is far away and the world is a very dangerous place.

The Vagrant is trying to get himself to safety.

Oh, and a baby. And a sword. And a goat.

None of which entirely want to co-operate.

And there’s at least three parties out there who want what he’s carrying.

There’s spoilers later in this review, so I’ll put the overview in now: read this. It’s fantastic worldbuilding, brilliant multi-layered characters, a quest you’ll get hooked into, and I want to re-read. I love it. Read it.

So, more detail…

The world’s fantastic. The ‘baddies’ aren’t; they’re a product of their environment, understandable even as they destroy humankind’s world. The multiple different factions are all at cross-purposes, and their aims change. Even the ‘goodies’ aren’t; they have tried to keep their goals and ideals and ended up fighting a defensive action, unable to adapt to the changing world. The Seraph Knights are gone, and evil is all around – the taint has infected most humans and turned them into strangeness.

And in the midst of the weaving politics and changing landscape, between evil and uncaring humanity and people just trying to survive, the Vagrant is walking onwards.

The baby is adorable; I loved seeing her development and character, brought out so clearly. The book’s even more brilliant because the Vagrant doesn’t speak, and for most of it, the baby doesn’t either – their interactions are done entirely by movement and gesture and look. It’s such a lovely thing to see grow over the course of the events. The Vagrant’s interactions with the world around him are brilliant, too; weaving a path between honour and duty and pragmatism.

We get snippets of other information as we go through – the past and the present interweave so that we slowly learn more about what happened even as we see the effects. We also get the Uncivil’s point of view, the Commander, the Knights; we can see the enemy as well as the Vagrant, and it’s an extra layer of depth to understand what they’re aiming for, to see the unfolding plots and events on both sides.

And then, at the end…there’s more twists, changing aims, more politics. Nothing’s ever plain good or bad, black or white, and every choice has a consequence.

~ Spoilers!! ~

I think my only criticism is that it’s hard to warm to Harm, because I kept expecting him to be killed off. The earlier deaths are brilliant in the shock factor; the Vagrant just keeps going, forced to make horrible choices even though he tries his best to save others. But then when you get to Harm, I couldn’t take him seriously because I expected him to die…even at the end I didn’t think he’d survive.

I wanted the Hammer to survive, too. I liked her. That death felt like a cheat.

~ End of spoilers ~

But overall, I love it. It definitely needs a second read once the past and the present collide, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

never let me goIn one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

My overall impression of the book is fatalistic. It’s beautiful, haunted, tinged with the unquestioning acceptance of fate; sad and nostalgic while still somehow evoking an ideal childhood, a weave of friendships and memories and loves that pervades Kathy’s life even into her adulthood. But every character accepts the world as it is; there are only vague dreams of change, never a desire or a drive to actually make a difference.

The first section is placed at Halisham, a boarding school; the children have lessons, create art, compete with each other and learn and grow. They always know there’s something different about them, something odd – it’s not important, but they know their lives are set and their futures set onto a certain path, even if they don’t entirely understand what the path is. The story is tinged with the children’s inventive plots and dreams as they try to make sense of the hints they’re given. The second section is after school, when the teenagers move away to the Cottages; allowed more freedom, they talk and have sex and wait for their lives to begin. They try to find out a little more about their paths and their backgrounds, but…it’s still not important. It’s a dream, an adolescent fantasy, and by the time they step onto their paths they accept the course taken. And the final section is Kathy as an adult, a carer looking after her classmates and peers, waiting for her own turn. She travels, spending long hours thinking over the past and turning her memories into dreams.

Ishiguro’s writing style is incredibly readable; I was turning the pages almost effortlessly. The story flows very well and even though events jump back and forth, there’s no sense of confusion – everything fits and works within the overall frame. There’s some beautiful language and phrasing, and Ishiguro effortlessly evokes the idyllic nature of growing up fading into a horrifying reality.

While I love the book, when I think back over it, the fatalistic nature of the characters annoys me. None of them try to fight. None of them try to leave. They accept the boundaries and even when they try to break out, it’s still within the confines they’ve been given. I don’t know if I missed some vital part of the background that sets their place within the society they live, or if it’s just the way the characters have been set. I don’t necessarily want a Katniss-style revolt, but…some flash of something from someone would have made it a little more realistic for me.

So – beautiful, haunting, dystopian and readable. Definitely worth at least one read.

This was part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge.

Review: Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

shades of grey coverHundreds of years in the future, after the Something that Happened, the world is an alarmingly different place. Life is lived according to The Rulebook and social hierarchy is determined by your perception of colour. Eddie Russett is an above average Red who dreams of moving up the ladder by marriage to Constance Oxblood. Until he is sent to the Outer Fringes where he meets Jane — a lowly Grey with an uncontrollable temper and a desire to see him killed. For Eddie, it’s love at first sight. But his infatuation will lead him to discover that all is not as it seems in a world where everything that looks black and white is really shades of grey …If George Orwell had tripped over a paint pot or Douglas Adams favoured colour swatches instead of towels …neither of them would have come up with anything as eccentrically brilliant as Shades of Grey.

I didn’t expect this to be dystopia, but it is. Amusing, unsettling, young adult dystopia.

The world’s amusing at first. Everyone can only see certain sections of colour, and society is divided on those lines. Everyone’s got traits, too; Yellows are snooty, Reds are practical, Greys are the workers…and life is driven by the drive to rise up the colour rankings by ensuring your children have a good colour-vision percentage, and by the need to find more scrap from the past that can be recycled into dyes so that towns and villages can be coloured appropriately. Inside all of that there’s a whole multitude of mystery, a bookful of rules, and one inconvenient girl with a very attractive nose who couldn’t possibly have been where Eddie saw her. The fact that she threatens to kill him is just icing on the cake.

The plot mixes a personal mystery – why Eddie’s been sent to the Outer Fringes – and a murder one; an unconventional romance (involving said attractive nosed-lady) and an extremely rules-bound and practical one; a society that’s as strange as it is amusing, and which slowly becomes less amusing and more dangerous…

The book is amusing, witty, entertaining and frankly – at least by the end – unsettling. Fforde’s writing is good, and the oddities and twists of this book are what make it – the idea of evening stories tapped out by Morse on the radio; a particular shade of green giving an euphoric effect; a rule against making more spoons; specifically dyed green grass. But it’s the wider world and the plot that is eerie and thought-provoking, and although Eddie is at times a bit dumb, his morals and his slow realisation of the reality in the society around him is one of the drives of this book. I admit to a thorough like of Jane (possibly because she opts for violence as a primary solution; it’s a very practical method of problem-solving and, incidentally, problem-creating) and the surrounding characters are all interesting. I particularly like the historian!

So – if you like Fforde’s writing (particularly the Thursday Next series) or Douglas Adams; or you’re into dystopia; then give this a read.