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A Basketful of Reviews

Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found, from feathered serpents in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics. Facing storms, shipwrecks, and warfare, she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.

This is the third in the series, and Isabella’s getting more confident in her role as a dragon-natural-historian, and in her knowledge. That said, she still manages to get into almost endless scrapes, usually involving dragons. This volume is a mix of tropical islands, castaways, family arguments and general chaos, and it’s almost as much fun as the first two! I admit it felt almost too brief, despite being the same length as the first two volumes – I would like to read her dispatches back at the time, as well as the memoirs in this book. But hey ho! A fun, amusing continuation of the series, and I’m definitely picking up the next one!

Children of the Shaman by Jessica Rydill

When their aunt is taken ill, thirteen-year old Annat and her brother are sent from their small coastal town to live with their unknown father. Like Annat, Yuda is a Shaman; a Wanderer with magical powers, able to enter other worlds. As Annat learns more about her powers, the children join their father on a remarkable train journey to the frozen north and find a land of mystery and intrigue, threatened by dark forces and beset by senseless murders that have halted construction of a new tunnel. But Annat’s doll, her only remembrance of her dead mother, may hold a dark secret – and when her brother Malchik is kidnapped, Annat and her father must travel onwards to find him before it is too late.

Between uncertain allies, shadowed enemies and hostile surroundings, it is only in the magical kingdom of La Souterraine that they can find answers – and it may be that only a Shaman can save the family and the Goddess.

A coming-of-age story mixed with fantasy, fairy-tale and adventure with an almost horror tinge; the world feels serious and deep, despite the story itself being a relatively easy read. Rydill’s storytelling is complex and nuanced; Annat is a brilliant narrator, and I love that every character is flawed and human. I admit I found I had to put this down quite frequently, as it’s not really a book I was able to read for long periods of time, but it’s worth reading. The second and third books in the trilogy will be out in 2017/2018.

A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pair and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison. Gray sets off to track the fugitives, while Sophie tries to spark a connection between the bride and groom by enlisting them in her scheme to reopen a long-shuttered women’s college at Oxford. Many may believe that educating women spells ruin, but in the decaying college library lies the key to protecting everything they hold dear-as well as a dark secret that could destroy it all.

I absolutely adore this series, and this third book rounds it off nicely! The only complaint I have about the story is that it does feel quite bitty; it was hard to follow all of the links, and the end does feel a little disconnected. But that’s a minor point – there’s Sophie causing trouble and Gray causing slightly less trouble, and Johanna and the princes being spiky and awkward and human…I love them. If you like Emma Newman or spells-n-sorcery or just awesome people-centred fiction with awesome politics and a wonderful world, read this series! The first one is The Midnight Queen, followed by Lady of Magick.

Discoverability Challenge: Randoms

Welp, I’m officially giving up. I started trying to read The Mists of Avalon, and I’m just failing…

However, I have started reading another stack of books. I’ve been picking up free and 99p books on the Kindle, so I’m going to do some reviews of those! That said, I’m feeling lazy, so these might be short…

The Graces by Laure Eve

YA, high-school plus magic, misfit who gets sucked into the whirl of the popular trio – but they have a secret of their own…I didn’t entirely get on with it, I admit; I got bored a third of the way through. Might be good if you get on with high school drama…

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

Magic and high school, but this time it’s a school for magic! This one’s got some bite; curses and drama. I did read this most of the way through…if you’re into Harry Potter it’s worth a try.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Now this one I did read all the way through! I’m not sure I’m going to pick up the next one, but it’s beautifully written. It’s a love story as well as a demon/angel mythos, finding a place in the world…I can see why the series is popular. Worth a read.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Another one that I liked a lot, and read all the way through! YA, mythology, a desert escape, rebellion, djinni and fighters, adventure and romance…I enjoyed the characters and the setting in this, and the writing tugs you along.

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

I think this is my favourite out of the pile. It’s not fantasy and doesn’t even have magic in it, but I loved it. It’s about a bookshop and a broken girl who gets less broken…it’s a romance, really, but it’s a sweet story. And it’s about books. And poetry. I like those.

Chasing Embers by James Bennett

Hmmm. I was warned that the first 70 pages or so are hard to get into, but after that, it grabs you…well, hmm. It hasn’t yet, and I’m struggling to get into it. It’s action-packed and nicely mythological, yes, but…I can’t put my finger on what the problem is. Sounds like I’m not the only one, anyway, and I’m probably going to persevere – possibly by doing my favourite trick of turning to a random page and continuing from there!

And still on my list…Skip by Perrin Briar, Free Wrench by Joseph R Lallo and Show Stopper by Hayley Barker.

Review: The Seven

The Seven by Peter Newman

Warning: spoilers if you haven’t read The Vagrant, The Malice or The Vagrant & The City.

Years have passed since the Vagrant journeyed to the Shining City, Vesper in arm and Gamma’s sword in hand.

Since then the world has changed. Vesper, following the footsteps of her father, journeyed to the breach and closed the tear between worlds, protecting the last of humanity, but also trapping the infernal horde and all those that fell to its corruptions: willing or otherwise.

In this new age it is Vesper who leads the charge towards unity and peace, with seemingly nothing standing between the world and a bright new future.

That is until eyes open.

And The Seven awaken.

So, straight off: it’s not as good as The Vagrant. The Malice wasn’t as good as The Vagrant. But…I think that’s mostly because this is now telling the story from several points of view (well, two usually) and the Vagrant was a very simple and straightforward one. That said, this is still an excellent story, and definitely worth picking up if you read the first two (and do read the first two, and then the short story) and liked them.

We get to see a lot of the faces from The Vagrant and The Malice, more of Vesper, more of Reela, more of the goat (or a goat, a kid in this case), and some new figures…the Seven. And as antagonists go, they’re pretty damn good. They’re not good, not evil, and I loved the splits and weaves of the personalities. They’ve all got their own agendas which sometimes align, and sometimes don’t. I love the part that Reela plays with Delta, and while I felt The Vagrant didn’t entirely get the status he’s had in previous books, it was awesome to see him back in action.

And the ending…I wasn’t hooked until about 2/3 of the way through, and then I didn’t put it down. The ending is fabulous.

So. While The Vagrant is my must must must read, The Malice and The Seven are excellent second and third books, and The Seven certainly rounds off the trilogy nicely. The world’s chaotic, broken, weird, unusual, strange and enthralling, and the characters are equally wonderful. Read all three and marvel.

A Bucket-load of Reviews

the moon king coverThe Moon King by Neil Williamson

All is not well in Glassholm. Life under the moon has always been so predictable: day follows night, wax phases to wane and, after the despair of every Darkday, a person’s mood soars to euphoria at Full. So it has been for five hundred years, ever since the Lunane captured the moon and tethered it to the city.

Now, all that has changed. Amidst rumours of unsettling dreams and strange whispering children, society is disintegrating into unrest and violence. The very sea has turned against Glassholm and the island’s luck monkeys have gone wild, distributing new fates to all and sundry. Turmoil is coming.

Three people find themselves at the eye of the storm: a former policeman investigating a series of macabre murders, an outsider artist embroiled in the murky intrigues of revolution, and a renegade engineer tasked with fixing the ancient machine at the city’s heart. Each must fulfil their role or see Glassholm shaken apart, while all are subject to the machinations of their inscrutable and eternal monarch, The Moon King.

Weird – in a good way! Interesting, mixed, imaginative and odd.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as Neil’s short story collection, as it lacks the lyrical edge that made his writing so compelling in the shorts. However, the ideas are in full force – the world reminds me of China Mieville’s New Weird style, tilting over the edge into strangeness but weaving enough human characteristics and reactions in to keep it understandable. The plot is interesting, weaving three different characters into each other, without revealing the connections until towards the end. I loved some of the details – the luck monkeys, Darkday and Full,  the machines and the history. But I wasn’t as sucked in as I would have liked to be…a flaw as a reader, rather than the writer, I think. It’s certainly a weird, unusual, odd book – and all the better for it.

witches of lychford coverWitches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.

Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth — that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.

But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

I was expecting this to be longer. I would have liked it to be longer! It seemed…well, I had that feeling when I finished it of “Oh. Is that it?”

That said, it’s very good. It’s a mix of Miss-Marple style village life, with a large dose of supernatural and a seasoning of personal angst. I would have liked to see more of the enemy (although I believe there are more novellas to come, so I assume they’ll be back?) and more of the village’s characters as well as the three heroines, but the plot and characters as they stand are engaging and tense. Worth a read!

Silversands by Gareth L Powell

In an age where interstellar travel is dangerous and unpredictable, and no-one knows exactly where they’ll end up, Avril Bradley is a Communications Officer aboard a ship sent to re-contact as many lost souls as possible. But a mysterious explosion strands her in a world of political intrigue, espionage and subterfuge; a world of retired cops, digital ghosts and corporate assassins – all fighting for possession of vital computer data that has lain hidden for almost a century. . .

I have to admit….I couldn’t get into this. There just wasn’t the hook; there wasn’t a catch that grabbed me and got me in. Sure, there’s an explosion, and someone coming back from a long journey to a mysterious message, and a big secret that could hold the future for humankind…

Bah. When I put it like that, it sounds like this book should be really exciting – and I’m sure it is! If you like that kind of thing. Which I just…didn’t. I read the first few chapters and then skipped on, and eventually did the Kindle equivalent of putting it down and not picking it up again – which for me is skimming past it in my carousel every time I tried to find something to read!

I would, however, highly recommend the Ack-Ack Macaque series by the same author, so it’s obviously just my taste in sci-fi!


A pile of reviews: Ladies with Blades

It’s ladies with blades in this stack…or guns and sidekicks, as the case may be!

emperor's edge coverThe Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads. But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin, is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down. Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.

I have to admit, I found it hard to get hooked into this – but it’s very definitely me! The writing is good, and the tensions and interactions between the characters are very nicely done. The world’s got nothing particularly unique, but this doesn’t really matter, as the fairly simple set-up allows for more detail of the political tensions and intricacies of the plots. It’s got a relatively quick pace, and I think if I’d been more invested in the characters then I would have enjoyed the pace…but eh, it’s just me. So if you like fantasy intrigues, assassins and plots, politics and puzzles…give it a try.

when dark falls coverWhen Dark Falls by Pippa Jay

In a city where Dark Technologies Inc. now runs the show, Kadie Williams has more immediate concerns than the fall of Blaze, their guardian superhero. Almost every morning for the last few months she’s woken up with cuts and bruises on her body, and no idea how she got them. There are no nightmares. No evidence that she sleepwalks, or any sign of a break in. And nothing to tell her who’s been cleaning up after her. As just one of thousands of civilians conscripted to slave away in the labs of Professor Dark, she knew there’d be trouble ahead. But she never expected it to be so bad, or so personal.

Desperate for answers, Kadie looks to the new defender of the night, the only person who can hinder the total domination of Professor Dark—Nocturnelle. The mysterious vigilante superhero came from nowhere with her cybernetic sidekick Shadow, set on putting an end to the brutality of Dark’s regime. But as his laboratories work on a new secret super-weapon, Nocturnelle and Shadow may not be enough to save Nephopolis…or to save Kadie either.

Interesting mix of steampunk, superhero romance and urban fantasy! I liked the industrial element to this, along with the dystopian edge and the fact that the bad guy had previously won – and also destroyed the superheroes in the process! There’s mysteries all the way through this, which adds to the tension, and I did like the twists at the end. A different take on the superhero trope, and not too overwhelmingly romantic.

Steel PrincessThe Steel Princess by Amy Sanderson

Skye was never meant to rule. The third child of Eskeleth’s king, it’s her place to practice the skills of war and death, to protect her country and the older sister who will be queen. She’s spent six years learning the ways of an assassin, preparing to do just that.

Disaster has befallen Eskeleth’s royal family, though, and Skye is next in line for the throne. For the sake of her people, she must return to a land plagued by ghosts – and bordered by a rapacious empire – to fight for her crown against a council that will do anything to keep her from it.

Because if Skye is to rule, she must overcome an ancient prophecy, one that promises Eskeleth’s end in blood and fire. To save her kingdom, she will need to be princess and assassin both, or everything she’s ever known will be destroyed.

A nice YA, coming-of-age and learning-to-rule book. I liked the range of characters in this; none feel cliche or stale, and the plot – despite sounding routine – isn’t at all. Skye is an interesting character, trying to find her way in a new world, and her emotions and choices all the way through feel very authentic. The plot is compelling, with one problem after another, all winding in to the end – and even then not solved, as this is only the first book in a series. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next or not, but it’s certainly a good read.

Amy Sanderson also has fiction on her website and Wattpad, which is worth a read!

conspiracy of alchemists coverA Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz

In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.

When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.

A mix of gothic fiction, steampunk and supernatural romance! I hadn’t expected the romantic element to be as strong as it is, but there you go. I liked the industrial aspects of the world in this; I have to admit that as soon as the supernatural element became stronger I lost a little of my interest, but I think that’s a personal preference. The plot combines intrigue with romantic tension, and chases the protagonists from England to Venice and onwards; the world is mostly steampunk, but with some interesting additional aspects.

This is the first book in a series; I’m not sure if I will pick up the second or not, but if you like steampunk romance with a gothic and supernatural edge, give this a try.