Category Archives: Review

Review: Harrow of the Ninth

Harrow of the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow of the Ninth cover

She answered the Emperor’s call.

She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend.

In victory, her world has turned to ash.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon of the Ninth, beware spoilers! Go and read that now. Then come back. And if you have read Gideon, I’ll try not to spoiler for this one.

Ok, so you know that when you finish a book, you’ve got certain expectations for the sequel? I expected to see Harrow and Gideon trundling around, kicking ass and being snarky. There were going to be bones, skeletons and blood. There would be a bunch of new characters, a bunch of mystery, a dollop of intrigue, and probably characters having Emotions at each other.

Some of that… doesn’t happen. Specifically, the Harrow and Gideon bit. And, having got to the end of Gideon with a rather fond opinion of Gideon, that was a bit of a surprise.

There are, however, bones, skeletons and blood. There’s new characters. There’s mystery. There’s Emotions.

And, incidentally, the entire premise of the first book is going to get turned on its head.

So, y’know, not really what was expected.

However, it does involve lesbian necromancers in space, fighting a horrible Thing, trying to handle a sword without puking (not very successfully, HARROW), being bitchy to each other (naming no names, MercyMorn), people making Dad jokes (SERIOUSLY?!) and a whole bunch of kickass awesomeness. Also, there’s terrible poetry.

The book definitely focuses more on Harrow, and that’s amazing; we get to see much more of her personality, her skills and her character – mostly, admittedly, when people are trying to kill her. Or she’s throwing up. Or going mad. All three happen a lot.

(Also, I LOVE the soup incident. I think that’s possibly my favourite bit.)

But we also get to see more of the background of the Ninth House, Harrow’s upbringing, and more of the wider world of the Houses. We get to see more of the magical behind-the-scenes, and more of the world – albeit the part that’s stuck in the Emperor’s Mithraeum trying to teach two baby Lyctors how to not get killed the first time they wade into the River.

And Harrow’s also fighting battle’s she’s already won – and she’s going mad. She’s seeing things that don’t exist, remembering things that never happened. And even worse: a previous self appears to have left the current Harrow letters. There’s one “To be opened if your eyes change colour”? What?

There’s also more twists. Now, I loved the twist in Gideon (I’m not going to spoiler it here in case anyone is reading who hasn’t read Gideon) but this… oh yes.  It’s the sort of book that you just have to turn another page because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT RIGHT NOW. It’s the sort of book that you just stare at when you hit the twist, because suddenly everything makes sense and HOW VERY DARE THEY.  It’s the sort of book that you get to the end, go “OHHHHHH” and then immediately have to go and re-read.

And then you go and re-read it, because screw life. Go and join the necromancers!

In short: enthusiastically surprising in the best way.

In short: fun, exciting and ridiculous with an amazing twist at the end.

In short: lesbian necromancers kicking ass in space. Why would you not?

Disclaimer: I stole borrowed an ARC copy of this from a friend, so I have absolutely zero obligation to anyone to say anything but the truth. I am actually this enthusiastic!

Review: Wonderland

Wonderland, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane

From the greatest names in fantasy and horror comes an anthology of stories inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Join Alice as she is thrown into the whirlwind of Wonderland

Within these pages you’ll find myriad approaches to Alice, from horror to historical, taking us from the nightmarish reaches of the imagination to tales that will shock, surprise and tug on the heart-strings. So, it’s time now to go down the rabbit hole, or through the looking-glass or… But no, wait. By picking up this book and starting to read it you’re already there, can’t you see?

Brand-new works from the best in fantastical fiction.

This anthology is a wonderful mix of excellent stories, all themed around Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass, but ranging from Westerns to sci-fi to horror to surreal to sweet.

The first story is a poem, Alice in Armor by Jane Yolen – a good starting poem about a warrior Alice, preparing for the battles of Wonderland!

Wonders Never Cease by Robert Shearman is a modern-world story of what happened after Alice came back; it’s a very good and well-themed study of the very practical, hard-hearted and chilly Alice in a modern world, with a child! She always seems very uncaring in Carroll’s stories, and Shearman brings it out wonderfully. Several of the other stories present real-world Alices, or look at how Wonderland affects them: in Good Dog, Alice by Juliet Maeillier a child with a new dog finds Wonderland, and it helps her with a real-world problem; and George Mann’s About Time is a sweet story about childhood and facing your monsters. Six Impossible Things by Mark Chadbourne makes lovely use of some real-life moments from Alice, mixed with a dose of Cheshire Cat surreal; and Vanished Summer Glory by Rio Youers is about psychoanalysing the Rabbit… and dreaming of vanished youth and those long gone. Alison Littlewood’s Eat Me, Drink Me is a surreal story of growing up, childhood, death, change – and also, as the title suggests, makes liberal use of Alice’s strange Wonderland experience.

There’s a brilliant range of genres in the book, too. In MR Carey’s There Were No Birds To Fly, Wonderland meets the apocalypse; what happens when wonderland comes into the real world? Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em by Angela Slatter is a Wonderland-meets-Western take on a hunter, chasing a fugitive. Temp Work by Lillith Saintcrow is about a futuristic spy/assassin infiltrating a party – it’s a twisted, dark world of technology and broken things, but still has some hope, and it’s definitely a favourite story. LL McKinney’s What Makes A Monster is a Victoriana lady duo fighting monsters that get through into this world; The Night Parade by Laura Mauro is a haunting, surreal horror about rescuing a child from Wonderland – but if the parade of monsters sees you, and not everything is as it seems… The White Queen’s Dictum by James Lovegrove is a lovely, sad and haunting story about believing six impossible things, including ghosts; and my favourite story, The White Queen’s Pawn by Genevieve Cogman, is a spy-thriller style about someone trying to train as an agent, and getting far more than they bargained for…

Some of the stories make lovely use of Carroll’s language and characters; Cavan Scott’s Dream Girl is a very weird, wonderful Wonderland absurdity with a nice twist at the end, and The Hunting of the Jabberwock by Jonathan Green is a story of the young adventurer out to kill the jabberwock, and a story about morals and humanity into the bargain, and is full of wonderful jabberwocky language too. How I Comes To Be The Treacle Queen by Cat Rambo has a really fun voice, and a story about liberation and freedom – and treacle – and in Black Kitty by Catriona Ward, we see the two Queens growing up, and their separated mother trying to tempt them from their father… until the magic goes wrong. Or right?

The final poem is Jane Yolen’s Revolution In Wonder – dark and full of nursery and Wonderland-inspired tales, flipped onto their heads!

Overall; a wonderful and surreal mix of stories, bound together by Alice’s experience, and all using different aspects. A fun, surprising and interesting collection.

NaNoReMo: Novel Reading Month

Cat on the middle shelf of a bookshelf
Image via Pexels

So, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo – I still don’t have a story I want to tell, and I know from experience that if I don’t, I’ll just scribble random words and then give up. (Otter is doing it, though! I’m going to be cheering them on.)

However, I do have a very large TBR pile… and I could spend a month reading…

So, I’m going to get as far through my reading pile as I can in a month!

I’m going to list 30 books here: I don’t think I’ll get through half of them, but it’s still something! (Even I can’t do a book a day…)

  1. The House of Shattered Wings (IP)
  2. Distaff: A Science Fiction Anthology
  3. The Three-Body Problem
  4. Embers of War
  5. Witchsign
  6. Kavalier & Clay
  7. A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
  8. Unwrapped Sky
  9. The Winter Queen (IP)
  10. The Poppy War (IP)
  11. The Green Man’s Heir
  12. Everless (IP)
  13. Sorcerer To The Crown (IP)
  14. The Written
  15. The Tethered Mage (IP)
  16. The Secret of Ji
  17. Starborn
  18. The Ninth Rain
  19. Sanyare: The Last Descendant
  20. Valley of Ember
  21. Where the Waters Turn Black
  22. Touch of Iron
  23. Spectris
  24. Shattermoon
  25. The Bone Season
  26. The Book Thief (IP)
  27. Moon’s Artifice
  28. The Adamantine Palace
  29. The Confession
  30. Dreamwalker
  31. Stranger of Tempest
  32. The Affinity Bridge
  33. Within the Sanctuary of Wings
  34. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (IP)
  35. Truthwitch
  36. Autodrome
  37. Prince Thief
  38. Ten Thousand Doors of January
  39. The Bard’s Blade
  40. The Raven Tower
  41. The Golden Grave

Ok, that’s slightly more than 30. It’s most of my TBR, anyhow! We’ll see how many I get through…

I reserve the right to add more and also decide I hate one and stop reading, and I’ll try to review them all – although it may not be as I go!

Review: Bloodlust & Bonnets

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

The year is 1820, and bored young debutante Lucy knows there must be more to life than embroidery and engagements – no matter how eligible the bachelor might be. Some bachelors, she has discovered, are less ‘eligible’ than they are ‘bloodthirsty,’ however… literally. It turns out that there are a lot of vampires in late-Regency England, and Lucy has an eye for spotting them and the desire to rid the world of them.

It’s not long before Lady Violet Travesty, leader of a mysterious vampire cult, spots Lucy’s talents and offers her a place amongst her vampire acolytes. Unfortunately, Lady Violent is most horribly slain by the famous Lord Byron before Lucy can accept. Lucy instead joins Lord Byron and his enormous, psychic eagle Napoleon in their ongoing fight against evils such as bloodsucking ghouls and bad taste. Before long they’re joined by the mysterious Sham, an androgynous bounty hunter, who catches Lucy’s eye. The trio lie, flirt, fight and manipulate each other as they make their way across Britain, disrupting society balls, slaying vampires, and making every effort not to betray their feelings to each other as their personal and romantic lives become increasingly entangled.

A balm for the soul for readers who love Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, novels by Eloisa James and Jane Austen, and the action and adventure of Xena, Warrior Princess, Bloodlust & Bonnets is the most modern action-heavy love-story set two hundred years ago that you’ll read this year. 

You know that look that people give you when you’re laughing so hard and try to explain and it just comes out in random words and makes you laugh even harder?

Otter gave me that.

“Is that… Byron? In a dress?”

To cut a long story and laugh-til-I-cried five minutes short, if you like Regency, bad Romance novels, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Gothic horror or anything to do with Romantic poets, you need to read this, because it makes fun of everything. If you like ridiculous comics that have psychic eagles, Lord Byron in a very fetching pink dress, vampires, vampire hunters and awkward smooches, then you need to read this.

Also, if you like My Life As A Background Slytherin, you’ll like this.

Basically: funny, ridiculous, and full of dramatic vampires. And a Very Dramatic Byron, being dramatic.

Now – bring me my bonnet.

Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.

I loved Uprooted, and this is definitely a book in the same vein, although standalone – rich in fairytales and mythology but told through the characters and their struggles; it’s a richly woven tapestry of personalities and settings, and it’s a story where every choice seems to matter – and there’s no predicting where those choices could lead.

I love the mix of viewpoints and characters; we start with Miryem and then glimpse Wanda, whose fate – and those of her brothers – is woven into Miryem’s; and then Irina is tugged into the web, along with her beloved nurse and the Tsar; and as the story continues, we see slices of the story from each of them, darting back and forth but all weaving together wonderfully. I love the way that each character’s story and choices affects the others, and how everything interweaves.

It’s also one of those wonderful books where everything sort-of-concludes… but there’s still a third of the book left! And because the conclusion did leave little niggles and questions, everything spirals again, and it’s wonderful to have the question of “well, yes, but then what?” answered. Nothing quite works out how it does in the fairytales, but I also adore the way the fairy stories (from a variety of sources!) and mythology and setting is all woven in, recognisable but never feeling more than slightly familiar.

It’s a book that I am going to return to, and keep dipping into – it’s one that stuck with me as I read and after I finished. Beautiful, warming, haunting and worth a read.