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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.

Review: Gideon The Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bull****. Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won t set her free without a service. The emperor has called his necromancers to action, and Harrowhark is set on Gideon attending her as bodyguard. If Gideon survives, she ll be a hero, and a free woman. If not, she can look forward to eternity as a shambling bone-servant.

Look, do we even need to get into this? Lesbian necromancers in space. With sunglasses and a ridiculously kick-ass tone, and a murder mystery and lots of intrigue and weird characters and locked rooms and All Of The Relationship Issues. But also: GAY NECROMANCERS IN SPACE. Come on!

The plot is actually more slow and subtle than I expected (I mean, kick-ass necromancers in space) – it’s actually more murder mystery and locked-room, and much more about the characters and friendships – which, as I love character books, meant I really enjoyed it! The reveal at the end is enough that you’ll want to go back and re-read – as a friend put it, “[X] is having so much fun!” and it’s fun to re-read Gideon’s perspective too, once you know more about the twists and turns.

Gideon is awesome, Harrow is alternately really annoying and awesome, the rest of the characters are fun, I reckon I’m Fifth House and no one wants to be Second or Eighth (they’re creepy) and there is also a quiz you can take to find out. I haven’t yet done it. I’m still hung up on the possibility of finding out I’m Second and that would be terrible.

I’ve already pre-ordered the next one, and I can’t wait!

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.

To Add To Your TBR: The Unspoken Name

I was lucky enough to get my grubby little hands on an advance copy of A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name, and if you like epic fantasy, kick-ass protagonists, strange worlds, amazing characters and a story that’s effortlessly readable, add this to your TBR and pre-order it, because it’s fabulous. No further spoilers than that!

(And I’m only slightly biased;  A.K. isn’t one of our authors! I’m not telling you what favours I had to promise to get an ARC, though… (hint: they possibly involved cake.))

Does she owe her life to those planning her death . . .

Csorwe was raised by a death cult steeped in old magic. And on her fourteenth birthday, she’ll be sacrificed to their god. But as she waits for the end, she’s offered a chance to escape her fate. A sorcerer wants her as his assistant, sword-hand and assassin. As this involves her not dying that day, she accepts.

Csorwe spends years living on a knife-edge, helping her master hunt an artefact which could change many worlds. Then comes the day she’s been dreading. They encounter Csorwe’s old cult – seeking the same magical object – and Csorwe is forced to reckon with her past. She also meets Shuthmili, the war-mage who’ll change her future.

If she’s to survive, Csorwe must evade her enemies, claim the artefact and stop the death cult once and for all. As she plunges from one danger to the next, the hunt is on . . .