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2019-04-22 11:23 pm

Booklog 26/2019 - Suyi Davies Okungbowa: David Mogo, Godhunter

The gods fell to Earth over a decade ago. Lagos is in chaos, broken and flooded. David Mogo, demigod and godhunter has to capture twin gods—twin Orishas—high gods—and deliver them to Ajala, the city's most notorious wizard.

I was delighted to get an advance reading copy of this from Netgalley because I read it in its early stages when it was a single novella which Suyi brought to the Milford SF Writers' Conference in 2017, all the way from Lagos to a misty North Wales. Several of us said then, that it was excellent, but it should be a novel. Now, it is, though it still feels like novellas tacked together. That's not a bad thing, of course (ref Nnedi Okirafor's Binti books).

 David Mogo feels like a Nigerian Harry Dresden. He’s streetwise but not without empathy. Because it's told in the first person there's a lot of exposition, but the 'voice' is good. I really like Papa Udi, his foster wizard. There's a lot of description which adds to the supernatural Nigerian setting. Even without knowing present Lagos, it feels like something familiar yet strange. The dialogue in Nigerian dialect can be a bit boggling, but mostly it's understandable. The internal monologue of the viewpoint character is in standard English. The dialect and Nigerian words add to the worldbuilding and there’s not much that I can’t infer from the context.

As a bonus, the cover art is gorgeous..

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2019-04-22 10:05 pm

Booklog 25/2019 - Michael R. Johnston: The Widening Gyre – Remembrance War #1

The Zhen rescued all that was left of humanity from a deep space colony vessel and for hundreds of years have treated them as second class citizens, telling them that Earth had been lost. Tajen Hunt climbed as high as any human could climb in the Zhen military. Hero of one battle, loser of the next, he left the forces and now pilots his own spacecraft, alone by choice. When he rescues an old military buddy and her crew from marauders he acquires a family of sorts. They sign on as his crew when he gets an urgent call from his estranged brother. Come quickly, come quietly and bring a crew you can trust. He does, but he's too late. His eighteen year old computer whizz-kid niece tells him her historian dad is dead, but he uncovered a secret. Earth is not lost, and the Zhen have been lying. They know where it is, and Tajen must find it. That's the start of a rip-roaring space adventure as Tajen and his crew in The Dream of Earth set out to make that dream a reality. Unfortunately the Zhen have other ideas. This is fast paced space opera with good characters in impossible situations. It doesn't quite end on a cliffhanger, but there's obviously going to be a sequel. The next book is The Blood-Dimmed Tide, but don't hold your breath, it's not due until 2020.
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2019-04-18 06:28 pm

Booklog 24/2019 - C. E. Murphy: Seamaster – Guildmaster #1

What a fun fantasy read. Aimed at middle grade readers or even young YA this is the story of Rasim, age 13 and transitioning from apprentice to journeyman in the Seamaster's Guild. His only ambition is to be taken on as crew and to sail with the fleet. He's undersized, and not much of a water witch—in truth he can barely keep a bucket from slopping over—but he's a quick thinker, if a little precocious. He's the Forrest Gump of his guild, always managing to be at the heart of events without really trying, and always coming up with ideas that even his superiors listen to. OK, it's a little far fetched that his 'betters' accept his good ideas, but just go with it. This is, after all, not meant to be realistic for adult audiences. He manages to achieve great things, but sometimes misses the obvious, which is quite endearing.
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2019-04-16 09:28 pm

Movie of the Week: Shazam

I confess I didn't even know this was a DC comic book, but it looked intriguing so H and I did our usual Wednesday afternoon twofers thing. I wasn't expecting much, but it was actually much better than I thought it would be. The basic premise is a kid becomes a super-hero in an adult body when he says the magic word - Shazam. Of course, his hunky adult body hides a child-sized brain, which is where the humour comes in.

Zachary Levi is the adult super hero, pitching his performance just right as a boy in a man's body. Asher Angel does well as the schoolboy with a big secret, and Jack Dylan Grazer is the schoolfriend who becomes Shazam's sidekick. Mark Strong is delightful as the scenery-chewing villain.

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2019-04-16 09:20 pm

Movie of the Week: Dumbo

Yes, OK, I admit, I couldn't resist this. I saw the original movie when I was a kid, but apart from ther fact that the cute baby elephant flies and Mrs Jumbo is ripped away from her son, I couldn't really remenber the plot. This is Tim Burton's live action verison with Colin Farrell and Eva Green as the two adult leads and Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins playing Farrell's kids who discover the baby elephant's flying abilities. There follows a plot in which an evil circus owner (Michael Keaton) plots to put Dumbo in his own mega-circus and thereby split up Danny DeVito's small family circus. It's all good clean fun with some mild peril to scare the kids a bit. Well worth a watch on a wet Wednesday afternoon.
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2019-04-16 09:10 pm

Movie of the Week: Fisherman's Friends

Being an unashamed folkie I wanted to see this - not because i thought it was actually a true account of how Fisherman's Friends - a shanty group from Cornwall - were actually picked up by a major label, but - well - because I wanted top see what the movie had come up with. It says it's 'based on a true story' and i think the 'based on' is probably the most important part of the phrase.

Yes, OK, it's a feelgood British film about the undersogs making good. The charactyers are lovely, the story is sweet anhd there's some good shanty singing (though not too much to the non-folkies need not worry).

James Purefoy makes a good grizzled fisherman. I've never been that keen on Daniel mays, but he comes good as the intruder into a closed society, eventually learning to do the right thing.
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2019-04-16 09:05 pm

Booklog 23/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Charmcaster – Spellslinger #3

Following straight on from Shadowblack, Kellen, Ferius and Reichis are on the road already, with a self-imposed mission to track down and cure the youngsters from the last book who have been infected with false shadowblack and have now dispersed from school to their various homes where they could either become a danger to their families, or potential unwitting spies. Heading for Gitabria, where amazing inventions are created, the three instantly get into trouble and find new friends and enemies as it becomes more obvious who has created the false shadowblack, and who is controlling it. Kellen is reunited with an old friend (or maybe an old flame) and also with a family member, but that may not be a good thing. There's plenty of twisty plot, danger and action in this as well as some tough decisions to be made. Kellen is growing as a person. Reichis, as usual, steals the show.
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2019-04-16 09:04 pm

Booklog 22/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Shadowblack – Spellslinger #2

I read the first of the Spellslinger books back in 2017, so it's been quite a gap.

I quickly got into the story, however, even without remembering a lot of the detail of the first book in which Kellen, a failed Jan'Tep mage is exiled from his home and family, largely due to having been infected by Shadowblack, a magical ailment which allows his own people to execute him on sight. Shadowblack, as it develops, will eventually open Kellen up to demons, but it hasn't yet and Kellen can cover up the marks around his eye with some clever makeup. Though always looking over his shoulder for the next assassin, he's travelling with Argosi wanderer, Ferius Parfax, and a murderous, thieving squirrel cat, Reichis. He and Reichis can speak to each other, though no one else can hear Reichis as Kellen does. Think of this as a fantasy western with Ferius playing the lone traveller/card sharp. In this book, Kellen is learning, and growing into adulthood. He's mastered what little magic he has left (after his parents prevented him from growing into a full Jan'Tep mage) and he's learned a lot from Ferius about the Argosi ways. This book centres on the discovery of a shadowblack plague and introduces new characters, Seneira (also plague-ridden), Rosie, a new Argosi with very different way of doing things from Ferius, and spellslinger Dexan, also outlawed from the Jan'Tep. This is intriguing with good plot twists and character development. Reichis often steals the show with his humour and his 'I want to eat their eyeballs' attitude.
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2019-04-16 09:01 pm

Booklog 21/2019 - Sarah E Ladd: The Governess of Penwythe Hall

After reading the Greatcoats Quartet and The Grey Bastards I needed to read something completely different, so I opted for a Georgian/Regency romance set, not in London in the heart of the Ton, but in rural Cornwall. Cordelia (Delia) Greythorne fled Cornwall after the death of her husband, fearing (with justification) his family. A few years later she's the governess of five children in Yorkshire who are suddenly orphaned. Having promised their dying father to look after them, she's faced with returning to Cornwall as the Children are sent to their new guardian uncle Jac Twethewey. Jac is surprised to have his estranged brother's offspring dumped on him complete with governess (and tutor) but he accepts his responsibility while trying to revive Penwythe's once-flourishing apple orchards. It's an engaging romance with elements of looming danger and betrayal. I probably don't need to tell you that it has the ending you might expect but there are some interesting twists along the way. I do wish I could pronounce Twethewey, though.
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2019-04-16 09:00 pm

Booklog 20/2019 - Jonathan French: The Grey Bastards – The Lot Lands #1

I really shouldn't have read this immediately after Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoats series, because, though it's good, it doesn't have that extra something that lifts the Greatcoats books beyond good. I'm missing the High-level camaraderie and the humour. This is grim and gritty, but doesn't quite have the excellent character interaction. But comparison is perhaps not fair. If I'd read this first, I'd probably have loved it unreservedly. Jackal is a Grey Bastard, one of a brotherhood of tough, rough half-orcs patrolling the Lot Lands on giant riding-hogs to guard against incursions by full blood orcs, and centaurs, which trying to steer clear of the elves. There is wit, but it's crude, which is totally believable under the circumstances. It's beyond bawdy, however. The half-orcs think with their balls half the time, yet it's not simply a book of male characters, there are strong women, too, both human and half-orc. The orcs organise themselves into cells (called hoofs) and take in half orc children, the most promising of which eventually become full members of the hoof as they grow. Think biker gangs on pigs with an added nursery. Jackal believes it's time the leader of the Grey Bastards makes way for someone younger, stronger and more savvy. He takes his chance to make a challenge, but it doesn't go the way he expects. Cut loose from his hoof, Jack must take his chance as a lone rider, and this is where we learn more about the Lot lands and the folk that inhabit them. The ending, wholly satisfying, sets up the stage for a second book, The True Bastards, due in October 2019.
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2019-03-26 12:35 am

Booklog 19/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Tyrant's Throne – The Greatcoats #4

I am bereaved. I've finished reading the fourth of Sebasien de Castell's Greatcoats books and already I'm missing the characters, Falcio, Kest and Brasti and their friends, Valiana and Ethalia, newly minted Saint of Mercy, and Aline, heir to the throne. I'm even missing Aileen's grandmother, the Tailor. This is swashbuckling at its best with the characters indulging in witty banter when all seems lost.

Don't get me wrong, this is a serious book. Dark things happen, people die, twisty plots get even twistier, but the relationships between characters is the real delight here.

This is the end game. Aline and Valiana have been holding onto the kingdom by a thread. The dukes are almost ready to elevate Aileen to the throne, but there's a serious threat to the crown, followed by an even bigger one from a neighbouring country. Falcio, so sure of himself when duelling, suddenly discovers that waging war is a totally different skill.

I'm not ready to leave these characters yet, but each of them gets a satisfactory ending, even the king who has been dead since before the first book began. Highly recommended.
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2019-03-21 11:24 am

Booklog 18/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Saint's Blood – The Greatcoats #3

Someone, or a group of someones is killing saints – horribly and ritually. When the Saint of Mercy succumbs, Falcio's lover, Ethalia, is blessed (or cursed) with sainthood, which puts her right in the firing line. The clergy have decided to step in and take control of the kingdom, and they have stony-faced inquisitors and lots of disaffected knights on their side, complete with shiny armour and large broadswords. On top of that there are the unstoppable Needles, crazed zealots who have super strength and an insatiable desire for saints' blood. On the plus side, Valiana is making a creditable job of running the country on behalf of Aline, the fourteen year old heir to the dead king.

Once more Falcio, Brasti and Kest are caught up in major events as they support Aline against (first) the dukes and then the church. They are so busy reacting to individual events that they have trouble seeing the big picture. Events in the previous book have left both Falcio and Kest damaged in different ways. Brasti continues to play the fool, though in the end he's the one who comes up with insights that contribute a solution. When they discover who's really behind the mayhem they discover that they have an even bigger problem.

I've galloped through the first three books in this quartet and without hesitation moved straight on to the fourth, Tyrant's Throne. They are so fast paced that you want to gulp them down while at the same time not wanting to finish them.
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2019-03-18 12:50 pm

Booklog 17/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Knight's Shadow – The Greatcoats #2

More swashing and buckling with Falcio, Brasti and Kest. This strikes a balance between Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy (which I also love), Game of Thrones (superb) and The Three Musketeers (classic). The story picks up exactly where Traitor's Blade left off. Falcio, only mostly dead, is trying to recover (physically) from the climactic events of the previous book, and almost immediately disaster strikes. Thirteen year old Aline, the late king's true heir, is in danger from Trin (now Duchess of Hervor) and her thuggish knights. Our three heroes set out to pave the way for Aline's accession to the empty throne. They are joined by two female greatcoats: Valiana, who thought she was destined to be a duchess, but discovered she'd been raised as a decoy, and (new character) Dariana, the surly but deadly new Greatcoat.

Narrated by Falcio, we follow his character closely, but discover more about Brasti and Kest, too. Brasti, handsome and deadly with a bow, is not the shiniest apple in the barrel (He never met a plan he fully understood.) but, though not above a bit of petty larceny, he shows his true heart. Kest has to get to grips with his sainthood. As Saint of Swords he has problems no one envisaged, not least his urge to duel the second best swordsman in the country - Falcio. Falcio really goes through the mill in this book. He's dying slowly (from poison administered in the first book), he has to deal with a terrifying sect of Dashini assassins, and solve the mystery of who is killing dukes. All this while trying to prevent a civil war and figure out who is trying to cause it.

Once again, the dialogue is quirky and light, in contrast to the (often) desperate action.
Nehra frowned. "Do you always run headlong into certain death?" "Sometimes he walks," Dariana said. "Occasionally he shuffles. Once I'm pretty sure I saw him amble into certain death."

I was trying to work out what makes these three characters special. There are plenty of heroic fighters in any number of fantasy books. I think the answer is that despite the high body count, these three don't simply uphold the king's law, they genuinely care about the innocent and the commoners who are frequently on the receiving end of the Dukes' injustices (and the Dukes' knights' swords).

The pace never lets up, and once more I get to the end and have to start reading the next book in the quartet, Saint's Blood. Highly recommended
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2019-03-15 12:32 am

Booklog 16/2019 - Sebastien de Castell: Traitor's Blade – The Greatcoats #1

I really enjoyed this. I've read one Sebastien de Castell book before and liked it, but this was even better. The Greatcoats are, or were, until the king was killed five years before the book opens, travelling magistrates dispensing the king's justice. They are trained in the fighting arts and the laws of Tristia. Their signature greatcoats, made by the Tailor, a mysterious old woman, are a combination of armour and resource. I suspect they have pockets that not even their wearers have discovered yet. Tristia itself is plunging into chaos, thanks to the Dukes, who care for nothing but themselves.

Falcio, once the chief Greatcoat, is travelling with his two closest friends, Kest, a magnificent swordsman, and Brasti, not so bright but an astonishingly good archer. Not that Falcio can't hold his own in a fight, but he's supposed to be the clever one. He's still clinging to his Greatcoat identity and the law. The three of them have a plan to get the Greatcoats recognised as a force again, but that's destroyed early on and they  find themselves on the run and joining a merchant caravan as guards.

As the story progresses and the body count rises we get not only the plot as it unfolds, but also the backstory from Falcio's childhood through to how the king died while his Greatcoats lived. This is smart and sassy. Falcio is a great character, full of flaws (which he is not slow to admit) but also with a great heart and full of innate honour. De Castell goes to town on the blow-by-blow fights, choreographing them in great detail. Normally I find that a little wearing, but he makes it work very well. We meet Aline, remarkably self-posessed thirteen year old, and a murderous fey horse.

It's not grimdark… okay, maybe it is, but it's lightened by quirky humour (Falcio's internal monologue is quirky) and good dialogue. Falcio is very easy to like. He doesn't always get it right, but oh how he tries. I loved this enough to go straight on to the second Greatcoats book, Knight's Shadow.
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2019-03-15 12:15 am

Movie of the Week: Captain Marvel

What can i say? I loved this movie. I'm going to try and review it without major spoilers because it's barely been out a week yet.

Vers (Brie Larson) is an extraterrestrial Kree warrior who has dedicated herself to fighting the Skrull, evil shapechangers, on a team led by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), but images of a past life keep coming back to her and when she ends up on Earth she feels she might have had a life there, if only she could remember.

She teams up with a young Nick Fury, a cleverly de-aged Samuel L Jackson to fight what seems to be an alen infiltrarion, only gradually remembering her past as Carol Danvers. There's a wonderful reunion between Carol and her one-time best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) who manages to be a brilliant pilot and a single mother with a brilliant kid.

This is Captain Marvel's origin story, setting up her upcoming appearance in Avengers Endgame. Also it's the first Marvel movie to have a female main character. (About time, Marvel, please don't forget Black Widow!)

Stay to the end of the credits for two extra scenes. Oh, and watch out for the cat.

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2019-03-15 12:09 am

Booklog 15/2019 - Lucinda Brant: Midnight Marriage – Roxton family Saga #1

Historical fiction - Georgian period.

This is a preposterous premise, but it works because the characters are good and the story fairly rattles along. It starts in 1761 when twelve year old Deborah, woozy on a double shot of laudanum, is woken one night on her brother's instructions, and legally married to an outraged and emotional (drunk) sixteen year old boy. The following morning, she believes it to be nothing but a dream. Skip forward eight years and Deb is settled in Bath, enjoying society, bringing up Jack, her dead brother's child, and evading casual proposals of marriage. While in the woods with her charge, Deb comes across a young man, Julian, seriously injured in a duel. She patches him up, gets help, and saves his life.

It turns out that he's her husband. He remembers but she doesn't, so he's come back to claim her but intends to court her from scratch without telling her the truth. It goes on to get much more complex than that but much of the misunderstanding could have been avoided if Deb hadn't been left in the dark.

If you can swallow the chain of coincidences, the witty dialogue carries this book along.
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2019-03-14 11:57 pm

Movie of the Week: Green Book

About as far away from Aragorn in Lord of the Rings as you can get, Viggo Mortensen takes the role of Tony Lip, a working-class Italian-American bouncer who becomes the driver (and trouble-sorter) for Dr Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) a refined African-American pianist on a tour of venues through the American Deep South in the 1960s.The Green Book of the title is a list of hotels, and such, friendly to black faces. Racial tensions are high and Tony's own prejudice is gradually worn away by the Doc until the two men become firm friends, though from vastly different worlds.

It's a buddy movie, a road trip movie and a movie about prejudice and friendship. Thoroughly enjoyable and even uplifting. Highly recommended.

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2019-03-14 11:51 pm

Booklog 14/2019 - Liz Williams: Phosphorus – A Winterstrike story

A novella set largely on Liz Williams' cold, bleak Mars of her novel Banner of Souls. There are two separate stories that eventually unite. Canteley, on Mars, is in Winterstrike with her family, but bombs are falling. She is taken to safety by Aunt Sulie. She keeps having dreams, strangely non-human-like dreams.

Across the galaxy Kesh, a hunter, is dead, along with her people. She alone has been reanimated for a purpose. Perhaps to protect her developing brood. All she has for company is her spear, Thousand Voice, as she journeys in space in an intelligent ship, searching for new hunting grounds.

Liz Williams writes excellent aliens, the richness of their civilisation described in few words, but every word counts and the background unfolds as the story progresses. Similarly in the Martian section of the story. You don't need to have read Banner of Souls to enjoy Phosphorus. This is a feminist cold Mars with canals and red deserts. The writing is so elegant you barely notice how good it is first time round, so this is not only worth reading, but worth reading twice.
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2019-03-14 11:34 pm

Movie of the week: The Kid Who Would be King

This was actually much better than i expected it to be. A take on the Arthurian legend complete with the sword in the stone and Merlin as both a schoolboy and a old man (Old Merlin played whimsically by Patrick Stewart in a dandelion clock wig.)

Louis Ashbourne Serkis is Alex, the titular sword-drawer. You'd expect Andy Serkis' son to be a decent actor, and he is, but kudos also to Dean Chaumoo playing Bedders (Sir Bedevere), in his first film role according to IMDB. Angus Imrie, playing a good ten years below his actual age playes the gawky young Merlin. The young actors are definitely the stars of the show.

Morgana is on the rise and Alex first has to deal with school bullies before he can fight Morgana's demons with an army of secondary school kids.

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2019-03-11 02:18 pm

Booklog 13/2019 - Laura Lam: Pantomime - Micah Grey #1

This is set in a place (Ellada) which is not our own, but has a Victorian feel to it. Brought up as a girl, Gene (Iphigenia Laurus) and her parents are hiding a secret that would see her shunned by the nobility. Gene is both male and female and prefers tomboyish pursuits with her brother and his friends, to the debutante circuit she's about to be launched into. She also has magical abilities to interact with glowing glass mounds left by a previous civilisation.

When her parents plan a devastating betrayal, Gene flees home as a boy. Reinventing herself as Micah Grey, and joins R.H. Ragona's Circus of Magic where he learns to fly. Intersexuality and bisexuality form the baseline for happenings within the circus itself and are sensitively dealt with. Gene/Micah is a, engaging and sympathetic character.

Laura Lam's writing style is clear and engrossing. We don't learn much about Micah's magical abilities, however. I felt they could have been used to cause more trouble for him in the circus, though I'm sure the next two books in the trilogy will deal with them more than adequately. My only real beef with this is that it's the first part of a trilogy and so doesn't really resolve at the end. It's terribly tempting to have a cliffhanger ending when writing trilogies or series, but I do like an ending, even though some threads are unresolved (or are resolved but immediately come unravelled at the beginning of the next book.