jacey: (blue eyes)
It's that time of year again. My fiction reading is always severely restricted when I'm writing, particularly when i'm at the first draft stage. I've done a lot of writing this year. I finished off Crossways, which came out in August and made a start on Nimbus which will be the third Psi-Tech book. Then I edited Winterwood, adding about 20,000 words of new material, then immediately began on the sequel, Silverwolf. I'm now 90,000 words into the first draft.

Surprisingly I still found time and energy to read and blog thirty five novels (okay, a couple of them were novellas, so, sue me!) This was the year I discovered Diana Gabaldon. Yes, I know a lot of you recommended her to me at least twenty years ago, and you were right - she knows how to keep the pages turning. New to me this year and authors who will definitely be on my future reading lists include C.E. Murphy, Judith Tarr and Genevieve Cogman. Old favourites included: Lisa Shearin, Joe Abercrombie, Patricia Briggs, Anne Aguirre, Kevin Hearne and Terry Pratchett.

I managed to get all the way through a graphic novel, the reprint of early Modesty Blaise strip cartoons, The Gabriel Set Up, written by Peter O'Donnell and illustrated by Jim Holdaway. I think I managed better with the spare style of black and white drawings originally done for newspaper publication, than I do with the lavish colour graphic novels of recent years where I often have difficulty interpreting what's happening.

My biggest disappointment was Erin Morganstern's The Night Circus, which I'd heard good things about. The writing itself was lush and sensual, but it was too plot-lite for me and I didn't feel deeply involved with the characters. I've never got on all that well with literary novels, but if that's your thing, then you may disagree with me completely over this book.

Anyhow, for better or worse, this is what I read in 2015. Each one of these is book-logged here.

  1. Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus

  2. Lisa Shearin: Wild Card

  3. Joe Abercrombie: Half a King

  4. Jen Williams: The Copper Promise

  5. Patricia Briggs: Dead Heat - Alpha and Omega #4

  6. Genevieve Cogman: The Invisible Library

  7. Octavia Butler: Dawn - Exogenesis #1

  8. Jill Schultz: Angel on the Ropes

  9. Peter Dickinson: The Changes Trilogy

  10. David Barnett: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl

  11. Ian Whates: Pelquin's Comet

  12. CE Murphy: Heart of Stone - Negotiator Trilogy #1 - Old Races #1

  13. Terry Pratchett: Raising Steam - Discworld #40

  14. Judith Tarr: Forgotten Suns

  15. Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway: Modesty Blaise - The Gabriel Set-Up

  16. Winston Graham: Ross Poldark - Poldark #1

  17. Various Authors: Firefly: Still Flying

  18. Lia Silver: Prisoner

  19. Lia Silver: Partner

  20. Diana Gabaldon: Outlander - Outlander #1

  21. Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army

  22. Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly in Amber - Outlander #2

  23. Georgette Heyer: Cotillion

  24. Diana Gabaldon: Voyager - Outlander #3

  25. Terry Pratchett: the Shepherd's Crown - Discworld #41 - Tiffany Aching #5

  26. Ann Aguirre: Forbidden Fruit: Corinne Solomon #3.5 (novella)

  27. Kevin Hearne: Hexed - Iron Druid #2

  28. Toby Venables: Hunter of Sherwood: Knight of Shadows - Hunter of Sherwood #1

  29. Diana Gabaldon: The Drums of Autumn - Outlander #4

  30. Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Hand of Devils - Lord John #0.5

  31. Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Private Matter - Lord John #1

  32. Stella Duffy: Dr Who: The Anti-Hero - Time Trips

  33. Diana Gabaldon: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade - Lord John #2

  34. Genevieve Cogman: The Masked City

jacey: (blue eyes)
Masked CityMy final book of 2015...

I really enjoyed the first Invisible Library book, and I was looking forward to this. It certainly didn't disappoint.

It continues the story of Irene, an agent of the Invisible Library which exists between dimensions, and has access to all the alternate earths in the multiverse. The library's purpose is to collect and preserve all the alternate versions of important books that have been published in the various dimensions and the librarians are, essentially, book thieves (or sometimes book-buyers). After the first book, Irene is now the resident librarian in a steampunky alternate London, with her assistant, Kai, and their friend, Vale, a Sherlock Holmesian figure. Their world does have some magic and the Fae are in evidence - mostly hanging out at the Lichtenstein Embassy.

The Fae pull worlds towards chaos, which the powerful dragons strive for order. Dragons can't live in high-chaos worlds while Fae are allergic to order, but there are worlds, such are Irene's, which have a helping of both.

Kai is a young dragon - in human form - which is somewhat unusual. Not only is he a dragon, but he's a dragon prince, with obligations. When Kai is kidnapped and whisked off world to a high-chaos Venice Irene must rescue him or risk an all-out war between the dragons and the Fae which will certainly destroy Vale's alternate world, and may well have far reaching consequences for other worlds and the humans caught in the crossfire.

With the help of the Fae, Silver, a rival of the Guantes (the Fae who have kidnapped Kai in order to start a war) Irene manages to get herself to the high-chaos Venice where Kai is due to be auctioned to the highest Fae bidder, triggering dragon wrath. She has a limited amount of time to spring him from his magical prison

There's a lot to like in here. The setting is imaginative, the pacing keen. Irene's character is resourceful and the supporting characters believable. Kai is out of it for most of the story, but there are hints that the attraction between Irene and Kai is rather more than a teacher-student relationship should be, which is why Irene is doing her best not to act on her feelings. I look forward to seeing how this develops in future books. There's at least one more to come.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Lord John Brotyherhood BladeAnother of the Outlander spinoffs set in the mid 1750s featuring John Grey, youngest son of the disgraced, deceased Duke of Pardloe, and an unrepentant homosexual in an era when it was a hanging offence. Lord John is a principled young man, a career soldier (Major) in his older brother, Hal's regiment. This is a mystery, but largely concerning the story surrounding the Duke of Pardloe's demise, supposedly a suicide, but John Grey, only twelve at the time it happened, knows differently.

A fair bit of the plot hinges on people on the same side not sharing information and it takes a while for John to pull the story together from what he knows and what he discovers. If his mother and older brother had come clean then it would have been a much shorter book.

Ms Gabaldon knows how to write a page turner and with the main murder-mystery, the military detail, and the sub-plot of Grey's complex relationship with Percy, his new step-brother by marriage, there's a lot to like in this book. It's also good to see Jamie Fraser, main character in Outlander, appearing here in a minor but vital role.
jacey: (blue eyes)
PandaemoniumThe Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers
A collection of contemporary texts on the progress of the industrial revolution from 1660 to 1866, well chosen and arranged in chronologigal order. It includes poetry, diary extracts and contemporary writings and gives an excellent flavour of the changes taking place. It provides a continuous narrative of the industrial revolution, but told from many different viewpoints, a narrative of ideas and emotions, not merely of hard facts and mechanical innovations. The pieces illuminate the industrial revolution as straightforward text books cannot.

Humphrey Jennings was a documentary film maker who died in 1950 with this work incomplete, but with a huge selection of writings and notes from which it has been assembled by Charles Madge. True to Jennings original intention this collection of writings is a visual piece. From a personal research point of view, it provides an insight into the period I'm writing about, from descriptions of London, scientific treatises, newspaper articles, letters, extracts, pamphlets, diaries and poems. It includes writings of Lord Byron, William Cobbett, William Blake, Jeremy Bentham, James Watt, Vincent Lunardi, Tom Paine, Elizabeth Fry, Dorothy Wordswirth, Tom Poole, Michael Faraday and many, many more. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Dr Wgo Anti-HeroA short novel/novella featuring the second doctor, Jamie and Zoe getting mixed up with auromata and muses at the Library/Museum of Alexandria. A quick, easy, but largely uninvolving read, even when Jamie has a scalpel poised above his chest. There are a few references for current (adult) Whovians to catch in passing, but this largely relies on readers already being familiar with the characters. This is part of the Time Trips series and is obviously aimed at/would be good for young or reluctant readers who are Who fans.

I read this as a review copy from netgalley
jacey: (blue eyes)
Lord John & Private MatterThe year is 1757.It's early in the Seven Years War between Britain and France. Lord John Grey has a very delicate problem when he witnesses something intensely personal that could impact dreadfully on his own family. At the same time he is officially ordered to investigate the murder of a brother army officer. From polite drawing rooms to eighteenth century molly houses, Grey's investigation leads him deeper and deeper into political intrigue, treachery and plot.

Grey is a fiercely intelligent and honourable man with a secret that could ruin him. He's gay at a time when it's a capital offence. He's not only an officer in the army, but aristocrat with a name and a family to protect.

Lord John's timeline weaves in and out of the Outlander books. This is the first full length novel. It takes place between the novellas collected in Lord John and the Hand of Devils, and in the overall timeline it comes after the events of Ardsmuir Prison in the Outlander novel, Voyager. Grey has met (and fallen for) Jamie Frazer, but though his affection is not reciprocated (and he's too much of a gentleman to push matters in that respect) Fraser is still very much in his thoughts. The sexual orientation issues are handled sensitively and in keeping with the attitudes of the day.

The Grey novels are historical mysteries without the fantasy elements and the raw passion of Outlander, but they are well written and good page turners in their own right.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Lord John Hand DevilThree Lord John novellas which offer an introduction to the spinoff series from the Outlander novels featuring Lord John Grey. Outlander had fantasy elements (time travel) but Lord John is much closer to being straight historical fiction/mysteries. Lord John appears in the Outlander book Voyager and these shorts are from various times within the Lord John novels.

Individually the novellas are as follows.

Lord John and the Hellfire Club: Lord John investigates a murder which leads him into political treachery and into the realm of the debauchery of the hellfire Club.

Lord John and the Private Matter coimes here in the timeline

Lord John and the Succubus: Lord John is on active duty in Prussia and has to solve the mystery of a murdered soldier, a treacherous Gypsy and the Night Hag.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade comes here in the timeline.

Lord John and the Haunted Soldier. Recovering from serious injury, Lord John has to investigate an exploding cannon and the possibility that someone is sabotaging ordnance.

Readers of the Outlander novels have already met Lord John when he was put in charge of the Ardsmuir prison during Jamie's incarceration in Voyager. Jamie is not a character in these stories. John is an interesting character in his own right, intelligent, honourable, brave, and gay at a time when it's a capital offence. I'm always wary of spinoff novels, but these novellas had me hooked on Lord John right from the start.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Drums of AutumnI must admit, I've fallen for this series, hook, line and sinker and now I have several friends yelling I TOLD YOU SO!
Yeah, OK, I admit it. They did tell me so and I resisted... But Gabaldon can write a page-turner, and once you get hooked on the characters you have to keep reading.

Claire and Jamie are struggling to set up a new settlement deep in uncharted territory in the Americas while in the 1960s Claire's daughter, Brianna discovers an old newspaper article revealing that her parents died in a house fire - something that her beloved, Roger Wakefield, has decided to keep from her so as not to upset her. This is what happens when Brianna decides to go through the stones to warn her parents.

Lots of exciting stuff in here, contact with American Indian tribes, friendly and not so friendly, Jamie finds allies and saves a life only to find that no good deed goes unpunished.

Claire and Jamie are getting older, but still seem like youngsters in terms of energy level and story. Are they ever going to grow old gracefully? On this showing I doubt it, which bodes well for future volumes. Although there are other major characters this is still very much Claire and Jamie's story.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Hunter of SherwoodThough you might expect the hero of this tale to be Robin Hood, in an interesting twist Venables' hero is Guy of Guisburne, and Hood is a figure of chaos, Guy's nemesis, though in this book he only appears as a secondary figure.

Guy is a kind of 007 to Prince John, who in this telling is the good brother and Richard the Lionheart is the shit who virtually abandoned all responsibilities in England and drew off all the resources he could monetise to support his endless warring in the Holy Land. That Richard cared nothing for England is much is pretty well a historical truth. Richard did say that he would sell London itself if only he could find a buyer. John, however did have his flaws, though they seem to have been overlooked here.

Sir Guy is given a task by Prince John, steal a holy relic--the jewel encrusted skull of John the Baptist--before Philip of France can get hold of it. Most of the action takes place in France, but at the same time as the forward action is progressing, we learn of Guy's backstory, his struggle to become a knight, with all that entailed, and his relationship with Robert/Robin Hood when they were both mercenaries, ending up surviving the Siege of Hattin, a huge defeat for Christendom.

Guy's enemy is Tancred, the rogue Templar de Mercheval, and his henchman Fulke. Both Tancred and Fulke are pretty nasty characters. Fulke is bad enough, but Tancred is as mad as a bag of spanners, believing himself to be blessed by God and the dispenser of His justice. He wants the relic for himself. On his side Guy has his somewhat opinionated squire, Galfrid, forced upon him by John, and a mysterious and beautiful stranger, Melisande, a woman who fights better than any man, with assassin style training. There's also a Q to Guisburne's 007 in the personage of Prince John's armourer, Llewellyn, who provides Greek fire and gadgetry.

This book doesn't work perfectly, there's one point where Guy's plan is frankly suicidal and yet he survives it, however the things that do work, work very well indeed. The characterisation is excellent, I especially like Galfrid who makes a brilliant sidekick. The characterisation of Hood also shows what have always been taken as his good points to be severe flaws that make him almost impossible to reason with. Guy himself is a sympathetic hero and we learn a lot of his backstory, which all adds to the character building.

In essence this is a set-up book for future stories and I think we can expect very interesting things from Sherwood in the future.
jacey: (blue eyes)
HexedI thoroughly enjoyed the first Iron Druid book, Hounded, and Hexed did not disappoint.

Atticus O'Sullivan, the last (real) druid fought and killed Aenghus Óg: Celtic god of love, in the first book. Now he has to deal with the consequences. He still has Fragarach, a sword of unearthly power. His Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, with whom he can communicate telepathically, is his companion. Oberon is obsessed by sausages and French poodles, and gets all the best lines.

The death of Aenghus Óg has caused ripples throughout the Irish pantheon, the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Morrigan and Brighid are snapping at each other's heels and Atticus may well be piggy in the middle, but his immediate task is making peace with the survivors of a witch coven led by Malina somewhat tricky since he was (in her eyes) responsible for the loss of half her coven in the first place.

Malina is only the first of his problems; he's shown his hand by killing Aenghus Óg and there are those quick to take advantage of his skills. Coyote shows up and wants him to kill a demon (released in the Aenghus Óg fight and now preying on high school students), Then he has to deal with a strange priest and a rabbi whose intentions are not entirely clear, and Malina wants him to kill a bunch of dangerous Bacchants. But all these seem minor because a new coven has moved into town and is trying to take over the area. Atticus has tangled with them before and already has an old score to settle. It becomes personal when it becomes clear that their first objective is to kill him, his friends (including his new Druid apprentice Granuaile), his staff at the bookstore he owns, and Malina's coven. This is a fight he can't walk away from.

The second book in the Iron Druid series lives up to expectations as a fast-paced, engaging urban fantasy with mythic overtones. There are some loose ends which I trust will be dealt with in later books. Leif--Atticus' vampire lawyer--extracts a promise that Atticus will kill Thor. Yes, THAT Thor.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Forbidden FruitA novella which is - according to the afterword - number 3.5 in the Corinne Solomon series, but since I picked this up at random and haven't read any of the others I just took it at face value. Corinne Solomon doesn't actually appear, so it seems to be more of a spin-off than a continuation, or an infill. I don't know whether these two characters are staples of the series or not.

It's pretty obvious there's something strange going on. Shannon communicates with the dead via an antique radio and Jesse is a cop who's looking after her as she resettles in Laredo. There's a hole in her memories, apparently the result of some sort of spell and Jesse, an empath as well as a cop - has the same gap in his knowledge. There are demons after Shann, buit we don't really find out why. I suspect that wuill be revealed in other books in the series. Basically this is the story of how two people's relationship changes. Sweet and sexy in turns this is a quick read and pacy enough for me to wish it continued. Okay - I guess I just have to start reading the Corinne Solomons. I'm already a fan of Aguirre's Sirantha Jax books. Like the Jax books this is written in the first person present, which is not something I'd generally say I liked, but it works for me in the Jax books, and it works here, too.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Shepherds CrownAh, the very last Terry Pratchett and a farewell not only to the author but to one of his most endearing characters, Granny Weatherwax who sets her affairs in order, cleans the house, weaves her own coffin and meets Death as an old friend, leaving her cottage, her boots and her steading to young witch Tiffany Aching.

Tiffany is a powerful young witch, yes, but stepping into Esme Weatherwax's shoes (while not giving up her own steading on the chalk) is a very big step and there are some senior witches, particularly Mrs Earwig, who would deny her the opportunity. Indeed, people are always underestimating Tiffany. She's young, working class, she comes from the chalk, not from Lancre (and chalk is 'soft') and her kind of witching largely consists of going round the district dealing with births and deaths and cutting old men's toenails because that's what needs doing. And that's what a witch does. It's not flashy magic, in fact, it's not always magic, but it's what's needful.

Tiffany has allies. Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax's long time friend, knows that Tiffany wouldn't have been named as her successor unless she was worthy, and the Nac Mac Feegles, the Wee Free Men of the first Tiffany book - a cross between miniature Scottish Nationalists, Glasgow boys on a Saturday night out, and Braveheart extras with double woad - are her staunch supporters and protectors. And then there's Geoffrey, the boy who wants to be a witch, and Tiffany's long distance boyfriend who is learning to be a doctor in Ankh Morpork at the Lady Sybil Free Hospital.

All this comes together when there's another major incursion from the Elves, those Lords and Ladies repulsed by the elder witches in the novel of the same name. Elves are nasty and dangerous. They live by their glamour and take delight in doing mischief from ruining beer to stealing children and tormenting and killing humans in various despicable and painful ways.

Needless to say Tiffany deals with the Elves in her own way and becomes her own witch in the end, not following exactly in Granny Weatherwax's bootsteps, but making her own.

This is a delightful book, a fitting end to Terry Pratchett's oeuvre. I have to say that right from the start there were moments when I could hardly read it dry-eyed. Tiffant has a lot to say about humanity, but she leads by example, working it out for herself as she goes.

When I finished the final page I was left with a hope that somewhere, in some reality, Terry Pratchett and Esme Weatherwax are sitting in the sun enjoying a substantial cup of their favourite tipple together.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Outlander VoyagerSPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 & 2 AHEAD.

Nearly twenty years have passed since Jamie sent Claire back to her own time to save the life of his unborn child while he returned to the battlefield of Culloden, expecting to die, and there isn't a day when she hasn't missed him despite getting on with her life, training to be a doctor and having a rocky relationship with Frank (recently deceased) while raising Jamie's red-headed daughter Brianna.

Through a series of flashbacks we see what Jamie and Claire's lives have been in the years they've been apart. Yes, that's right, Jamie didn't die at Culloden, though he had a pretty grim time of it afterwards.

Through some judicious searching in Claire's present (1960s) she, Brianna and Roger Wakefield trace Jamie's family history, discover he's still 'alive' (in his own timeline) and Claire decides to go back. Jamie and Claire are reunited, leading to further adventures and an epic voyage.

This book is back to the top form of the first one. It's interesting in that there are viewpoint shifts, some of it being in third person and Claire's narrative in first, but this isn't jarring. It's a long book, but I galloped through it, unable to put it down.
jacey: (blue eyes)

I wanted something fluffy to read while editing my magic pirate book and Cotillion seemed like just the job. Kitty Charing has been raised by her irascible adopted uncle. Determined that he is dying of gout he summons Kitty's unwed male cousins-by-adoption and promises to leave his considerable fortune to whichever one of them will marry her, leaving nothing to Kitty in her own right. None of the cousins actually needs the money, being reasonably well-heeled. There's Hugh, a stiff and slightly pompous clergyman; Freddy, an empty-headed dandy more concerned about the knot in his neckcloth than acquiring a wife; Dolphinton, an Earl, but slow-witted, and Jack, a regular Corinthian, gamester and rake-about-town. It's Kitty's choice, but the one she really wants, bad-boy Jack is the only one who doesn't respond to his uncle's summons. So Kitty comes up with a scheme to get herself away from Uncle's restrictive country home, up to London, made fashionable, and introduced into society, to put herself in Jack's way. To this end she coerces the amiable Freddy to a sham engagement, is installed with his respectable married sister (whose diplomat husband is abroad) and is launched upon society. She enters into several matchmaking schemes for other people, but neglects to make progress with her own. The dashing Jack proves to be not all Kitty believed him to be and in the end it's dear, dependable, thoughtful Freddy who comes through, not quite as empty-headed as he thinks himself.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Outlander Dragonfly in AmberWARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
Apologies, it's impossible to blog this without spoilers for either earlier books in the series, or twists in this book.

The continuing adventures of Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire, an ex-army nurse from World War Two catapulted back (via a magical stone circle) to the time of the '45 (that's 1745) the Highland rising which culminated in the battle of Culloden when the English army crushed the Scots decisively.

With Claire's foreknowledge if how disastrous Bonnie Prince Charlie's return to Scotland will be for the Highland Clans, Claire and Jamie journey to France to try to prevent the prince from returning to Scotland, but their attempts to change history fail and Jamie is embroiled in the ill-fated campaign on Scottish soil, knowing that it will lead to the  end of the Highland Clans and cruel persecution by the English.

No matter what Claire and Jamie try it seems that history is going to take its course, so with Claire pregnant and Jamie convinced that he'll die at Culloden, he sends her back through the stones to save her life and the life of his child.

Though an excellent read, this second book in Gabaldon's Outlander series wasn't quite so gripping as the first, but it was still plenty good enough to have me reaching for the third book. There are few series that have gripped me enough to make me read three very hefty tomes in a row. Excellent characters and a real page turner.
jacey: (blue eyes)
An Infamous ArmyThis is almost more non-fiction than fiction. Ms Heyer delves into the social history immediately preceding the Battle of Waterloo, thunders through the battle itself and it's only in the aftermath that romance and history truly meet. It's a fictionalised and extremely well-researched account of Waterloo built around what seems to be a doomed romance between notorious widow, Lady Barbara Childe a heartbreaker at the centre of the social whirl in Brussels where the English have set up their own fashionable society while waiting for Wellington's army to arrive, and the very decent (and hugely forgiving) Colonel Charles Audley, one of Wellington's aides-de-camp.

I tend to read Heyer for a bit of light relief, not a history lesson, though I usually take her research for granted. This book had a huge cast of genuine historical characters - possibly rather more than I wanted to deal with, so all-in-all not my favourite Heyer, though I can understand why it's the book that she was most proud of writing.

On a secondary note - with no bearing on the quality of the story whatsoever - this particular cover bears absolutely no resemblance to any of the major characters in the story.
jacey: (blue eyes)
OutlanderOutlander was originally published as Cross Stitch in the UK, but I bought it from Amazon as Outlander in ebook form. It's difficult to review this as a book because I confess I watched the firsat season on TV, courtesy of Amazon Prime, before reading the book, so first of all, the book was very close to the TV series, though, of course, that should be the other way round. I greatly enjoyed revisiting the story and perhaps getting a li8ttle more depth and explanation via the text.

The story is of Claire, a Second World War army nurse reunited with her husband, Frank Randall, shortly after the war's end. They are trying to reconnect after many years apart and they go to Scotland on a second honeymoon during which Frank does a little family history, learning, in particular, about his many times great-grandfather Black Jack Randall, a British redcoat captain stationed in Scotland with a reputation to match his name.

When Claire visits a ring of standing stones she finds herself whisked back two hundred years to the time of Black Jack Randall and the time very shortly before Culloden. Randall is the first person she meets, and not in a good way. Startled to find he's the spit of her husband in looks and then horrified to find he's nothing like Frank in temperament, she ends up falling in with a tough band of kilted highlanders. Taken first as an English spy, she proves her usefulness as a healer and finds herself drawn to James Fraser, an outlaw with a price on his head and history - very bad history - with Randall.

Claire and Jamie end up married as an expedient move to make her a Scot by marriage and therefore outside of Randall's immediate jurisdiction. Despite her feelings for Frank and her longing to return to her old life - if she can - she finds herself falling for Jamie, an exasperating, red-headed, stubborn-as-an-ox highlander whose bravery, honesty and sense of honour are amongst his redeeming features. He's not a twentieth century man, however, he's a product of his time, and Claire a product of hers. Clashes are inevitable. He's a soft heart, but a hard head, and his history with Randall is going to cause painful problems for both of them.

I'm not overly familiar with Scottish history, but this feels very well researched. There's a tiny bit of dialect, but only enought ot make it feel authentic. The writing style is beautifully transparent, letting you get on with the story. Nicely done considering this was Ms Gabaldon's first book.

No more spoilers because if you like rollicking historical adventure, more than a touch of romance (and sex) and a dollop of time-travel thrown in this is the perfect book for you. I apologise now to my friend Mary-Anne who told me to read it twenty years ago. I should have taken her advice. But now I have the pleasure of seven more books to look forward to. (And another in preparation, I understand.) Highly recommended. I just ordered the second book, Dragonfly in Amber.
jacey: (blue eyes)
PartnerPartner by Lia Silver is a direct follow-on from Prisoner. The second half of the same story, in fact. Not just action and adventure (though there is that) but also a lot (maybe too much?) exploration of PTSD and combat stress. Though this is something hardly ever tackled to this depth in what appears on the surface to be a lightweight novel, so it certainly adds something. The author certainly knows what she's talking about, being a professional therapist in her other life.

A combination of thriller with supernatural romance. DJ Torres is a 'born' werewolf and a marine who, after being injured in Afghanistan, has been imprisoned by a shadowy government agency somewhere out in the desert. There he's partnered with tough-as-nails superspy and assassin, Echo, one of two surviving experimental clones.

Though they try to hide it because they know that their captors will use it against them, Echo and DJ have bonded. In this half of the story they have to figure out how to escape the secret base, rescue DJ's former marine buddy, Roy, whom DJ bit to save his life when he was dying of wounds. They also have to bring Echo's dying clone sister out with them and liberate the pack of made werewolves who have been experimented on.

Packed with emotion, this book is more about relationships than action (though action is certainly not absent). Echo must learn how to deal with newly awakened emotions when her feelings have been in lockdown mode for many years. DJ has to deal with a new mate bond. The thrust of the story, the escape and the search for Roy, almost plays second fiddle to the psychology. Some of the urgency of the must-rescue-Roy part of the story is weakened.. The solutions, when they come, are maybe a little too easy, though the main characters don't get out unscathed. There's a missed opportunity in that much of Roy's story happens off the page (and is possibly covered in a third book which centres on Roy, which I have not read). But that's me being nitpicky, the whole thing carries you along and it's one of those stories to gulp down quickly while it's hot. It also looks as if there's another book about Echo and DJ which i look forward to reading.
jacey: (blue eyes)
FireflyA book of Firefly trivia, nicely produced with excellent illustrations and the added advantage of four new pieces of short fiction by Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson, Brett Matthews, and Jose Molina. It's for fans, but that's OK. Shiny, in fact.
jacey: (blue eyes)
PrisonerSherwood Smith's review pointed me at this one (two, actually because 'Partner' is a direct continuation of the story and takes up where Prisoner leaves off. (I'm only just starting on that one). This combines adventure thriller with supernatural romance. DJ Torres is a 'born' werewolf and a marine who, when his helicopter is shot down in Afghanistan goes against everything he's ever been taught and bites his badly wounded best buddy, Roy, to try and save his life. Having given away his secret, DJ finds himself imprisoned by a shadowy government agency somewhere out in the desert where he's partnered with tough-as-nails superspy and assassin, Echo, one of two surviving experimental clones. Echo has superstrength and lightning fast reflexes. DJ and Echo are both physically capable of escaping but Echo is held back by her frail clone sister who is gradually succumbing to the defects of her body, and DJ is held back because the bad guys have Roy stashed in some secret lock-up and threaten him with torture if DJ steps out of line. Things are complicated by a pack of unhappy 'made' wolves, each one of them with a power and a problem.

What could be a fairly standard adventure romance is lifted above the average by the exploration of dyslexia, and PTSD and the psychological effects of warfare and violence. (The author is a therapist in real life, specialising in PTSD.) DJ has been shaped by marine culture: never leave anyone behind and pack principles. Echo, born in a test tube, raised by carers, bottles up her emotions and is used to working alone. She's watched three of her close sisters die as their bodies failed them, now her last sister, the only person she cares about, is a fragile invalid. When the sister dies her controllers will lose their last hold on Echo, so they try and team her up with DJ to give her something - or someone - else to care about.

This is slight in terms of page count, but high in emotional intensity. Lia Silver is a pen name. The author also writes as Rachel Manija Brown. I've been hearing good things about her books from a number of people. This one certainly didn't disappoint.
jacey: (blue eyes)
RossPoldarkI'm not sure why it's taken me the best part of forty years and two TV dramatisations to read this book. Perhaps because it was written in the 1940s I assumed the prose style would be a little stodgy, but not a bit of it. This reads like a much more modern novel. Winston Graham had a light touch

In 1783 Captain Ross Poldark, a gentleman, returns to his Cornish home from the American wars. Headstrong and volatile when he left, he's now more seasoned and prepared to take on the near-derelict family home, Nampara, after the death of his father. He's anticipating that Elizabeth, the love of his life, will be waiting for him to sweep her off her feet and marry him, but arrives to find her on the point of marrying his wealthier cousin, Francis.

He buries himself in work, repairing the house, cultivating the land, with only his plain cousin, Verity, as a friend. But Ross has the common touch. Despite the Poldark name, he's always been equally comfortable with the common folks who work the land and the tin and copper mines. He rescues a waif of a girl, Demelza Carne, and takes her in as a kitchen maid, not realising until several years later that she's grown into a lovely (and loving) young woman. marrying beneath his class causes scandal in the neighbourhood; the Poldarks are considered to be Cornish aristocracy while Demelza is the daughter of a drunken miner.

The story will not be new to anyone who has seen either the Robin Ellis TV version or the current Aidan Turner one. The first season of the current televised version takes incidents from the first two books in the series (there are 12 altogether), but this book ends before the birth of Ross and Demelza's first child.

Themes include love and loss, class struggle and rivalry, both personal and industrial. (Though in the first book the enmity between Ross and George Warleggan seems relatively unimportant.  Graham's historical background and setting is well-researched. He captures the world of eighteenth century Cornwall well.

poldark-aidan-turn_3257153bAnd yes, I did resist using the TV tie in cover with Aidan Turner's face all over it. Disappointed? Well, here you are then. Ross Poldark as played by Aidan Turner. You're welcome.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Modesty Blaise-Gabriel Set UpI've always been a big Modesty Blaise fan, coming to the books first, long before I realised that the character originated from the serialised graphic strip which first appeared in The Evening Standard (one of the Beaverbrook newspapers) in 1963. This collection of four stories reprinted from the original newspaper strips features black and white artwork by the late Jim Holdaway. (Literally black and white, not greyscale.)

I've said before that I often have trouble with graphic novels because I'm not used to the style and I find some of the artwork difficult to 'read'. Whether that's my fault for poor interpretation, or the artist's fault for poor execution, I don't know, however with this simple line-drawing style I have no trouble at all. Holdaway's characters are very easily differentiated from one another and the action is crystal clear.

The stories: La Machine, The Long Leaver, The Gabriel Stt-Up and In the Beginning are typical Modesty stories. La Machine is her first introduction to the British Secret Service's favourite civil servant, Sir Gerald Tarrant and his sidekick, Fraser.

Modesty is a capable female protagonist in her own right, kick-ass but feminine, sexually independent, fiercely intelligent and with a background in organised crime but a sound moral compass. Her sidekick, the equally capable Willie Garvin has been reborn in Modesty's service. Starting out a a mean fighting machine, Modesty has given him her trust and he's picked it up and run with it, turning into her loyal right-hand man. Their non-sexual love story underpins the whole Modesty Blaise oeuvre. They are partners who trust each other totally, but they are capable of working independently and they don't own each other. There is no hint of jealousy when they take partners, long term or one-night stands. They love each other, but they are not in love, neither are they lovers. (Their adult attitude and relationship puts Bella and Edward-Sparkly-Vampire to shame. Just sayin' because I read these books at about the same age as millions of teens read Twilight.)

Three of the stories are set in Modesty and Willie's present, but In the beginning is Modesty's origin story as a refugee child walking through the Middle East in the aftermath of war, educated by life and a displaced professor whom she protects. Modesty ends up running a crime network and for six years Modestly and Willie fight and scheme and bleed together, tending each other's hurts and growing very rich. The Modesty Blaise stories are set after Modesty and Willie have retired from their life of crime and realised that settling down is difficult for a pair of adrenaline junkies.

I recommend the novels heartily and this reproduction to the early comic strips is a lovely way to revisit Modesty's adventures.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Forgotten SunsOn the deserted world of Nevermore, a family of archaeologists labours to uncover ancient mysteries despite the threat of funding cuts which will lead to the United Planets stripping the planet's resources in a legal invasion.

Nevermore presents a conundrum. If the people of this world had suffered a wipeout after some apocalyptic upheaval there would be evidence, but there isn't. The buildings have crumbled, but all the records, statuary, art and artefacts have all disappeared. There are no skeletons, nothing to say whether the inhabitants were humanoid or alien. While her parents struggle to understand the mystery of the ruins and fight to retain the funding that will protect the project, and the world, Aisha accidentally blows the top off a mountain revealing a strange being, a living treasure. Human in appearance, Rama is even stranger than he first appears. Dressed in rags, but wearing enough gold artefacts to stock a small museum, and quite mad in a compelling way, he begins a quest to find Nevermore's missing population. They've only been gone for five thousand years, so that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Aisha's Aunt Khalida, a Military Intelligence officer is on leave after a mission that broke her. She's living with the burden of guilt too big for any one person to carry and Psycorps patent fix hasn't taken. Now both the MI and Psycorps want her back on duty. She's forced to return to Ariceli, the world where she committed the ultimate war crime, to negotiate a peace - at least that's what they say. It just happens that Ariceli is also Rama's first port of call… and Aisha is not letting him go gallivanting round the universe without her. She's desperately trying to find a justification for the continued funding of the Nevermore expedition and Rama is the likely key.

The question of who is Rama? turns into the question of what is Rama? Aisha may be the only person tying together disparate strands which all belong to the same puzzle.

Of course it's all a lot more complex than that. Everyone has their own agenda: Rama is still searching, following a trail of breadcrumbs; Khalida has to prevent one of the factions in her peace negotiation from blowing the whole planet of Ariceli apart; Aisha is searching for anything that will help her parents.

When they rescue an enslaved sentient ship a chase across the universe ends up as a journey through the multiverse. Rama must not only find his people but must also fulfil an ancient prophesy, one that's likely to kill him and anyone who helps him.

Psionic powers and magic mesh with science in this enthralling adventure. Characterisation, human and non-human, is complex and layered. Determined Aisha. Cocksure Rama. Damaged Khalida. They all have a part to play. The setting is a multiverse full of diverse worlds from Nevermore to Ariceli and Starsend via a free-trader's hub in the company of a worldly wise opera singer, a renegade Psychorps lieutenant and a boatload of angry scientists. The writing is often lyrical without being overblown, the tension is well-wrought and the pace fairly rattles along.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Raising SteamI so wanted this to be the best Terry Pratchett ever. It isn't, but it ticks several boxes for me. It more or less rounds off the history of Ankh Morpork's ascent to the modern era with the arrival of the steam railway. Though Moist von Lipwig is the central character (and he's never been my favourite) there are glimpses of Vimes (who is my favourite) and a fair bit of Vetinari (and Drumknott). As the railway travels across the face of the Discworld we briefly see landscapes we know and love. It's a farewell piece. We don't get to say goodbye to the witches, however. Maybe that will happen in the, as yet unpublished, fifth Tiffany Aching book.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Heart of StoneLoved this.
Margrit Knight, a lawyer and negotiator in New York City gets involved with a world she never knew existed when she meets Alban - a gargoyle and one of the Old Races.

Someone is killing women in Central Park and Alban has been framed. Who and why? That's the big question. Margrit's homicide detective off-on lover, Tony, thinks he has the answer. Margrit helped to give it to him, but when she listens to Alban's side of the story she realises that she was too hasty. She also realises that she's powerfully attracted to the gargoyle (no, he's not always made of stone) and her rocky relationship with Tony is going to suffer even more.

This is a whodunit and a whydunnit, but it's also about race and acceptance. Margrit is black, from a privileged family and has to examine her own prejudices when she discovers beings in NYC who may not be human but dammit, they're still people. The characters are powerfully drawn, Margrit is a compelling heroine, fiercely intelligent, dedicated to her job (and her clients) and fearless in the face of danger (even when she probably shouldn't be). The setting and set-up is fascinating and though I'm not usually a sucker for police/lawyer type crime novels the urban fantasy aspects of this drew me right in. I'd like to read more about Margrit and Alban.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Pelquins-ComeSpace opera, adventure, treasure hunting, a motley crew, aliens and some corporate intrigue are the building blocks that form this science fiction tale from Ian Whates. Pelquin is a free trader/ The Comet, his ship, and motley crew, bear some resemblance to the Fireflyesque scenario (no bad thing in my book) in which a rag-tag bunch of adventurers skirt the barely legal side of free trade amongst a collection of worlds. Pelquin, the captain has a lead on a cache of valuable alien artefacts, but to get at them he needs to finance his expedition with a hefty loan from the First Solar Bank. He gets the loan, but also acquires a sharp-suited banker, Drake, who is a lot more than he seems to be, and, when his engineer, Monkey, is injured, Pel casually acquires a young woman replacement who's not quite sure who or what she is, but super-soldier wouldn't be far off the mark.

This is a set-up book for more adventures and so there are a lot of potential avenues unexplored, but on this first showing I'd be happy to read more books set in the dark Angels universe. Some questions are answered, more are asked, so if (like me) you like your spaceship crews a little rough and ready. Morally ambiguous while retaining the general designation of good-guys, this is for you. It's well-paced, twisty and gives a good glimpse into the possibilities of Pelquin's universe. Oh, and it's got a gorgeous cover - art by Jim Burns.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Gideon Smith & the Mechanical GirlGideon Smith, son of a Whitby fisherman from Sandsend is an aficionado of the true adventures of Captain Lucian Trigger, Hero of the British Empire, so when his father's fishing boat is found floating, abandoned, with all the crew lost, Gideon goes looking for answers. There's a strange creature walking the night, one that's scarily reminiscent of a mummy described in one of Trigger's tales, and strange goings on at Lythe Bank. He meets writer Bram Stoker, himself investigating another unexplained abandoned ship and the strange tale of a fierce black dog that came ashore. Unconvinced that Stoker's quest (with Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Dracula's widow) is tied to his own Gideon heads for London to seek help from the redoubtable Captain, on the way rescuing Maria, an automaton powered by pistons, but with a human brain. Once in the capital, a city of stinks, mechanical marvels and plenty of reminders that the British Empire is enormous following the failure of the American War of Independence, he and Maria seek Trigger with the dubious help from a potty-mouthed Fleet Street journalist, Bent. They are bound for disappointment, but gradually a story unfolds that draws all the separate strands together.

A super, steampunky romp with vampires, mummified beasties, airships and automata that starts in Whitby, moves to London, Egypt and back to London again. Well-paced this is obviously only the start of Gideon's adventures due to a large dangling thread at the end. And, indeed, checking up, there's already  one more Smith book published and another to come in September 2015. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
The Devil's Children
The Weathermonger

Changes TrilogyThe big dilemma in reading The Changes is whether to tackle the books in publication order or in internal chronological order. The three books are all snapshots in time and don't feature the same characters. Wisely the omnibus version goes for internal chronology, beginning with The Devil's Children in which we are introduced to a post apocalyptic Britain in which everyone has suddenly developed a horror and hatred of machines. Society has broken down. Even simple machines such as locks have suddenly become ineffable and working machines engender a murderous rage that doesn't stop until the machines have been destroyed. Even the language of machines

We see events through the eyes of Nicky Gore who has sensibly returned home to her house in London to await her parents--parents who never come. After a wait of 28 days, devastated by her abandonment, she takes refuge with a party of Sikhs, strangers and strange to her in their culture. Here she believes she can find succour without the danger of emotional involvement. These people are unfamiliar enough that she will be able to remain aloof.

But the Sikhs haven't been affected by the anti-machine madness as Nicky herself has, so Nicky becomes their canary, able to warn them if they are in danger of drawing attention by acting against what has become the new norm. They travel through the English countryside and eventually find a farm to settle on. The exploration of Sikh culture through Nicky, who seems to have forgotten what she knew about a lot of things (a symptom of the machine-madness), is fascinating and for its time (first published in 1970) made it unusual amongst its contemporaries. It explores xenophobia and the descent into feudalism in a fairly simplistic way

There follows Heartsease, which is set in the 'witch hunt' era of the Changes, and finally The Weathermonger, which sees the solution to the original problem

I was impressed by these books when they were first published and I think they've stood the test of time reasonably well. I note that reviewers are talking about them as YA novels, but their original publication dates them to the timer when YA was barely developing as a concept. Originally these were just classed as children's books and as such I think they are accessible to a wide age range. This is a re-read courtesy of the electronic version from Netgalley, though I still have the original paperbacks on my bookshelf.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Angel on the RopesThere's a lot in this book, inventive world building, a three-dimensional heroine with inherent conflicts and a multi-strand plot which includes class structure, bankruptcy, personal jeopardy, health care, ecological disaster, political unrest and a love triangle. Yes, that's a huge amount for one book to cope with and at times it seems almost too much, and not all the strands are resolved.

The setting is a human colony on Penance, a Dyson Sphere created by (now long-gone) aliens. Amandine is three things, a pacifist Seeker, a circus trapeze artist of extraordinary skill, and a leopard, a human born with a gene mutation that causes spot marks on her skin. Unfortunately it's a common belief that leopards are plague carriers (they aren't) so a zealous sect of Plaguellants is in the business of tracking them down and murdering them, apparently with the approval of the authorities.

Penance society is somewhat bent out of shape. Not only does it allow the indiscriminate persecution of leopards, it has a highly divisive class system whereby the haves, Titans, basically make all the rules to suit themselves. (Hmm, this is sounding familiar.) There's a twisted universal healthcare system which allows (ordinary) folk to insure only one organ, so woe betide if you have a kidney complaint when you chose to insure your liver. Additional healthcare is also available via casinos - you need win the jackpot if you or your loved one needs a medical procedure that you're not insured for. Lose and you're indentured for a number of years to work in any one of a number of menial tasks. Of course the system is stacked against you.

Amandine is a trapeze artists, but she is also part of the Seeker network. In her role as a Seeker she acts as a guide to take endangered leopards to a hidden sanctuary. As the book opens she makes a mess of her assignment. Leopards are killed and she comes to the attention of Brother Sterling, the chief Plaguellant. In the meantime Cristallo, the circus that has sheltered her for seventeen years, is on the verge of bankruptcy and her long term lesbian relationship with Malaga (who runs an Exotica shop) is breaking down. Out in wider society there's a backlash from the Spots, a radical bunch of leopard terrorists who are protesting the situation with indiscriminate violence.

The circus research is impeccable and the descriptions of Amandine's trapeze routines with her catcher, Jango, her heart-brother, are lovingly and viscerally realised in great detail.

Gender roles are open, relationships are bisexual with single or multiple partners. The romance angle is beautifully written, Amandine after breaking up with Malaga meets Nikos, and it's love at first sight. They are soul mates and a pair bond made in heaven. Their love is thrilling, sensual and utterly believable. The reader meets Nikos, a Titan and a healthcare reformer, early in the book without realising the importance of his character (to Amandine) I wish she'd met him earlier because we're halfway through before their relationship starts and I would have liked to see more of that.

The physical world is fascinating though some of the world building is detailed while other bits fade to grey in the distance. Dyson spheres are problematical for human colonisation, but we don't get detailed explanations of how this works technically, just hints about its size and the fact that only some of its atmosphere is human-friendly.

If this review is a little jumbled it's perhaps because there are many facets to address. It's a self-published book and, for me, seems to spread itself too widely, tries to do too much and because of that lacks a little focus. It comments on contemporary society's healthcare issues, radicalisation of the disaffected, the dangers of religious extremism, class structure, and the beneficent effects of art. Any one of those would make a book in itself. There's enough material here for a trilogy.

This book came highly recommended. Perhaps I was expecting too much because I didn't immediately engage with it as well as I had hoped. It took me almost to the halfway point to really get into it and then I found the ending was a bit of a let-down which either went on for too long after the main story arc had finished, or didn't go on for long enough, because though resolution is in sight, it is not achieved. The character that goes through the greatest change is Brother Sterling and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. There are some loose plot threads (The snakehead fish? Malaga?) so I wonder if Ms Schultz is planning to revisit this world.

Downloaded from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Dawn-ExogenesisI've been aware of Octavia Butler's writing for some time, but somehow never managed to get round to reading one of her books. My loss. This won't be my last Butler book..

A devastating nuclear war all but wipes out humanity and the few scattered survivors are rescued by extraterrestrials, the Oankali, a species driven to blend their genes (fairly indiscriminately, it seems) with other intelligent species, changing both species permanently. The first book serves as a first contact book. Lilith wakes from a centuries-long sleep and is gradually introduced to her saviours. At first she finds them terrifying and repulsive. They look like ugly sea-slugs with sensory tentacles all over their bodies instead of eyes/ears/noses. Gradually she gets used to them and comes to understand them a little.

The Oankali have three genders, male, female and the strange ooloi, genderless individuals with the power to manipulate genes, and also with consciousness sharing powers which include mental sexual stimulation between male and female partners of any species. (Threesomes being fun in this case.) After initial tests and acclimatisation to the Oankali, Lilith is charged with the task of waking forty human adults and training them to return to Earth to a rain-forest environment..

What she doesn't tell them at first, because she can hardly bear to think about it herself, is that the Oankali intend the next generation of human children to be Oankali-Human hybrids - a 'better' organism for survival on the recovering Earth.

This book contains a mixture of interesting ideas, weird sex and a deep examination of alienation and 'the other'. The conflict comes between Lilith's desire to remain human and preserve humanity in its original form, and her need to survive. The Oankali believe that humans, left to themselves, will self-destruct. Their controlling, paternalistic, Oankali-know-best attitude gives the humans little choice in the matter, so, of course, they rebel, leaving Lilith caught between her own species and the Oankali who have become her family.

There are several points to make about this book being a product of its time. Octavia Butler was the pioneering American black female writer who wrote about black female characters and paved the way for other writers of colour. Also, this book, published in 1987 was written before Stockholm[*1] Syndrome was a widely recognised phenomenon, but Lilith certainly develops sympathy for the Oankali whom she first sees as her captors, while they see themselves as her rescuers. It's a post-apocalyptic version of Beauty and the Beast, maybe.

[*1] The incident Stockholm Syndrome was eventually named after took place in 1973, but originally went under the catchy name of Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, only later becoming Stockholm Syndrome.
jacey: (blue eyes)
As an ex librarian I have a fondness for anything library-oriented so I wanted to like this a lot - and I did. Invisible LibraryGenevieve Cogman's debut novel is a delight.

Irene is a junior librarian - an agent of the Invisible Library which exists between dimensions, but has access to all the alternate earths in the multiverse. It's purpose is to collect and preserve all the alternate versions of important books that have been published in the various dimensions and the librarians are, essentially, book thieves (or sometimes book-buyers). Getting hold of the book seems more important that the morality of their methodology.

Sent to a steampunky alternate London to collect an important copy of Grimm's Fairyt Tales she's given the bare minimum of information and saddled with a trainee, the elegant and handsome Kai who is eager (maybe over-eager) to have a field assignment since he's been cooped up in the library for the last five years, learning the ropes.

Irene is bonded to the library which gives her certain powers, including being able to speak the language of the library which enables her to commence (mostly) inanimate objects, such as locks to unlock. Kai is not yet bonded but seems to have a skill-set of his own, which is a puzzle to Irene at first.

Irene is wrong-footed even before crossing over into the alternate London by Bradamant, once her mentor and now a rival. Bradamant wants the gig of finding the Grimm, but Irene suspects her motives and her authority and manages to cross over and leave her behind. In the alternate she's given, yet again, a bare minimum of information. This steampunk alternate is inhabited not only by humans, but by fae, werewolves and vampires. It's been infected with chaos, and chaos magic and the library's own powers don't mix. The book's owner, a vampire, has been murdered and the book is missing. Irene goes to investigate and quickly meets Silver, a fae who wants the book, and Vale, the Great Detective - that alternate's analogue of Sherlock Holmes.

Irene and Kai battle mechanical crocodiles, werewolves, silverfish, Bradamant (again) and, most terrifying of all, a renegade librarian who is known for returning the vital organs of those librarians whose paths have crossed his - mostly in separate, neatly wrapped packages. Zeppelins and mechanical hansom cabs are involved as well as a very proper policeman called Singh and an elderly blackmailer. The action takes place across London, including, of course, the British Library and the British Museum

It's well-paced, inventive and a very satisfying read, with Irene and Kai both being engaging and well-drawn protagonists with their own strengths, weaknesses and backstories. Yes there's a hint of attraction between them, but this is anything but a corset romance. I hope this book isn't the last in this universe. I'd love to read more.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Dead HeatThis is a review of an advance uncorrected proof via Netgalley. It's due out in early March 2015.

The Fae's war with humanity, as depicted in the crossover Mercy Thompson series, is escalating and alpha werewolf troubleshooter Charles Cornick and his omega-wolf wife Anna are drawn into some nasty paranormal business while visiting an old friend to buy Anna a new horse.

A powerful fae is on the loose, kidnapping and killing (eventually) human children, replacing them with simulacra. Charles' old friend's grandchild is targeted via a particularly nasty piece of magic, and that involves the werewolves in the investigation.

This is Patricia Briggs usual tight plotting with a huge helping of will-they-won't-they dramatic tension, but what I found just as interesting is the continuing development of the relationship between Charles and Anna and also the examination of friendship between an (almost) immortal being (werewolves live a long time) and their human friends. It all hinges on the nature of love and whether it's better to love and lose, or to refuse to engage for fear of eventually getting hurt.

Charles' non-werewolf friend, Joseph is, indeed an 'old' friend. In the days of his youth he and Charles worked together, fought together and let off steam together. In the end Joseph married Maggie, whom Charles had loved. Now Joseph and Maggie are elderly and Joseph is on his death-bed. Charles steered clear for twenty years because he couldn't bear to see his friend's slow slide into infirmity. Now he has to say goodbye. There's an answer. Joseph could be 'turned,' made werewolf. His father, Hosteen, who still looks like a young man, is a werewolf and alpha of the local pack, but Joseph has chosen to stay human.

Also, the other side of this coin, Anna wants a baby. Werewolves can't carry children because the change from human to wolf causes spontaneous abortion, but Anna has a notion that invitro fertilization and a surrogate mother might work. Technically it's possible, but Charles doesn't want to see a child of his grow, age and die, or be endangered by the nature of the dangerous work Charles is often engaged in, dispensing rough justice to werewolves who become too dangerous to control their appetites.

Their problems are explored as the story progresses, which gives the book a good emotional kick as well as a solid whodunnit plot. As usual Briggs writing is absorbing and Dead Heat is a real page turner. Highly recommended, though if you're not familiar with Briggs' werefolf world, you may want to read some of the other Alpha and Omega books first, beginning with Cry Wolf.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Copper PromiseI read excellent reviews of this book and really wanted to love it. Ultimately, I didn't engage as well as I'd hoped, though I found much to admire. Jen Williams' worldbuilding is excellent. Though the setting is medievalish, she builds a world in which the old gods and their power have been shut away. There are knights, mercenaries, taverns and lords, but it feels anything but generic.

I bounced off the characters, however. The three main ones are basically unlikeable in their selfish disregard for others.  Wydrin of Crosshaven, a hard-drinkin' hard-fightin' female fighter and her friend and companion, Sir Sebastian, a disgraced Knight of Ynnsmouth, who clings to the essence of the Order even though they kicked him out for something heinous, are chancers, mercenary adventurers living from hand to mouth and job to job. The trouble starts when Lord Frith employs them to see him safely into the dangerous underground labyrinth beneath the Citadel - a place from which few return. What could possibly go wrong?

I've never played Dungeons and Dragons, but the first part of this reads like a trip through the Dungeon and yes, there is a Dragon, though it's not your regular kind, this one's a god with a manufactured army of green women warriors, new-born into the world. Frith gets what he wants, in fact he gets more than he bargained for, but only by ignoring the needs of others. An unspeakable horror is released, and our heroes run in the opposite direction. Frith isn't interested in the horror, he's single-mindedly seeking revenge on the people who broke into his castle, killed his family and tortured him for the location of the family vault.

The rest of the book is straightforward quest narrative. They all have to face individual fears, Sebastian's dark secret is finally revealed, though it's well flagged up in advance (and it's not heinous at all). There are gains and losses and a few more gains until they are eventually in a position to do something about the problem they caused in the first place, though many people (thousands?) have already died because of it.

What I didn't know before reading it is that this book comprises four serialized novellas – Ghost of the Citadel, Children of the Fog, Prince of Wounds, and Upon the Ashen Blade. Had I known that in advance it might have accounted for the fragmentary nature which I found almost disorienting at times and is probably what prevented me from engaging as fully as I might have done.

What I did find fascinating were the scenes from the viewpoint of the individuals in the manufactured army as they gradually become self-aware. I could have done with a whole lot more of that kind of thing. they engaged my sympathy even though they were part of the murdering hoard they'd been 'born' to.

I read this in order to read The Iron Ghost, which I have as a review copy from Netgalley. I'm looking forward to finsing out whether their adventures have changed Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Half a KingYarvi is a prince, but a younger son, so not expected to inherit, which is just as well because he was born with a deformed hand and can neither hold a shield nor scale a fortress wall. He's never going to be the man leading an army into battle. He's destined to be a minister and has almost completed his rigorous training when his father and older brother are killed and he's dragged into the limelight - and not to his advantage.

Betrayed by his uncle and surviving only by good fortune and his quick wits, Yarvi is sold into slavery, strapped to a galley oar where he seemingly will stay until he dies, but Yarvi is clever. He's only ever had his wits to rely on in a land where physical prowess counts for everything. And despite the hardscrabble world he's been thrust into Yarvi is essentially kind, though not weak. He's determined to survive and determined to get revenge on his uncle.

When eventually he gets his chance for freedom, he takes a bunch of shipmates with him on a gruelling journey back to his homeland. There's a surprise twist at the end which means Yarvi gets what he wants, but not in the way he expected to get it and not without consequences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I see some reviewers have dubbed it Abercrombie-lite because compared to the author's earlier books this is nowhere near as grimdark, however they don't seem to have taken into account that it's written with young people in mind. The story is more simple, more accessible than the First Law Trilogy, but no poorer for all that. It's a coming of age story with a physically flawed protagonist that kept me hooked. In fact - I only intended to read a chapter but I couldn't put it down. I read the whole lot in one sitting without even coming up for air or coffee. That's a real page turner.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Wild cardThis is a prequel novella in Lisa Shearin's Raine Benares series detailing her first meeting with Tam Nathratch, the one-time dark Goblin mage turned casino owner. Raine is a magical seeker, finding goods and people that have gone astray. Between them Raine, Tam and Raine's piratical cousin, Phelan, get involved with reclaiming jewels that have been used to store the stolen souls of children.

It's a fairly straightforward plot, but Shearin's strengths are character, pace and voice and this has all of her trademark quirks in good measure. It serves as a good intro to her world and a nice revisit for those of us who have read all of the Raine Benares series beginning with Magic Lost, Trouble Found. A quick read. Recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Night CircusA literary fantasy set in the final years of the nineteenth century, ostensibly about a mysterious and wonderful circus which appears suddenly and is only open from dusk to dawn. But the circus - a collection of sideshows rather than the three-ring variety - is only half the story. The underlying story is a contest between two magicians, played out through their students acting as the protagonists. The reason the circus has been created is as a venue for the ongoing contest, a somewhat confusing affair in which neither the students nor the reader knows the rules.

The contest is basically a nature versus nurture contest. One student is the genetic daughter of Prospero an actual magician masquerading as a popular stage magician. His bastard daughter, Celia Bowen, is dumped on his doorstep when her mother commits suicide and Prospero quickly binds her (magically) into a lifelong competition with his rival's protegee, Marco, an orphan picked up off the street.

SPOILERS AHEAD: The circus, weird and wonderful, is the venue for their contest which (we learn later) will only end when one of them dies. In the meantime, though both are told of the contest neither is given a list of rules. Marco goes to work for Chandresh Lefevre, the rich impresario who owns the circus (and believes it to be his own idea, not realising how much he is being manipulated). Marco works on creating magical illusions from the outside. Celia, in the meantime, becomes the circus illusionist, travelling with the circus and working from the inside. Marco knows who Celia is, but it's many years before Celia discovers who her opponent is.

Despite this being a contest to the death, there's no sense of urgency, little dramatic tension and the whole thing in more like a collaboration than a competition. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace with sumptuous descriptions of the magical circus attractions, side-forays into the team of people Chandresh draws about him to create mechanical marvels and elegant costumes, (resulting in around fifteen point of view characters which dilutes any focus you might expect the novel to have). There's a sub-plot about American farm-boy Bailey and his growing relationship with the circus-born twins, Poppet and Widget which eventually ties into the solution to the contest.

The viewpoint shifts between omniscient and all these (15) characters. The tense shifts queasily between present and past. At times reading this book is like walking on quicksand while wearing a pair of sparkling magical fairy slippers.

Did I enjoy it? In a way. I enjoyed the imagination, but the playing out of the actual storyline was slow. Marco and Celia fall in love (eventually) and there is a resolution but there's no triumph or tragedy and the sociopathic magicians who started the whole process get neither a real result nor a comeuppance.

April 2019

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