Book Review – Hustlers, Harlots and Heroes by Krista D. Ball

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Get ready to step into the back alleys of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens’s London, and explore the alternative worlds of steampunk in this new guide book by fantasy author Krista D. Ball. Ball takes readers on a fascinating journey into the world of the Have-Nots, and explores the bustling, crime-ridden London during the Georgian and Victorian eras. Discover the world of knocker-uppers (it’s not what you think), mudlarks, and costermongers. Learn how to scrub floors and polish knives, pick for bones, and catch rats. Learn about race and social status, and the difference between a lady’s maid and a scullery maid. With her usual wit, insight, and snark, Ball gives historical, romance, and steampunk authors the tools to create vibrant, realistic worlds. Whether you’re an author, a Janeite, or just a fan of history, Hustlers, Harlots, and Heroes gives you a fresh look into the dark past.

Review:

So, one of the Fantasy Bingo squares is non-fiction relating to Fantasy and so this was my pick for it. I got a free copy from the author during a celebration of 2 years since she quit her job to focus on writing and finally got around to reading it.

This is a very well researched book and I would highly recommend it to anybody thinking of writing a novel in this time period. It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into it and the endnotes and bibliography are fantastic (I adore books with great bibliographies and the bonus for this one is that a lot of the books mentioned are now in the public domain)

What makes this stand out though is the author, it reads like you’re sitting with your friend in the pub and she’s excitedly telling you all these awesome facts that she recently learned while doing research for her novel. The author has such a great voice and includes plenty of humour amongst the facts – I also particularly enjoyed reading about trying to re-create the experiences such as follow old recipes and cleaning in a period outfit. I’m a big fan of history and this was a fantastic and vivid way of bringing it to life, it almost makes me want to start writing a novel set in Victorian London just so I can use all this new knowledge!

If you’re taking part in the Fantasy Bingo, I highly recommend this for the non-fiction square. If you enjoy history or are planning on writing a novel set during this time period then I recommend this as a source of excellent information with a good bibliography to lead you to further sources. Finally, if you don’t like reading non-fiction because you think it’s not as interesting, I recommend this as it had me hooked! Basically, I adored this book and would highly recommend it to everybody.

Book Review – Embassytown by China Miéville

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak. Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language. When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

Review:

I’m a big fan of Miéville’s work and am slowly working my way through all of his books. This one was recommended to me because it focuses on Language and well, that sounded fascinating so I just had to read it! Like all his books, these are novels that you don’t read quickly as there’s just so much to take in. It took me ages to read this book as I got interrupted halfway through and as it requires a lot of concentration, I’d just been too tired from work. Finally though, I finished it and it was absolutely brilliant, as I’ve come to expect from him.

The main character, Avice, is a simile. When she was a child, the Hosts or Ariekei, made her perform certain actions so that they could then use her in their language to express abstract ideas. In the Ariekei language, speech is thought and so they cannot lie and rely on the humans to express more complex ideas. The main focus of the novel is that of Language and how it works. It’s linguistically fascinating due to the fact that it requires two humans, in perfect sync, to be able to speak it and these are known as Ambassadors. These Ambassadors are usually bred specifically for the task and are identical clones of each other, undergoing alterations each day to ensure they continue to look identical.

I was absolutely enthralled by this novel and honestly, even if the plot was awful I would have enjoyed it just for all the interesting analysis of how language works. Luckily, the plot is excellent and explores what happens when a new Ambassador arrives who is unlike any of the previous ones.

It’s rather difficult to talk in too much detail about what happens but the worldbuilding, as always with Miéville is absolutely fantastic and is the main reason I continue to read his work. The descriptions manage to constantly convey that slightly alien feeling about the world and the inhabitants. We slowly learn more as the book goes on and it’s a constant delight and full of surprises.

I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of SFF, as I’m a huge fan of Miéville. His work is challenging so I recognise that it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely worth it and I recommend sticking with it as it just kept getting better and better the more I read.

Book Review – The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a Wizarding classic, first came to Muggle readers’ attention in the book known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Now, thanks to Hermione Granger’s new translation from the ancient runes, we present this stunning edition with an introduction, notes, and illustrations by J. K. Rowling, and extensive commentary by Albus Dumbledore. 

Never before have Muggles been privy to these richly imaginative tales: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump,” and of course, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” But not only are they the equal of fairy tales we now know and love, reading them gives new insight into the world of Harry Potter.

Review:

Despite being a big fan of Harry Potter, I somehow never got around to reading it when it came out and then just kinda forgot about it. Luckily, thanks to the Down the TBR Tag I decided to request it from the library to get it off the list, especially since it’s a very short book so didn’t take me long at all.

The stories in this book are okay, they’re nothing particularly special compared to most fairy tales. However, where this book really shines is the fact that the tales contain commentary written by Dumbledore with comments about the academic value of these texts and the history of the various translations. This is actually very similar to what I did at Uni (except I studied medieval Irish tales instead of ones from the Wizarding World) and so I loved it. There’s also various little notes and lovely illustrations in the book.

I can’t believe it took me this long to finally read it, and I would definitely recommend this to any fans of Harry Potter. If you’re not a fan, it’s probably not something you would enjoy as on their own as there are much better fairytales out there but you might still enjoy it for the comments afterwords.

Book Review – The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men – and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. “The Stars My Destination” is a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction. 

Review:

As I mentioned in my review for The House of Shattered Wings, I like trying to read a book from every shelf at my local bookstore and so along with reading a Fantasy novel, I also chose a Sci-Fi novel from the same shelf to read – especially as this had actually been on my to-read list for quite a while.

I went into this book knowing almost nothing beyond the synopsis. The world is ours, but in the future where we have space travel and colonies on other planets. There is a dispute between the outer colonies and the original planets over resources and that is the backdrop to the novel.

The main character, Gully Foyle, is the sole survivor on his ship and and when a nearby ship passes by and doesn’t stop to rescue him, he is consumed by thoughts of revenge on that ship. He becomes determined to survive and will learn as much as he can in order to achieve this goal.

The book follows Gully throughout his travels to get his revenge as he learns more about the ship that passed him over and the reasons behind that decision. Along the way, we meet several other characters that aid him in this quest, each with their own motivations.

The ability to “jaunte” is something that plays an important role in the novel, this allows users to teleport around and Gully Foyle is particularly skilled at this. Various methods have been devised in order to prevent jaunting and this leads to some interesting worldbuilding.

I’m very glad I picked this book up and I really enjoyed reading it and seeing the development of Gully throughout the novel. It’s definitely one I’d recommend to fans of Sci-Fi and I definitely plan on trying to read more of Bester’s work.

Book Review – A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The brilliant, mind-bending return to science fiction by one of its most acclaimed visionaries

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

Review:

I received an ARC of this from Angry Robots as I was immediately intrigued as soon as I saw the cover of this book and the description sounded fascinating. It says Science Fiction although this could also easily be classed as Urban Fantasy and would definitely appeal to fans of that sub-genre.

The best part of this book is the setting, which is absolutely stunning. The city is split into two sections – Dayzone and Nocturna. In Dayzone, the sky is made up of layers and layers of brightly coloured bulbs so that it is always day, while in Nocturna it’s almost permanently dark and the constellations are made up of the few remaining bulbs high up. To travel between the two halves, you need to take a train that travels via Dusk which is the shadowy region between the two.

Many characters, like Nyquist, have homes in both Dayzone and Nocturna letting them choose when they wish it to be night. Another excellent addition to the world-building is the concept of time. The idea of having permanent day and night is already enough to play with the usual concepts of time, but in this city everybody is also on different timelines and you can choose which ones you want and change as you travel. Nyquist is always fiddling with his wristwatch to update it to the timeline of his current area such as updating the time in the pub so that he’s able to drink.

The plot of the story starts out as your basic missing persons case, but develops into much more than that as Eleanor Bale, the missing woman, turns out to be much more important to the city than first thought. I won’t mention too much of the plot as being a mystery, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. The main character is Nyquist who I really enjoyed reading about, and the rest of the side characters are all fantastic and well-written with interesting backgrounds and motives. Eleanor in particular was really enjoyable to read about and I loved it as we slowly discovered more about her and her background.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would have recommended it just for the amazing world-building alone, however having fantastic characters and an excellent plot means that this is definitely a novel worth reading and I struggled at times to put it down.

Book Review – The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette De Bodard

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Paris in the aftermath of the Great Magicians War. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black, thick with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, now lies in disarray. Its
magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something
from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires‘ salvation; or the architects of its last, irreversible fall . . .

Review:

This is a book I chose to start reading for a very trivial reason but I’m so glad I did because it’s fantastic. Every time I go to a bookshop, I play a game in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section where I see how many shelves I’ve read a book from. Last time I did this, there was only one shelf I didn’t “have” and so naturally I just had to read a book from it (actually I read two, just to be extra certain). This book sounded fascinating and the cover is just beautiful so I just had to read it. Best part is that since it’s urban Fantasy and the author lives in France, I’m counting this as my French entry for my Read Around the World challenge.

The setting for this novel is absolutely fantastic. It’s set in Paris, but not the Paris we all know and love. This Paris is the decaying remains of the once great city with ruins everywhere and the Seine is now a lurking source of danger. In this novel, many of the characters are either humans or Fallen, who are the Fallen Angels from Heaven that have been cast out.

Our main characters are Philippe who is neither mortal nor a Fallen and Isabelle, a newly arrived Fallen and together they are bound by some sort of link. Isabelle is rescued by house Silverspires and the novel focuses on both her and Philippe as they, along with other members of the house, work on trying to figure out what is haunting House Silverspires.

There is quite a bit of diversity in this book which is always great to see in Urban Fantasy. Philippe himself is from Vietnam and quite a few of the major characters are in same-sex relationships.

What originally was chosen as a book just to complete a personal challenge turned out to be a fantastic Urban Fantasy which I absolutely adored and I’m definitely planning on both reading the next in the series and of trying to get the rest of her books as I was a huge fan of both the plot and the writing itself which I found very descriptive.

For those looking to get into Urban Fantasy, this is a book I would highly recommend. It’s a genre that I don’t read much of but from what I’ve read, this is by far one of my favourites.

Book Review – An Oath of Dogs by Wendy N Wagner

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Kate Standish has been on Huginn less than a week and she s already pretty sure her new company murdered her boss. But extractions corporations dominate the communities of the forest world, and few are willing to threaten their meal tickets to look too closely at corporate misbehaviour. The little town of mill workers and farmers is more worried about the threat of eco-terrorism and a series of attacks by the bizarre, sentient dogs of this planet, than a death most people would like to believe is an accident. When Standish connects a secret chemical test site to a nearly forgotten disaster in Huginn’s history, she reveals a conspiracy that threatens Standish and everyone she’s come to care about.

Review:

I received this as an e-Arc from the publisher as I’m a big fan of Angry Robot and as soon as I saw the cover for this, I just had to read it. It’s a sci-fi novel set on the planet Huginn which is earth-like but with very different native flora and fauna. Kate arrives to find her boss dead and so she slowly tries to figure out what happened as she learns more about the society which compromises mill workers and a group of religious people called Believers.

Kate’s story is also interspersed with entries from the diary of one of the Believers back when they first settled on the planet and these are very fascinating as one aspect of Sci-Fi that I love is the early settler period where they are discovering all the differences from earth and trying to figure out how to make a living on the planet.

The characters are all fantastic and I just adore Kate. She has a service dog, Hattie, who is by far one of my favourite characters because I adore dogs. I’m breaking my no-spoilers policy here to mention that Hattie does not die. I spent a lot of the book worrying about that and I would have enjoyed it much more if I’d known that going in, and I also know that some people might not want to read it unless they had that guarantee so don’t worry – the dog lives! The other characters are all very interesting too and the Believers in particular are very interesting to read about – especially as you slowly learn more of their history through the diary.

I really enjoyed this novel, it’s exactly the kind of Sci-Fi that I adore with strange alien biology, stories of settlers trying to make a living and it has an adorable dog in it. I would definitely recommend this novel to those that enjoy Sci-Fi as it’s just excellent and I can’t wait for it to be released to I can make my friends read it.

Book Review – Godblind by Anna Stephens

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year

There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire.

That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost.

But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable.

Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains…

GODBLIND is an incredible debut from a dazzling new voice of the genre.

Review:

I received an e-ARC of this from the publishers and I was quite excited due to it being marketed as Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year and the title just grabbed me. It’s also exciting as it’s a Grimdark novel written by a women when up until now, most of the well-known Grimdark authors were men.

The story itself is told through a variety of POV characters spread throughout the kingdoms of Rilpor and Mireces. We have characters from both kingdoms although it’s made very clear which characters are “good” and which are not. The chapters in the book are very short, jumping around a lot between all the characters which was slightly difficult at first as it didn’t give much time to get used to a character before jumping away to yet another one, however as you get deeper this lets you progress much faster and I definitely fell into the “just one more chapter” trap multiple times. It also means that if you’re not a fan of a particular character then you don’t have to spend ages with them until you get back to a chapter of your favourite.

The characters themselves are all excellent and well-written and I adored seeing their growth throughout the novel. In particular, my two favourite characters are Rillirin and Crys as they really grow throughout the novel.

I won’t say too much about the plot because part of the enjoyment came from it slowly being revealed and constant twists that made it very hard to predict what would happen next but it was very enjoyable.

The writing is excellent and very descriptive – I was able to really picture many of the locations mentioned and the world building was excellent – I very much enjoyed learning about the various Gods in the world and their goals. The book is almost 500 pages long however it doesn’t feel long at all and I just sped through the second half of the book.

The one thing that disappointed me was that this is the first in a series which wasn’t made clear when I requested it. I feel if I’d known that, I would have given it a higher rating as I would have read it differently. However, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be picking up the rest of her books when they come out.

I would definitely recommend this book to any fans of Grimdark Fantasy, particularly those wanting Grimdark with strong and well-written female characters. Because it’s Grimdark, there is obviously a lot of gruesome aspects involved and so I need to include trigger warnings for rape, torture and violence.

Book Review – So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

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Goodreads Synopsis:

It is not only the fact that this is the most deeply felt presentation of the female condition in African fiction that gives distinction to this novel, but also its undoubted literary qualities, which seem to place it among the best novels that have come out of our continent. – West Africa

This novel is a perceptive testimony to the plight of articulate women who live in social milieux dominated by attitudes and values that deny them their proper place. It is a sequence of reminiscences, some wistful, some bitter, recounted by a recently widowed Senegalese school teacher. The letter, addressed to an old friend, is a record of her emotional struggle for survival after her husband’s abrupt decision to take a second wife. Although his action is sanctioned by Islam, it is a calculated betrayal of his wife’s trust and a brutal rejection of their life together.

Review:

So this is another book I picked up for my “Read Around the World” challenge, this time from Senegal! It’s a very short novel and so was a very quick read but it was very powerful and incredibly interesting and I feel I learnt a lot about Senegal through reading it.

The book takes the form of letters, and I really enjoy epistolary novels when they’re written well, which this book certainly is. Ramatoulaye’s husband, Modou, has just died and so she has entered the mourning period and discussing this with her friend in a lot of detail and including information about how she dealt with being a co-wife and being abandoned by her husband for a younger woman.

The characters in this novel are all excellent and very well-written. I really loved Ramatoulaye and found myself hooked to find out more of what was happening in her life. The book mentions several other strong female characters and given the time that this book was written, it’s excellent to see how well they are represented and you can really see how strongly the author feels about the role of women in Senegal.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novella and would definitely recommend it as I feel it’s so short and so fascinating that anybody that wants to broaden their reading should give it a go because it doesn’t take long at all to finish it and it was such a rewarding experience.

Book Review – Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of love, money, and family conflict – among Dragons.

A family deals with the death of their father.
A son goes to court for his inheritance.
Another son agonises over his father’s deathbed confession.
One daughter becomes involved in the abolition movement, while another sacrifices herself for her husband.


And everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw. Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses… in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather to eat the body of the deceased. In which the great and the good avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing stronger thereby. You have never read a novel like Tooth and Claw.

Review:

I picked up this book for the “Fantasy of Manners” square on Fantasy Bingo due to a number of recommendations I saw for it and I am so glad I did because I adored this book. I am already a big fan of dragons and always excited to read new books including dragons but this just takes everything to a whole new level with the fantastic worldbuilding and characters.

The novel follows the story of the children of Bon Agornin who passes away at the start of the book. The two younger daughters have to deal with being separated and worry about making good matches while one son is enraged by the behaviour of his brother-in-law regarding the inheritance and so takes him to court. This novel is very Victorian in feeling and I loved all the little glimpses we saw of the dragon society including things such as the importance of wearing the right sort of hat, or that of how the female dragon skin colour changes when she is close with a male. Each character has their own focus and I just couldn’t put the book down as all of them were so compelling to read.

The writing in this is lovely and I felt myself being carried away into their world and unable to put the book down. I’m incredibly happy I read this and I’m already looking to read more of Jo Walton’s books because of how much I adored this. Words cannot express just how much I recommend this book, and due to the heavy Victorian themes I feel it is a novel that even those that aren’t fans of Fantasy will enjoy. If you’re doing the Fantasy Bingo, you should definitely check this out for one of your squares. I’m tempted to read a couple more Fantasy of Manners book now though given how much I enjoyed this one.