Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, written by Tania Del Rio and illustrated by Will Staehle was a wonderful surprise. It is the second book inWarren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, written by Tania Del Rio and illustrated by Will Staehle was a wonderful surprise. It is the second book in the Warren the 13th series, after Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, which came out last November. The Warren books are illustrated middle grade novels and I’d situate them at the younger end of the age bracket, more 9-10 than 11-12. I haven’t read the first book, but I found that the second book works quite well as a standalone story. I must admit though that I’m curious to read the first book and find out what happened, because it’s bound to be a fantastic story.
Del Rio’s writing reads easily and is also a pleasure to read aloud, so it should be a fun book to read together with a young middle-grader. The reading experience is enhanced by the gorgeous illustrations created by Will Staehle. I really like Staehle’s style, which is quirky and reminiscent of the old-fashioned engravings often found in eighteenth and nineteenth century books and papers. The art compliments the sensibility of the story perfectly and enhances it as well.
Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods is a very cute story, populated with endearing characters, wonderful villains, and an awesome journey of discovery. Both Warren and Petula learn a lot about themselves and about the world they live in, not in the last place that you can always surprise yourself by being more than you thought you were, whether that is more capable, braver, cleverer, or more determined.
Warren has a great adventure trying to rescue his hotel, one where he has to solve riddles and puzzles, fight witches and assorted ne’er-do-wells, and learn that things aren’t always as they seem. In this case, Sir Sap, the sap-squatch, who I adored. I really liked this truly civilised creature, who’s cultivated speech and good manners shock Warren a lot. I also really liked Petula’s mum Beatrice and the way she communicated via cards, because she lost her voice to a witch. But perhaps my favourite was Warren’s pet Sketchy, a kind of multi-eyed cephalopod. He was just the cutest thing and I loved how he saves the day several times just by virtue of his own unique nature and quick thinking.
Warren is a great hero in a wonderful world, where hotels can walk, trees can talk, and witches try to rule everything. I really enjoyed Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods and I hope to share it and its predecessor with my daughters in the future. You can pick up your own copy of the book when it is published on March 21.
This book was provided for review by the publisher....more
Genevieve Cogman’s The invisible Library series is one of my favourite series of the past years. I love the setting and sensibility of the books, whicGenevieve Cogman’s The invisible Library series is one of my favourite series of the past years. I love the setting and sensibility of the books, which in many ways reminds me of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds books, which is one of my favourite series of all time. Getting to spend more time with Irene and Kai is always a treat and on that note The Burning Page definitely didn’t disappoint.
The book dealt with some interesting fallout from the last book, The Masked City, what with Kai’s nature revealed and the added interference of his uncle’s court. And there is the added complication of what extended exposure to Chaos has done to Vale and how to re-establish his equilibrium. All of which Irene will need to solve without putting a foot wrong as she’s been put on probation by the Library.
The central theme to The Burning Page is trust and where to place it. Irene needs to figure out who to trust and to what extent. She knows she can trust Kai without question, yet to what extent will the greater involvement of his family in his life will complicate matters is unclear, especially since he keeps hinting that moving into the dragon embassy in Vale’s world would be so much safer for them. Similarly, Vale’s loyalty should be beyond doubt, yet his erratic behaviour due to his chaos infestation makes him unpredictable. Similarly, how much can she trust Bradamant, Zayanna, and the Library establishment who all seem to want to help her, yet all could have their own agenda too. Irene has to make some really difficult and messy choices and Cogman showed Irene’s inner conflict about it very well.
Alberich is back and he is a such a cool villain. He is a complete sociopath and utterly unlikable which makes him a great foil for our heroes. If there is one thing about The Burning Page that left me a bit iffy is one of the reveals pulled out of the hat regarding Alberich and Irene. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but it seemed to signal the introduction of a very well-known genre trope. However, I sort of trust Cogman to either be really original in the execution or to completely pull the rug out from under me in the next book, so it didn’t make me throw the book at the wall (yet). Still, I absolutely loved the scenes where Irene confronts Alberich and the way she tracks him down. She’s such a bad-ass!
The Burning Page not just provides us with a cracking adventure, but it also packs in a ton of world-building, sometimes without the reader even noticing. For example, while we ostensibly are reading about the way Irene’s romantically being torn between Vale and Kai (TEAM KAI FTW), we also learn about dragon society, through Kai’s casual suggestion that it wouldn’t bother him if Irene was involved with both him and Vale at the same time, because that wouldn’t be a problem in dragon society. Not only does that illustrate that dragon society is more liberal in their relationship mores, they are also perhaps less patriarchal as they might come across at first glance.
If The Masked City revealed more about Kai’s heritage, The Burning Page shows us more about Irene’s background and possibly her parentage. I really hope that in one of the next books we actually get to meet her parents and learn more about the questions that were raised in this book. What we do learn a lot more about is the nature of the Library and how its universe works. There is some really nitty-gritty explanations for how the various worlds are connected and how they function, which I totally loved. I also loved the warren of Alberich’s home plane(t) and the nightmarish appearance of what should have been a paradise to Irene. The labyrinthine threat of Alberich’s library and the constant menace it exudes were fabulous and the ending completely slayed my nerves.
The Burning Page is another great instalment in The Invisible Library series and I had a great time with it. I’m so happy that books four and five have already been announced by the publisher. I can’t wait to return to the Library and see what Irene, Kai and their friends will get up to in the next book, because it seems as if library leadership is due for a wake-up call. If you haven’t checked out this series yet, please do, because it is so much fun and I highly recommend it. If you’ve read the previous books, you probably won’t need much persuading to read the next one, but you really, really should!
Tina Connolly’s Seriously Wicked is the first book in her series about teen witch Camellia. I actually read the second book, Seriously Shifted first aTina Connolly’s Seriously Wicked is the first book in her series about teen witch Camellia. I actually read the second book, Seriously Shifted first and I liked it so much that I immediately went and bought this one, because I wanted to know what happened in the first book. And Seriously Wicked was just as much fun as I’d hoped. Cam and her friends are delightful and I really loved how Connolly approached the relationship between Cam and her mum.
Before I dive into the characters though, I wanted to comment on the world-building. It was great. I really liked that the witch world exists side-by-side with the non-magical world and that there are witchy alternates for everyday things, such as Witchipedia, the WitchNet, and the witch-only mobile network. Connolly also uses traditional lore and mythic creatures to inhabit her magical world, such as dragons, phoenixes, pixies, and demons, but she gives them a twist of her own. Such as the surviving dragons all being female, because the males were the aggressive ones that were killed off by our medieval knights and pixies actually looking like winged frogs instead of tiny little fairies. The structure of the magic spells Cam needs to decipher was cool as well, holding the middle ground between riddles and maths problems. Also…Who knew fanny packs could actually serve a cool purpose?
But while the world-building was fun and I really enjoyed it, the heart of this novel is in its characters. Cam is at its centre, but her relationships are varied and interesting. My favourite was her friendship with Jenah. They were such wonderful friends and there is such a sense of trust and their bond is so strong. Not to mention that Jenah is just too cool for school. The two other main relationships and characters in play are Cam’s mum, Sarmine, and new boy Devon. I really loved how Connolly built up Cam’s relationship with Sarmine and the reveal she put in at the end. The tension between normal teenage rebellion against your parents and Cam’s view of her mum was finely tuned, making her a somewhat unreliable portrayer of her mum. Another supremely teeny element to Cam’s character is her instant crush on Devon. I love her split-second identification of him as a boy-band boy, which while technically correct doesn’t do Devon justice. I really liked Devon when he was himself, though I have to admit, Demon Devon was also rather cool.
Of course there are a number of additional characters that were a lot of fun. Former friend and current mean girl/queen bee Sparkle was fabulous and I really liked how Connolly wove her into the narrative. Kelvin, Cam’s maths tutor and unlikely source for goat’s blood, whose clumsy attempt at trying to get her to go to prom with him, was both endearing, but also really very creepy and I really loved how Cam put him in his place. And of course there was Estahoth, the demon who accidentally possesses Devon. He is a demon and a completely sleaze ball, but I actually kind of liked him.
In the end, everyone in the story has to decide who they want to be and to accept who they are, whether that is a witch, a boy-band boy, or a dragon. Seriously Wicked exudes such a sense of fun that I found myself grinning at its pages more than once. I breezed through its pages and I was sad to reach the end. If you want to get a taste of what this series is like, you can check out That Seriously Obnoxious Time I Was Stuck at Witch Rimelda’s One Hundredth Birthday Party on Tor.com as it is both a very entertaining read and gives a good sense of the tone of the book. But if Seriously Wicked sounds at all like your cup of tea, I seriously recommend you give it a read, because it was one of the funniest books I’ve read in the past year....more
Nancy K. Wallace’s Grim Tidings is the second book of her series The Wolves of Llisé. The first book Among Wolves was one I enjoyed tremendously andNancy K. Wallace’s Grim Tidings is the second book of her series The Wolves of Llisé. The first book Among Wolves was one I enjoyed tremendously and it was a pleasure to return to Llisé to see how the story continued. We’re reunited with Devin, Gaspard and Marcus and this time with Armand and Chastel added to their band. The plot thickens and the villains become more clearly identified, even if their motives — apart from a desire for power — remain vague.
The theme of information as power remains central as it was in the previous book. In Among Wolves the emphasis was on how history is written by the victors and how the unsanctioned oral histories of the Provinces were a subversive influence on their peoples. Yet Grim Tidings focuses more on how lack of information or, even worse, misinformation is a political tool and that even the written record can be corrupted and thus be unreliable. It is a theme that is quite resonant with current events, given the proliferation of fake news and concerns around how governments might spin their numbers.
So much of this book is about trust; who can Devon trust and who should be distrusted? Gaspard’s loyalty remains in doubt after the events of the previous book, at least I remained dubious of him, far longer than Devon was. Madame Aucoin’s manservant Jules is equally suspicious, not because he would be disloyal to the Aucoin family, far from it—it is exactly this loyalty that makes his intentions toward Devon suspect. And even Devon’s own father comes under suspicion, as Devon discovers facts that cast him in a possible unflattering light. There is an interesting mirroring between Devon’s uncertainty about his father’s character and Gaspard’s complete certainty about his own father’s bad faith. I like that while Gaspard is totally persuaded of the need to take out his father and is truly repulsed by him and his actions, he still is conflicted about it, because he has a hard time setting aside his filial feelings. It makes him so much more human and believable; it was actually the thing that made me trust him again.
My favourite new characters in this book were Angelique and her grandmother, Madame Aucoin. They bring a much needed female perspective to the book, which was lacking after Jeanette’s disappearance. I really liked Madame Aucoin’s quiet presence and influence and her introduction also allows for some interesting revelations about the recent history of Llisé. Angelique is a fascinating character. Her traumatic losses and her isolated upbringing have made her into a sometimes somewhat sinister young woman, who can come across as if she is planning something dastardly, and at the same time seems sweet and naive. She has an unexpected well of strength and determination which I really liked. I look forward to seeing how she develops in the next book.
If there is one thing readers should be aware of when starting Grim Tidings, it is that the book ends on a major cliff hanger. And by major, I mean colossal. I know that people can be really disturbed by major cliff hangers, so fair warning. While I was taken by surprise, it also means that I want the next book ASAP, because I want to know what happens next. So for me the ending absolutely worked. If you haven’t checked out The Wolves of Llisé, I would recommend starting with the previous book, Among Wolves, but make sure to have Grim Tidings on hand so you can immediately plunge on into the next part of the story.
Seriously Shifted is the second book in Tina Connolly’s Seriously Wicked series but it is actually the one I read first. And it was such a fabulous reSeriously Shifted is the second book in Tina Connolly’s Seriously Wicked series but it is actually the one I read first. And it was such a fabulous read that immediately took to the internet and ordered the first book, because I had to know how Cam’t story started. However, it is important to note that Seriously Shifted stands on its own very well. I never felt lost or like I’d missed some vital information. As such, if you haven’t read Seriously Wicked yet, you shouldn’t hesitate to start with Seriously Shifted, because it is a complete story on its own.
Having accepted her witchy heritage, in Seriously Shifted Cam needs to work out how she can combine her principles and her desire to do no harm with the actual practice of doing magic. Since so many spell ingredients are dependent on animal parts she’s having a hard time figuring out how to tweak them to make them animal-friendly. And of course there is the age-old question whether love spells are ethical. If you make someone fall in love with someone they do not like, is that evil? Watching Cam thinking through these dilemmas and trying to judge when the ends justify the means, if ever, was not only a lot of fun, but it also made me think of how hard it is to square away ideals with reality. This is something that is uniquely interwoven with growing up and creating your own identity when you are a teen, but it is also something that is universal to many ages. I’m long past my teens and I still find myself struggling to work out how to make peace between my ideals and what is actually possible and realistic. (One example: I’d never say “Because I say so” to my kids, I’d always explain why. Six years in, I laugh at my idealistic naivety!)
With the question of when do the ends justify the means the central thematic question for Cam in this book, Connolly builds a highly entertaining story for Cam to explore this in. Cam’s mum has visitors in the form of her old friend group from university, the self-styled Do Badders Club. I thought these witches were hilarious. They were absolutely wicked and obviously unapologetic for that fact. Traditionally they have a bet every reunion and this time that bet means trouble for Cam. I loved the way Cam tried to ferret out which witch picked which student through logical deduction and managed to miss some of the completely obvious signs of her own role as victim. I also loved that she is determined to help the victims and protect them from any ill effects, but that this leads directly to her having to confront the clash between her morals and expediency.
Cam is less alone in this book as well. Since Jenah and Devon have discovered her true nature in Seriously Wicked, she now has two allies who can help her keep people safe, not to mention the fact that there are a few more people who join that select group. In a way, Cam collects her own Scooby Gang around her and I really liked the dynamics between the various members. One unexpected addition is the school’s star quarterback Leo, who turns out to have some special abilities of his own and definitely needs protecting. I loved how he became a slight hitch in the developing romance between Cam and Devon, but that Devon ultimately trusts Cam. Leo is a fascinating character in and of himself though, separate from his role in the romance. His home life and the difference between what he seems and what he is like as a person were very cool.
Seriously Shifted was another hilarious read from Tina Connolly, dealing with some heavier themes with a very light touch. I had a fantastic time with this story and it has definitely got me hooked on the series. I very much hope there will be more books featuring Cam and the gang, because I can’t wait to spend more time in this universe.
Robin Talley’s As I Descended is her third book. Talley’s previous books What We Left Behind and Lies We Tell Ourselves received great acclaim and herRobin Talley’s As I Descended is her third book. Talley’s previous books What We Left Behind and Lies We Tell Ourselves received great acclaim and her latest sounded fascinating. Set at a prestigious boarding school, featuring a lesbian couple, feuds, and power struggles, it seemed as if it would make for an awesome read. And it was, quite compellingly so, but it was also a book I don’t quite know what to make of in the end.
Let’s start with the thing I completely missed—As I Descended is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I didn’t know that going in and if it hadn’t been mentioned in the acknowledgements, I would never have known. I do have to confess I’m an indifferent scholar of Shakespeare. I read a number of his plays for classes at university — I even read MacBeth — but the only plays I would probably recognise in a rewritten format are Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice. So my not recognising the book’s connection to the Scottish Play isn’t that surprising, but it does make me wonder how much I missed or whether I would have appreciated the book differently if I had known about its inspiration.
The book is a taut psychological thriller with a fuzzy line between the supernatural and mental health. Even at the end of the book, I don’t know how much was due to the presence of actual ghosts and their malevolent influence and how much was just due to a mental imbalance in the two protagonists. It makes for some extremely unreliable narration, with the only points of view whose truthfulness I never doubted being Brandon’s and Mateo’s. Talley skilfully plays with the difference between the appearance of madness and actually being unhinged, and how these two things are related and can be s(t)imulated through other means, such as drugs.
The stars of the book are Maria and Lily, a closeted couple, that must maintain the appearance of just being best friends and roommates, while at the same time trying to ensure the fact that they will be able to remain together after graduation. This would be stressful enough for any teen, but when they hold a seance that goes awry, things spiral out of control. Lily and Maria see themselves as the heroes in their story, and not just the heroes but the good guys to boot, something which is clearly not the case when seen from the outside. I found both Maria and Lily hard to like by the end, though in the beginning they were amazing. I loved that there was no angst over being together, there is never any doubt about their sexuality and that they want to be together. Instead it is the problem of navigating less-than-supportive families and a possible separation that creates anxiety for them. Their relationship also has an interesting development: at first Lily seemed the dominant one, the strong one in control, but over the course of the novel the dynamic between them completely shifted, to where Maria turned out to be the leading partner. It was a chilling shift and showed that love and obsession are close bedfellows.
The other two characters that get their own point of view are Brandon and Mateo. Brandon was my favourite character of the book by far. He’s earnest and loyal and I loved his wonder at actually being together with Mateo. Brandon’s story pulled at my heart strings and I was completely taken aback by what happened to him. In hindsight, most people probably wouldn’t have been. While Mateo in the present is important to the plot, I found his history and his motivations driven by that history fascinating and I would have loved to have learned even more about him.
There is a lot to love about As I Descended — the book is compelling and Talley’s writing reads effortlessly — yet in the end I was left feeling non-plussed and slightly creeped out. As I Descended was perhaps not the best fit for me, but I’m certainly curious to read more by Robin Talley as I really enjoyed her writing style and I’d love to discover whether I’d get along better with her other books. However, for Shakespeare fans and fans of spooky YA this book might be a great read this holiday season.
It is no secret that Daniel Polansky is one of my favourite writers. I’ve adored all of his work that I’ve read so far—the only novel remaining unreadIt is no secret that Daniel Polansky is one of my favourite writers. I’ve adored all of his work that I’ve read so far—the only novel remaining unread being Those Below, which is waiting on my to be read shelves. As such, I was super excited to receive a review copy for his latest novel A City Dreaming. Reader, there was squeeing when I opened the package. I even read it close to its publication date in order to review it in a timely manner and then I got stuck. Because I had no idea how to even start to review it. Do not get me wrong, I really enjoyed A City Dreaming; it is an intriguing book with a unique style, but one that might not work for everyone.
A City Dreaming is certainly Polansky’s weirdest book and perhaps his most experimental work published so far (who knows what he has stashed in a trunk somewhere) and it is a narrative that makes you work for it. The narrative isn’t linear, in the sense that you don’t start on page one and follow in a direct line to the end on the last page. Instead, the tale meanders seemingly at random from chapter to chapter in a story that is more closely cohesive than a novel of connected short stories, yet is less tightly connected than a traditional novel. But the brilliance of Polansky’s work is that even if the events related in some chapters seem a non-sequitur to what has gone before, in the end everything pulls together and no guns were left on the mantle piece.
The main character of the book is only known as M and he is very much a very Polansky hero: gruff, misanthropic in bearing (if not at heart) and very definitely telling himself he is saving the world out of self-interest, not because it is the right thing to do. I really liked M and his rag tag band of friends and frenemies. Their semi-immortal state makes their friendships long and complicated and very interesting to read about. They all seem to have known each other for aeons, all except for Flemel, who decides he is going to be M’s apprentice whether he wants it or not. M is a strong enough character to draw you along the story even when he goes down side streets, takes a wrong turn or doubles back on the timeline; I didn’t mind that it took longer because the going was interesting all the way.
The book is entitled A City Dreaming and while this is fitting to the plot, it is also fitting to how the book felt to me. M’s world has that surreal quality to it that dreams can have, where everything makes perfect sense in dream time, but when you wake up and think about it there are some huge gaps in the logic and sequences are disjointed. In a way it was reminiscent of the way Alice in Wonderland made me feel, but with the bonus that this book actually has a plot.
Is A City Dreaming Polansky’s most accessible work? No, probably not. Is it his most ambitious book to date? It just might be. If you’ve never read Polansky before, I certainly wouldn’t advise starting here — either Straight Razor Cure or Those Above would be far better starting points. However, if you like your fantasy a bit weird and wonderful, A City Dreaming is a great read. Polansky completely surprised me with this book as it was so different from his other books. Then again, each of his series and his Hugo-nominated novella The Builders are all completely different from each other, yet each uniquely Polansky, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.
School shootings are a sad phenomenon of our time and have been the subject of numerous YA novels in the past years. I’ve read two of those, Matthew QSchool shootings are a sad phenomenon of our time and have been the subject of numerous YA novels in the past years. I’ve read two of those, Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and Marieke Nijkamp’s This is Where It Ends. Both are gripping, emotional novels, each dealing with different points of view on the matter. Quick’s book is written from the point of view of the shooter, while Nijkamp’s novel shows us differing perspectives of teens involved in a school shooting. Dear Charlie takes a very different tack, though its story is equally compelling and emotional. N.D. Gomes focuses her novel on the aftermath of a school shooting and what happens to the family of the culprit.
What sets Dear Charlie apart from many narratives featuring school shootings is its UK setting, instead of the more common US setting. I’d never heard of school shootings in the UK and some quick research revealed that there haven’t actually been any school shootings in which a student was the shooter, though the 1996 Dunblane shootings did kill 16 primary school students. What made the story even more effective to me, was the fact that it was set in 1996, the year in which I was 16/17 and so would have been the same age as Sam and the friends he makes at his new school could have been more extreme version of my friends—we weren’t quite goth or ego, but we were close. Gomes evokes the era very well, both through music and other pop culture phenomenons. Every chapter heading is a song from that time and it could have served as a playlist for my last year of grammar school.
Dear Charlie’s narrative is powerful due to the close focus on Sam. Sam is shown in all his facets, sometimes he can be a jerk, but he is loveable and his utter bewilderment at the predicament he’s found himself is heartbreaking. The cognitive dissonance between ‘his’ Charlie and the Charlie shown in the media and Sam’s struggle to make sense of this disparity is at the heart of the story. As is Sam’s difficulty in coming to terms with what happened and what it means to his life. Because while he not only lost his brother and schoolmates and teachers, he has also lost his place in his community. The family is harassed by people on the street, their house vandalised, and generally shunned by their community. When Sam has to move schools to a school a village over, he is shunned and bullied by his class mates, only finding acceptance among a small group of outsiders.
And while Sam is trying to cope with all of the above, he also has to deal with all of the usual teenage stuff, such as falling in love, trying to figure out how to fit into a new group of friends, and navigating the generally choppy waters of the last year of secondary education. I loved his group of friends. Izzy, Dougie, Worm, Max, and Debbie form a safety net for Sam, though this isn’t without its troubles either. The slowly growing attraction between Sam and Izzy created ripples in the group’s dynamic that soon turn into waves that topple Sam over. I really liked how Gomes played this out and the final resolution to how the group fits together.
Another interesting element of the narrative is Sam’s relationship with his parents and their relationship to each other. We witness the breakdown of Sam’s parents’ marriage and their coping (or not coping) with what happened to Charlie. Sam’s feelings of isolation in his own home and the complete shutdown of communications between the three of them were painful to read, but felt so true, that when occasionally they do seem to reach each other it feels like a ray of light in the darkness.
Dear Charlie is a heart-breaking book that ends on hope. We follow Sam to the depths of his grief and confusion, but we also see him climb out of them with the help of his friends and his therapist, whose role I loved. It is a searingly emotional book, but one that’s lightened by Sam’s dark sense of humour. I loved this book, for Sam and for its unconventional look at the aftermath of a school shooting. Dear Charlie is N.D. Gomes’ debut YA novel, but hopefully not her last because I greatly enjoyed her writing. Highly recommended.
Little Red Cuttlefish is the second book out from Henry L. Herz this month. This time it’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but one with a twistLittle Red Cuttlefish is the second book out from Henry L. Herz this month. This time it’s a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but one with a twist. I really enjoyed the fact that Little Red didn’t need rescuing, but did the rescuing herself. The colourful, bright illustrations by Kate Gotfredson capture the story beautifully and also give little readers plenty of interesting elements to search out. My favourite thing was the little clownfish that was hiding in each page and having my girls try and spot him.
Of course, as is usual for picture book reviews on A Fantastical Librarian, my daughters (4 & 6) helped me review the book by giving their opinions. Cat (4), enjoyed the colours and looking at the coral reefs. Emma (6) had more opinions. She thought Little Red’s biting the shark on his tail was hilarious. Her favourite thing was Little Red sharing and eating cakes with her grandma. And she thought the illustration of mama Cuttlefish with the basket of crab cakes was the prettiest image.
Henry L. Herz’s Little Red Cuttlefish is an entertaining retelling of a familiar tale, that will attract younger readers with its bright illustrations and will keep older readers’ interest with the little details hidden on each page.
While most of the crime I read is either British or American, I have read some Scandinavian crime as well. What I’d never read before was German crimeWhile most of the crime I read is either British or American, I have read some Scandinavian crime as well. What I’d never read before was German crime, though I have to confess that when I was really, really young I used to watch Tatort and Der Alte with my grandparents. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started Heidelberg Requiem by Wolfgang Burger. It’s the first in the Alexander Gerlach series and the first of Burger’s books to have been translated into English. What I got was a complex mystery featuring some fabulous characters set in a very interesting location.
To start with that last element, Heidelberg rather reminded me of my own hometown of Leiden as they are both very old cities best known for their universities and of a similar size with a large student population. Because of that it was easy to picture what things might look and feel like in the town. The mystery was also interwoven with the town and very fun to follow to its conclusion. But the true stars of the book were Alexander Gerlach and his daughters. I really liked Gerlach as a character and it was interesting to see a crime novel featuring a single dad, especially one to twin, tween daughters. I also like that we meet all of them at a point of transition. Not only are they all still coping with the loss of their mother, they are also all having to adjust with their move to a new town and a new place of work and education. I liked seeing how they coped with the situation and how Gerlach and the girls navigate the change together.
Heidelberg Requiem is a solid opening to a new series, with plenty of hooks left for character development in further books. If you are looking for a new crime series to start and want to try something a little different, Burger’s Heidelberg Requiem is definitely worth a try. Hopefully Bonnier Zaffre will translate and release the rest of the series as well.
The story is told in separate timelines, which each chapter heading telling the reader when and were they are. Yet despite their temporal separation,The story is told in separate timelines, which each chapter heading telling the reader when and were they are. Yet despite their temporal separation, the timelines are closely intertwined. Overall, there are four main story lines; the first is the story of how Simon came to be immortal and how he griefs for his wife. The second is the story of how he and Gaelan reconnected and became forever linked through Simon's sister Eleanor. The third brings us to the current day and follows them on their quest to find the manuscript, undo their immortality, and find peace in their fate. And the fourth and final one is Anne's story and how she comes to enter Gaelan's life. These four are braided together to create a wonderful whole that slowly reveals the complexity of its characters and theme.
To me the book’s main theme seemed to be love—both looking at the many different sorts of love people feel and the way love can both save and destroy lives. On a very basic level it’s romantic love that gets showcased, the love between Simon and his wife Sophie, between Gaelan and Eleanor, and the powerful attraction between Gaelan and Anne. The friendship between Simon and Gaelan is also a sort of love, even if it is often rather grudging and long silences between them. But beyond all the forms of love that concern interpersonal relationships this book breathes the love of learning that Simon, Gaelan, and Anne share, as — in their own sick and twisted way — do Dr. Handley and Lord Braithwaite. And, despite everything he’s been through, there is Gaelan’s love of life and all of the pleasures it brings.
In this there is a great contrast between Gaelan and Simon. If we contrast Gaelan’s reaction to the death of his wife and son with that of Simon, we see almost an opposite reaction of saviour versus destruction. Gaelan is driven to try and rescue those in need around him and to cure the sick he meets, while Simon descends into incapacitation; he’s literally almost driven mad with grief. And where Simon is forever bound to his love for Sophie, Gaelan is capable of forming new attachments. Over the course of the narrative both men learn that love can also mean letting go of the object of our affection. The need to let go to move on is a lesson that resonates throughout the novel.
Gaelan is a compelling protagonist. I enjoyed the Holmesian vibe to his character, with Simon being his literal Doctor Watson. While they both have interesting story arcs, I was more drawn to Gaelan’s story. Possibly because it was more dramatic, possibly because Gaelan on the whole is a more hopeful person. Gaelan loses and finds himself again, and despite everything he never loses his zest for life and new experiences. Simon’s story did have me in tears though, so perhaps his character got to me more than I thought for most of the book. The secondary characters are great as well. I really loved Eleanor, I thought she was fabulous and so strong and independent, especially given her circumstances. Anne was also an appealing character, whose internal struggle with doing what is right and what would satisfy her curiosity was interesting. Especially when it comes to her douchebag ex-fiancé and the company they both work for, Transdiff, an evil big pharma corporation.
The Apothecary’s Curse was a wonderful read, featuring compelling characters, an interesting theme and awesome cameos from historical figures. The book is a self-contained story, so no waiting another year or two to get the entire story. The ending to the book was absolutely perfect. Barbara Barnett’s debut was one of my favourites so far this year. Let’s hope it’s the first of my books to come for Barnett.
The Dark Talent is the fifth and latest book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series. It comes after a gap of six years betweenThe Dark Talent is the fifth and latest book in Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series. It comes after a gap of six years between book four and book five, but combined with the new editions of the first four books, it’s a perfect time to allow new readers to discover the series. The book delivers on the opening scene of the first book and, as such, closes off the arc in this quintet, but hopefully doesn’t signal the ending of Alcatraz’s story.
With each book the stakes were raised, both in terms of the conflict on a larger scale and on a personal level for Alcatraz; in The Dark Talent the stakes are the highest yet, with both the future of the world and Bastille’s life on the line. And even though Alcatraz keeps telling us that things will turn out a certain way (for example that Bastille will be fine) and that he is even writing this autobiography means that he survives — so there is a happy ending, right? — Sanderson has been planting the notion of Alcatraz as an unreliable narrator so firmly, that you never feel that anyone or even the outcome is safe.
After Heraclitus, Socrates, and Plutarch in the previous books, Sanderson chooses another classical Greek writer as a focus for Alcatraz’s main ponderings at the start of each chapter. This time he choses Aesop and his fables as a lens through which to consider the nature of storytelling and the way we use it to shape our reality and how it in turn is shaped by reality. If we don’t like what happened in a certain situation, we can slightly alter the way we retell it — to ourselves or others — so that we end up remembering it the way that makes us happier, not the way it actually happened. I also liked that Sanderson incorporated the gap between the publication of book four and five in the foreword, where Alcatraz explains it away by saying he just wanted to avoid describing the events in the book, because he didn’t want to face the memories.
Bastille might be out for most of the book — after the sleep dart that hit her put her into a coma in the last book — but her presence heavily infuses the narrative, since Alcatraz often quotes her or mentions her and once again Bastille gets to insert her opinions into the book through Hayley Lazo’s amazing illustrations. In place of Bastille ,we get to see far more of her mother Draulin and of Alcatraz's mother Shasta. I really liked the dynamic between Shasta and Alcatraz, though at times I was annoyed at the fact that Alcatraz seemed madder at her for letting him grow up a foster child, yet staying close to him in her guise of Ms. Fletcher, than he is at his father Attica, who abandoned him completely. They did sort of reach a truce, which was lovely. We also witness more interaction between Grandpa, Uncle Kaz, and Attica, which reinforced that despite the strangeness of the Smedry’s, family is all important to them even when relationships are strained.
We learn even more about Librarian society through Shasta and by visiting the Highbrary. I loved that the main centre of power for the Librarians rested at the Library of Congress. As a location and institution, just that name conjures a certain atmosphere and visual, yet the Highbrary we’re presented with is very different that the images of the Library of Congress we usually see. And as true librarians know anything can carry information, the Librarians not only catalogue books, they also index and preserve cereal boxes, coins, even the rules cards from playing decks, and anything else that contains information. I loved the concept of the Highbrary and the way Sanderson shaped it. It was a fantastic backdrop for this book’s final showdown.
The Dark Talent is super fast paced, and very exciting. Despite the darker cast to the narrative, there is still plenty of humour and puns in the story. The ending is perfectly Alcatraz and is everything he warns the reader it will be. It's completely unconventional and even annoyed me to a great extent, though when I kept reading — both the afterword and beyond — things fell into place and it became more palatable. All I can say is that I hope this won't be the last we see of Alcatraz and the rest of the (extended) Smedry's, because Sanderson left me very curious as to what next.
Reviewing Henry Herz picture books has become a family activity here at Casa Librarian. While at first it was only my six-year-old daughter Emma helpiReviewing Henry Herz picture books has become a family activity here at Casa Librarian. While at first it was only my six-year-old daughter Emma helping me “eviewer” them, this time my four-year-old Cat decided she wanted in on the fun. So what follows is a collaborative review with my girls.
Mabel and the Queen of Dreams is a cute bedtime story inspired by Shakespeare’s description of the fairy queen Mab. The first few pages made me laugh, because they were really familiar. Mabel’s excuses to not go to sleep are all of the ones Cat tries on us every night as well. While the Queen’s journey across Mabel’s body echoes Queen Mab’s journey in the scene from Romeo and Juliet quoted at the end of the book, it also reminded me of a mindfulness exercise to relax your body. And for a bedtime story that is a very useful feature.
The illustrations by Lisa Woods are delightful and have a dainty feel to them. What I really liked about them are the way they incorporate Mabel’s surroundings and actions into the dream elements from the story Mabel’s mum tells her.
When I asked Emma what she thought of the story she said she really liked it and that the pictures were pretty. Her favourite illustration was the one on the final page of the book where we actually see the Fae Queen. And if she could put in a request, she’d want to have the mermaid dream the Queen paints for one of the children in the book. Cat thought the book was fun and liked the illustration of all the various dreams the Queen painted — she called them dream windows — the most.
The Shattered Lens is the fourth instalment in the Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series and this time Alcatraz goes to war! Or rather, he goes to stThe Shattered Lens is the fourth instalment in the Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians series and this time Alcatraz goes to war! Or rather, he goes to stop a war and prevent the Librarians from conquering the entire country of Mokia. Our boy is growing up and coming into his own, though not without wreaking a lot of havoc.
Before diving into the narrative, something which I forgot to discuss in previous reviews of books in this series—I loved the illustrations Hayley Lazo created. Through her drawings Bastille also got to have a direct say on some things and they formed a great form of interpunction to the story. I also liked that her style was so distinct from the style of the cover artist, Scott Brundage. It made the illustrations feel more a part of the narrative than just an add-on to it. This new edition of the series is worth the price of admission for the illustrations alone.
Where in The Knights of Crystallia Alcatraz suddenly couldn’t stop portraying his brilliance, in The Shattered Lens he’s back to telling us that if he were his better self, he would want to be the hero people make him out to be, but he’s really just a coward. It shows how much Alcatraz has already grown that he would admit to wanting to be a hero and a good person. This was also illustrated by the back and forth with Bastille and her exasperation that he keeps waffling about being a leader when he thinks about it too much, while when he acts on instinct he automatically takes the lead. However, Alcatraz isn’t the only one who has grown, Bastille is changing too. The more Alcatraz gets to know her, the more we understand her; but she also allows Alcatraz to see her more vulnerable side and the fears and insecurities she carries. Though she’d sooner punch Alcatraz in the nose than admit this was true. I loved how Alcatraz has gotten the knack of bending the various Smedry Talents to his own requirements. Not just Aydee’s — bad at maths Aydee is all of us! — but his Grandpa’s and Uncle Kaz’s too; he’s thinking laterally and circumventing their seeming limitations.
This character growth also resonates with one of the themes that Alcatraz focuses on in the chapter introductions. He ruminates on change and how nothing stays the same, quoting the old adage that you can never step into the same river twice (cue Pocahontas warbling about a river bend) Throughout the book, Alcatraz stresses change—change in himself, in others, in the way he views the world, himself, and his family. I liked how this theme and the different guises of change returned in most chapters.
Of course The Shattered Lens is just as wacky and puntastic as the previous books and Sanderson throws tons of weirdly awesome stuff at the reader. Some of these are, like the river metaphor, elements that return again and again. For example, the definitions and gradations of stoopidity (Alcatraz’s spelling, not a typo) that become sillier and more specific as they increase in strength. Or the messing about with the chapter numbering/naming, and the explanation for why he chose to do this, an explanation this librarian found eminently reasonable.
As before, Sanderson includes a lot of literary theory in the form of tropes and writing devices, sneaking in some education in the guise of jokes. He even has a Chekhov’s Gun element, though perhaps that should read a Chekhov’s Teddy Bear. In addition to the theory, there are also more homages to other foundational fantasy texts, both through allusion and through Grandpa Smedry’s inventive cursing.
In short, The Shattered Lens is another bonkers and punny adventure in the series and one that picks the pace back up a little after the middle book lull of the previous book. Though, how could it not when it features giant librarian robots! I had a great time with The Shattered Lens and I was glad I could roll on into the fifth book, The Dark Talent immediately.
*Excuse me while I shake off my fan-girling* Right, I’m back. Kate Elliott is amazing and Poisoned Blade is a fabulous follow-up to last year’s Court*Excuse me while I shake off my fan-girling* Right, I’m back. Kate Elliott is amazing and Poisoned Blade is a fabulous follow-up to last year’s Court of Fives. Jes is back, but she’ll have to be sharper and wiser to survive not just moving up the ranks of the Fives, but being part of the household of her family’s nemesis Lord Gargaron.
I adored Court of Fives and its rich world and complex social and political structure, elements that remain in Poisoned Blade and are only deepened. Not only do we learn more about the political situation at court in Saryenia, but also out in the countryside and we learn more about the history of Efea. Some of my favourite scenes were while Jes was at court as she witnesses some masterclass scheming, not to mention the ruthlessness of Efea’s ruling class.
Jes’ heartache and homesickness for her parents and sisters was palpable and her scenes with her twin were heart-breaking (Why Bett, why?) They had me in actual tears. With Kal having been sent away with the army being led by her father, Jes is far more isolated in Garon stable than she was before. She certainly has friends and supporters, but none who know who she truly is or know about her mother and siblings. When she reconnects with the Efean underground resistance and its charismatic leader Ro, the relief of not being all on her own is clear, yet I found myself bristling at Ro’s attempts to romance Jes, as I’m firmly team Kal.
Jes’ time outside of the city is a time of growth, not just as a Fives adversary, but as an independent adult and I absolutely loved the part of the book where she tours the countryside, even if there are a number of heartbreaking moments there as well.
For some more coherent reviews of Poisoned Blade you can read Renay’s review at B&N’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog or Ana and Thea’s joint review at The Book Smugglers. I’ll just sign off by saying I adored Poisoned Blade as much as I did Court of Fives and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Buried Heart, due out in August. Because reader, I need to know how the story ends!...more
I fell head over heels for the world of Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen in her House of Shattered Wings. And Emmanuelle, the Archivist ofI fell head over heels for the world of Aliette de Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen in her House of Shattered Wings. And Emmanuelle, the Archivist of House Silverspires was one of the characters who intrigued me most. Both because she is essentially a librarian and because she is a powerful figure behind the scenes, who doesn’t mean to exert power or influence, but who does so nonetheless. So Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship was a treat as it is all about Emmanuelle. We get tantalising glimpses of her life before she became the Archivist and we get to see her fall — and fall hard — for Selene. Add to that a covert mission to a different House allowing us to see more of the Houses and House life beyond Silverspires and the story couldn’t help but delight me. A short read, I savoured every moment, and it ended far too soon. Also, there was kissing, did I mention the kissing? I can’t wait for The House of Binding Thorns which will be published sometime next year. If like me you can’t wait either then Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship is a great snack to tide you over until then....more
When I was approached about reviewing Children of the Different it wasn’t hard to say yes. Apart from the fact that the author is fellow blogger S.C.When I was approached about reviewing Children of the Different it wasn’t hard to say yes. Apart from the fact that the author is fellow blogger S.C. Flynn, this post-apocalyptic novel sounded as if it would be interesting and exciting, especially since it is set in Australia, the land that as the joke goes is trying to kill you at every opportunity anyway, never mind there having been an apocalypse. What I found was indeed an interesting story, focused on the close bond between its protagonists, but one that left me feeling unqualified to judge certain of its aspects.
I mainly felt under-qualified to judge some of the underlying world-building. The book is explicitly set in Western Australia and has clear Aboriginal influences. This is openly acknowledged in the twins’ names, which we are told come from an Aboriginal language, but beyond the fact that Arika has black hair nothing suggests they are of indigenous descent. Their settlement leader Dural is said to be of Aboriginal descent, but there aren’t any other clear ways that it is acknowledged, at least not to someone like me who isn’t that familiar with Australian Aboriginal culture. Yet the Changeland feels as if it might be influenced by Australian Aboriginal mythology, but I am not familiar enough with their culture to judge whether or how much of it was inspired by it.
What I really liked was the inversion of the trope that only the fittest survive the apocalypse, by having the people who survived the Great Madness being the ones who had a “different” brain, be it through mental health afflictions, traumatic brain injuries, or other brain-related issues. It also leads to unexpected complications, since many of those who have survived have not learned advanced skills. Such as the Scientist’s chief assistant Mark, who due to paralysation after a car accident didn’t get the chance to study when he was younger. The Great Madness has basically torn a gigantic hole in society’s knowledge and memory.
The Great Madness has also brought on the Changing, where adolescents entering puberty go into a trance-like state and are taken into the Changeland. This is a plane where only the mind can travel, though wounds sustained in the Changeland are visible upon the body in the real world. If a youth survives, they either return with a supernatural changer gift or as a Feral, a zombie-like creature out to ravage and kill. As such the time around the Changing is fraught, both for the Changer themselves and for the community. I liked the different abilities the Changed teens in the book showed, they were not your usual super gifts, especially Narrah’s. I also liked that there was more to the Changing than just visible at first glance and the long-term consequences were a cool plot point.
My biggest problem with Children of the Different was the abrupt ending. It felt too abrupt—it rather took me by surprise. It wasn't clear whether this was a deliberate choice as to leave the book open to a sequel or because the story was just done. The story/plot maybe have been resolved, but this ending felt like a door slammed shut in the middle of a sentence or the music suddenly cutting out in the middle of your favourite song. It left me feeling disoriented and confused and let the characters down somewhat.
Overall though, I enjoyed Children of the Different. S.C. Flynn’s writing style makes for a pleasant read and I really liked Narrah and Arika. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures then Children of the Different should definitely hit your radar.
Kaaron Warren’s writing is wonderful. I always enjoy her short fiction and the one novel of hers I read, Mistification, was absolutely amazing. WarrKaaron Warren’s writing is wonderful. I always enjoy her short fiction and the one novel of hers I read, Mistification, was absolutely amazing. Warren always manages to create complexly layered, strangely weird stories that are genuinely creepy, and utterly compelling. Her latest novel The Grief Hole, out from IGFW Publishing last week, is no different. It’s an intense story looking at grief in all forms, featuring a heroine who is at once sympathetic and somewhat off-putting.
At times it felt as if the novel itself couldn’t make up its mind about Theresa. While she is introduced as an inveterate do-gooder, mockingly named Saint Theresa by friends and family alike, at points in the narrative she is also shown to derive a certain twisted pleasure from working with the battered women she encounters as a social worker. She gains validation and the self-satisfaction of knowing herself to be a “good” person, especially in cases where she “intervenes”. She has built her identity by being a helper—if she can’t help, she’s lost. In a way, Theresa is as much an emotional parasite as Sol Evictus is; they both need others’ despair to function. Theresa wrestles with the knowledge of this and tries to stay on the right side of the line, because she is a good person and wants to do the best she can. Her arc in the novel isn’t as much about her grief as it is about finding the balance between her desire to help, her gift of seeing ghosts, and the ruthless side of her nature that allows her to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals—the side that her Aunt Prudence calls her monster.
Theresa’s gift is that she sees ghosts. Specifically, she sees the way a person will die; the clearer the ghosts, the closer the death. She feels a responsibility to her charges to sometimes intervene and save them from their faith, by making sure that the cause of their death, usually their spouse, is removed. However, things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem and everything ends badly. Theresa isn’t the only one in her family to have a gift. In fact, her mother’s side of the family is rife with gifted people. The one exception in the novel being her Uncle Scott, who confesses envy of his sister’s gift and his lack places him outside the family. It did make me wonder whether Amber did inherit a gift and whether this was in part what determined her fate. The gifts are an additional complication to a complicated family history that sheds light on different ways of grieving: Scott and Courtney’s drinking, Theresa’s emotional locking away of herself, Lynda’s constant hostility, and Prudence’s whatever it is. These are all ways of trying to cope with a shattering loss, of trying to ignore the pain, and perhaps not-so-coincidentally preventing themselves from moving on.
Interestingly, there is also a lot of caregiver’s resentment in the book, both from the professionals, like Theresa and her co-worker Raul, and from family members, such as Annie’s mother. Being patient and kind is hard and can be wearying, especially when it feels as if the person being cared for doesn’t ‘listen’. It’s the frustration of seeing someone going back to a bad place, despite knowing it is the wrong thing to do, and the knowledge that they’ll be the ones having to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong, again. There is resentment all around really in The Grief Hole, as we also see Annie being hurt that Scott and Courtney shut her out, and they in their turn are mad at Annie and the rest of Amber’s friends and their parents for staying away. Theresa is angry at her mother for being spiteful and mean and at Tim for being needy and, in her eyes, weak. Despite the emphasis placed by the characters on the importance of being kind and empathetic, most of them have a really hard time with actually being kind and empathetic.
Grief can be expressed in many, many ways— anger, resentment, guilt, despair, depression, resignation, and acceptance. And all of these are reflected in The Grief Hole. The horror in this book is purely psychological, despite Sol Evictus collecting gruesome art and some splatter passages. It is an insidious form of horror, one that gets under your skin and stays with you, leaving you unsettled and wondering why. I was absolutely captivated by The Grief Hole, drawn in until the last page. Kaaron Warren is a fantastic writer, one who should be read by anyone who enjoys horror or the weirdly fantastic.
This Savage Song is actually the first book by V.E. Schwab I’ve read. And it is not a spoiler for this review to say it won’t be my last, as I alreadyThis Savage Song is actually the first book by V.E. Schwab I’ve read. And it is not a spoiler for this review to say it won’t be my last, as I already own Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic, and A Gathering of Shadows. I’m actually surprised (and in hindsight annoyed at myself) that it took me this long as there have been numerous people around me who have been singing her praises for the past few years. All I can say is: they were right.
The first in a new series called Monsters of Verity, This Savage Song is a wonderful story about figuring out what makes someone a monster and what makes someone good. It’s a dark story, set in a dark world featuring many awful people, yet this allows our main characters to shine all the more brightly. Kate and August make for an amazing set of protagonists, both having to learn who and what they are and having to learn to trust the other. Their stories would have been interesting all on their own, but it is in the combination of them that magic is made. Kate’s brittle hard-girl persona and August’s earnest desire to contribute to his parents’ cause and to be good are equally appealing and make it easy to root for both of them.
I loved the world the story is set in as well, with its post-apocalyptic feel and the fascinating appearance of the monsters — Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai — creatures born from violence that have made existence even more dangerous for the portion of humanity that remains. But while there are literal monsters in this world, the worst monsters remain human, a lesson that is central to Kate’s narrative. Because violence engenders not only the monsters, but more violence, which in turn begets more monsters, and so on and so forth. The mythology behind the three kinds of monsters is really cool and I loved discovering more about them. August has two siblings, Ilsa and Leo, and their respective backgrounds and the resultant character traits they display are fascinating.
This Savage Song is a grand opening to Monsters of Verity and I can’t wait for the second book, Our Dark Duet, to see where Kate and August’s separate paths will lead them.
N.K. Jemisin is one of my favourite authors and I absolutely loved her Inheritance trilogy. So when Shades in Shadow was released, I was so happy to gN.K. Jemisin is one of my favourite authors and I absolutely loved her Inheritance trilogy. So when Shades in Shadow was released, I was so happy to get to go back to that world. I loved the way the stories connected to the three original books and to each other. Apart from featuring characters from the books, the stories also strongly echo some of the larger themes of the books: identity, free choice and self-determination, and how love takes many different forms.
Of the three stories, the final one, The Third Why, was my favourite, even if I have a huge weakness for Nahadoth. In The Third Why we follow Glee, Oree Shoth’s daughter, as she sets out to find her father. I loved Glee and her stubborn determination to find a way around the limitations set upon her father so she could accompany him on his journey of atonement.
For fans of the Inheritance trilogy Shades in Shadow is very much worth the effort of seeking it out, but one shouldn’t read these stories before finishing the books, because they certainly contain spoilers for the main series....more
I loved Jessica Lack’s Superior to pieces. It has a great voice and Jamie is an amazingly fun protagonist. The concept of after-school jobs as super-hI loved Jessica Lack’s Superior to pieces. It has a great voice and Jamie is an amazingly fun protagonist. The concept of after-school jobs as super-hero sidekicks, including the occupational hazard of a kidnapping now and then and having to man the hotline in shifts so much fun. That sense of fun might be the first thing that comes to mind when I think back on this story, but it certainly isn’t the only or most important thing.
I liked the development of the romance between Jamie and Tad, they were adorable. I also liked the hint of darkness in Tad’s character arc. In fact, Tad’s obvious struggle with his past and the way Jamie and his mum include him in their family and what that means to Tad to me was the most touching of the entire story. Terrorantula’s unexpected actions were a cool way of humanising the villain, making this universe not so much a good versus evil place, but one where heroes and villains are two sides of the same coin; they are part of a balanced ecosystem.
My one complaint about this novelette? I wish it had been a novel. I wanted to spend so much more time with Jamie, Tad, Captain Superior and the entirety of the universe Lack created. Hopefully, Lack will return to this world in the future and we will meet our heroes (and villains) again!
When I first learned about Ilka Tampke’s Skin, I immediately knew I wanted to read it as it hits so many of my sweet spots, fantasy combined with histWhen I first learned about Ilka Tampke’s Skin, I immediately knew I wanted to read it as it hits so many of my sweet spots, fantasy combined with historical fiction set in Celtic Britain. Not to mention that Tampke at some point mixes in just a hint of the Arthurian legend that is still in the far future in this book. When I finally managed to snag a copy of the paperback last summer, I just started the first page over coffee at Foyles and I was hooked. I read the book over the course of my Nine Worlds weekend, between panels and socialising.
I loved Ailia’s story of becoming. This story is not about Ailia finding herself or her voice, because even when we meet her at the beginning of the book, she is a strong, assured character, only held back by the fact that she has no skin, no totem to bind her soul. No, Skin is about Ailia becoming who she was meant to be, growing into her role and creating her place in her society.
Skin is also very female-centric. Yes, men are in the book and they drive events in it, but they do not drive the narrative and the women in the book are all about their own agency. No man tells them what to do. From Ailia’s foster mother Cookmother, to the Tribequeen Fraid, to her hearth sisters Bebin, Ianna, and Cah, to the awful Heka… each chooses her own way within the bounds of tribal customs. In this way it reminded me somewhat of the Mists of Avalon, which was centred on the female characters of the Arthurian cycle and also featured the struggle between the old ways and the new (Christian) traditions that were slowly taking over the land.
Despite the fact that the book is so female-centric, or perhaps because of it, Skin also has some fantastic male characters. Ailia falls in love with Taliesin, the mysterious young man she meets in the nearby forest, but she is also bound to the boisterous and somewhat unsympathetic Ruther, who seems to genuinely care for Ailia. I loved the tension between the two relationships, with Ailia having to choose between her heart and her head: each man offering her different options and fulfilment.
Skin is an amazing story and Ailia an amazing protagonist. I fell in love with her world and Tampke’s writing. Even if fantasy isn’t usually your thing, but you like historical fiction, you should definitely give Skin a chance because it is a unique story and a gorgeous portrayal of Celtic Britain. Skin is one of my favourite reads this year....more