Grave Mercy is Robin LaFevers’ first foray into young adult literature and could probably be described as a historically set paranormal romance. While I’m no great paranormal romance fan I do enjoy a good historical fiction once in a while and something about this book intrigued me. As it turns out the book was well worth the gamble and I found Grave Mercy to be a well-researched and absorbing novel that had a lot more to it than just romance.
Grave Mercy is set in Brittany at the end of the 15th century and unlike in some of the historical fiction I’ve read, this setting is vital to the story and LaFevers engages well with the period. The historical elements are well-researched and integrated into the narrative without becoming overwhelming, making the story accessible to readers who are not familiar with the late medieval period while avoiding annoying anachronisms that might put off readers who are. While the book avoids being graphic, LaFevers doesn’t gloss over some of the less pleasant aspects of medieval life to the extent that some young adult books are wont to do.
There is a lot to like about this novel. Firstly, we are provided with a likeable female protagonist in Ismae. She can hold her own in a historical setting yet still feels believable and doesn’t come across as a modern character tossed into a 15th century setting.
Although romance does play an important role in the story it is integrated into a larger more complex plot complete with scheming nobles, politics and war. I enjoyed seeing a romantic arc that didn’t turn its participants into starry-eyed dolts. Instead Ismae and her love interest must work together to deal with bigger issues than raging hormones (although there are some of these) and love triangles (mercifully absent). Likewise, the supernatural element is also well used and doesn’t feel tacked on.
Overall, I was quite impressed with Grave Mercy and look forward to the sequel.(less)
Margo Lanagan’s most recent novel is an evocative and haunting tale involving selkies, expanded from her World Fantasy Award winning novella, Sea Hearts.
Spanning multiple generations and encompassing multiple viewpoints, the novel chronicles the fate of the small community of Rollrock Island. A lonely young girl discovers her ability to summon forth bewitchingly beautiful women from the bodies of seals. Yet her true price for this service may well be revenge. What at first seems like a blessing slowly tears the community apart as human women find they can’t live up to the selkie wives and men find they cannot resist them. But what of the sea wives themselves? And what of their children?
This mesmerizing story blurs the lines between sympathetic character and monster and culminates in a perfect, yet bittersweet ending that will resonate with you long after you finish reading. Sea Hearts manages to be dark and disturbing without ever being graphic. Lanagan depicts the horror in the consequences of human choices rather than in blood or violence. As with all Lanagan’s work, the prose is complex and beautiful.
Anyone who has ever read a Lanagan novel or story soon learns that regardless of whether it is written for adults, teens or both, they should be prepared for an unsettling experience. Mesmerising and well written her books are, light reading they are not. Due to the darker themes, the prose, and the contemplative and more literary nature of the narrative itself, Sea Hearts will probably appeal to an adult and select young adult audience rather than younger teens or those looking for the next Twilight or Hunger Games style bestseller.
It may also be a good place to start reading Margo Lanagan’s work for those who aren’t sure they can stomach the more confronting sexual and physical violence of her previous young adult novel, Tender Morsels. All in all, I strongly recommend Sea Hearts/Brides as an artistic and story-telling triumph.(less)
Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is loosely themed speculative fiction anthology, edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie, two of the editors involved with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. An eclectic collection containing stories from a variety of Australian and international authors, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is an engaging body of work that contains a number of excellent stories, quite a few memorable ones, and should have something to suit almost anyone.
Sparks that fly in many directions.
The title, Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear, references the instructions given for lighting fireworks. The anthology itself operates on the concept of a literal or figurative spark and the various possible results of its unleashed potential. This very open theme allows the authors a lot of leeway to let their imaginations run wild and results in a hugely varied collection.
Some of the stories engage quite directly with the theme while others are a little more oblique in their connection. Yet as a whole the collection itself succeeds in its ostensible purpose, showcasing the variety and quality of its contributors’ work.
A little something for everyone.
Much like lighting a real firework, you never know what you might get next with this anthology. A blazing inferno, a quick flash and burn, a delicate showing of stars, or a disappointing fizzle? Happily, the overall quality of the stories is high, and although personal taste dictates that some stories will appeal to certain readers more than others, none of these stories were duds prone to explode in one’s face. While there were a few stories I might not have picked if I was reading for an anthology of my own, they were all well written and I could see where their appeal might lie to other readers.
Due to the huge variance in tone, style and theme between stories it is quite hard to pick a favourite. The one that resonated with me the most however, was probably the opening story by Joanne Anderton, titled The Bone Chime Song. Extremely powerful and emotive for its length, Anderton’s story creates believable characters with which the reader can empathise and offers a fascinating glimpse into a beautifully well-realised fantasy world. A haunting love story of guilt, redemption and necromancy, The Bone Chime Song will leave you thinking long after you finish reading it. All in all, it impressed me and I look forward to reading more of the authors work in the future.
Following The Bone Chime Song is Sue Bursztynski’s humorous take on the origins of the Trojan War, Five Ways to Start a War. The story consists of five key figures’ rather differing accounts of how the conflict came about, which all interweave to paint a colourful picture of meddling deities, confused mortals, conniving kings, and a bed-hopping prince terrified of losing his royal member to divine vengeance. Helen attempts to avoid the inevitable catastrophe, yet finds that vain goddesses don’t often accept no for an answer. While I have read a number of retellings of the Trojan War’s beginnings, Bursztynski used the familiar elements in a way that felt fresh and made me laugh, marking her story as another favourite in this collection.
The Subjunctive Case by Robert Porteous is a well-crafted paranormal detective story with a distinctly Australian flavour (it’s set in Melbourne and I personally enjoyed recognizing the familiar places in which the story took place). All in all, I thought it was well-written and impressive work from a relatively new author.
The D____d by Adam Browne contains some delightfully weird imagery and tells the tale of Victorian colonialists attempting to terraform hell, Mary Had a Unicorn by Ripley Patton has a distinct moral and is strangely charming for a story about teen drug addiction, and The Godbreaker and Unggubadh the Mountain by Ian McHugh features interesting world-building and appealing, relatable non-human characters.
In most cases I prefer my story morals slightly more subtly executed than that of Sean McMullen’s Hard Cases. However, the writing was still good and the story was still creepy despite the somewhat heavy-handed treatment.
I would consider all thirteen stories in Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear to be well worth reading, yet unfortunately lack the time required to give all the attention they deserve. In addition, some stories elude concise summary and may be spoiled in my attempts to explain them. Besides, I did say half the fun was trying to guess what was coming next.
Why should you read this book?
Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear is an entertaining and enjoyable anthology containing stories of a consistently high quality with a couple of standouts. It contains a refreshing variety of original fiction with no boring stories or tired clichés. In my opinion, even just my few favourite stories were worth the cover price alone. All in all, I read some great new works by authors I knew, discovered some new authors to keep an eye on and will look out for any future anthologies by these editors and from this small press.(less)