**spoiler alert** The second volume in the slow-burning “Ellenessia’s Curse” trilogy ends, as it begins, with a death, and a death that Prince Candale**spoiler alert** The second volume in the slow-burning “Ellenessia’s Curse” trilogy ends, as it begins, with a death, and a death that Prince Candale feels responsible for. He is mired in the blood of the witch Mayrila, his real mother, and his life is spiralling helplessly out of control. As the prophet of the demon Ellenessia, he is commanded by her to travel to the Seer’s Tower in magic-hating Idryan, to prove that she exists to the world. But how can he do her bidding when he is confined within the walls of Carnia Castle by a family who have turned against him, with the threat of being sent to an asylum hanging over his head if he puts a foot wrong? Because, let’s face it, this is Dale, and he’s bound to trip over his own feet sooner rather than later…
Jacobs does an excellent job of portraying Dale’s frustration and helplessness in the face of his well-meaning family and the cold, sinister doctor sent to “help” him. Dale is still a an infuriating but essentially loveable character, a wide-eyed naif who does crashingly stupid things but has the best of intentions, who loves his friends but frequently leads them into danger through his reckless or ill-thought out actions. He has shown slight signs of growing up since the first volume, and we can only hope that by the end of the third volume (release date TBA – Jacobs is a slow writer and is currently working on other projects) he will finally grow into maturity.
The first half of the book proceeds at a leisurely pace, taking in Dale’s struggles at home and his journey to the Seer’s Tower with his faithful, long-suffering companions, Trellany the bodyguard, Silver the mage and his two sisters, and Tev, the bard who carries a flame in his heart that everyone but Dale can see. The section at the tower is fascinating, and over too briefly; I would have liked to linger there for longer and discover more about it, and then the pace picks up for the final third of the book when Dale is kidnapped and separated from the friends he loves, forced to come into his own and find his own bearings.
The ending is dramatic, violent, and unexpected, and leaves Dale more alone than ever. How will he cope? And will we ever find out?...more
At only 110 pages, Jame's Walvin's book can only give a general overview of the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, it breaks its arguAt only 110 pages, Jame's Walvin's book can only give a general overview of the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. However, it breaks its arguments down into easily digestible chunks, and is a useful jumping-off point both for students, and anyone with a non-academic interest in the subject....more
The eons-old war between Heaven and Hell is given fresh blood in Lou Morgan’s explosive debut novel. Librarian-with-issues Alice arrives home from a bThe eons-old war between Heaven and Hell is given fresh blood in Lou Morgan’s explosive debut novel. Librarian-with-issues Alice arrives home from a bad day to find it’s about to get a lot worse. Two angels are waiting for her in the lounge; uptight, supercilious Gwyn and his Earthbound charge, Mallory, a leather-jacketed gun-toting sarcastic bastard with a temper and a drinking problem. Mallory takes Alice under his clipped wing, her guide into this new world of Archangels, Descended and the Fallen of Hell. The angels have big plans for Alice. Plans that will see her journey to the lowest depths of Hell as she comes to terms with her family history and her newly awakened powers.
“Blood and Feathers” is a pacy novel, packed with fistfights, gunfights, and an epic climactic battle. It’s also, for a book that deals with such heavy subjects as theology, faith and the End of Days, very funny, full of biting wit and dark humour. (Mallory gets all the best lines, but Alice more than holds her own.)
Morgan’s vision of Hell owes something to Dante, and to Milton, but she also stamps her own impressive mark on it. Her Hell is cold, with the kind of cold that freezes the eyeballs and seeps into the bones, and down to the soul itself. There are elaborate tortures for the damned, and for the Fallen angels that guard the colossal Gate of Bones from the hordes of avenging angels.
“Blood and Feathers” is a pleasingly ambiguous book. The angels may think they’re righteous, but they’re not always right – some of them are as corrupt, vengeful or ruthless as the Fallen they range themselves against, and not all of the Fallen are out-and-out evil. The justice that Heaven dispenses is summary and often unfair, more Mega City One than Elysium, and the novel is all the better for it.
The novel is the first in a trilogy, and a sequel, “Blood and Feathers : Rebellion” was released recently. The opener is very promising and it will be interesting to see how the war twists and turns....more
“The Shadow Seer” is a hefty book, split George RR Martin style over two slimmer volumes. I reviewed Part One on “Making Things Up For A Living” a few“The Shadow Seer” is a hefty book, split George RR Martin style over two slimmer volumes. I reviewed Part One on “Making Things Up For A Living” a few months ago, and now, with the second book imminent, I’m reviewing the second part of the first book – are you keeping up at the back?
The second volume opens where the first one ended, with troubled Prince Candale’s arrival at the mysterious, crumbling mage school of White Oaks, a haven for persecuted magic users and young princes fleeing their destiny. There he delves into the intricacies of the Rose Prophecies, determined to uncover the truth behind his burgeoning gifts, and his fate as the demon Ellenessia’s prophet, the legendary Shadow Seer.
Candale has grown in confidence in this second volume, perhaps a mark of Jacobs own increasing confidence as a writer. But he is still an innocent abroad, nervous and sometimes infuriatingly naive as he stumbles into his first halting romance with Hazel, one of his classmates at White Oaks. Half the fun as a reader is being able to spot what’s screamingly obvious to everyone except the narrator, in this case the growing attraction between Dale and the bard Teveriel, which Dale seems completely oblivious to.
The action in the book is split between White Oaks and Dale’s home at Carnia Castle, where the witch Mayrilla makes a welcome reappearance. Her malevolent presence, untrustworthy as a three-headed snake, is a highlight of the book, provided stark contrast to Dale’s wide-eyed naivety and openness as they grapple to control his restless soul.
This isn’t a book for those who like their action fast and punchy. The story unravels at a leisurely pace, lingering over fine detail, stretching out Dale’s torment into a final denouement as shocking as it is bloody. There’s no doubt our young narrator is going to have to wise up fast in the next volume if he’s to save himself and take control of his gifts.
It’s certainly an ending that leaves you thirsting for more....more
*Disclaimer* I won this book from JFB in a competition on Twitter. I was under no obligation to review it.
“The Emperor’s Knife”, first off, is a beaut*Disclaimer* I won this book from JFB in a competition on Twitter. I was under no obligation to review it.
“The Emperor’s Knife”, first off, is a beautiful-looking book. Embossed hardback, with the obligatory “mysterious hooded fantasy figure” in the foreground, and an exotic city of dreaming spires in the background, ringed around with the pattern so central to the plot. Jacket design is by Ghost, and the front cover is credited to Archangel images, but I’d like to see the artist credited on the jacket, as it’s a stunning piece of work. But we try not to judge books by their covers round here, so on to the content.
The novel, Williams’ first, is set in what appears to be a fantastic version of the Middle East – there’s more than a spicy whiff of “Arabian Nights” about it, with its deserts, marbled palaces, harems, assassins, and scheming Grand Viziers (is there any other kind of Grand Vizier, I wonder?). Prince Sarmin is spared from death and imprisoned to provide a spare should anything befall his older brother, Emperor Beyon. He is trapped in a tower while a curse stalks the city, a mysterious pattern that marks the skin of the afflicted, killing the sufferers or turning them into mindless zombies. The Emperor has decreed that all who carry the marks of the pattern should be put to death. But now Beyon himself has fallen victim to the disease, and it’s time for Sarmin, the forgotten brother, to be pushed into the spotlight.
Williams’ ideas are original and fascinating; the Pattern, controlled by a mysterious Master, that stains itself on to the skin of its victims, mysterious cities rising and falling in the desert, mages bonded with an elemental spirit that will eventually destroy them. The ideas are rich, and the language that conveys them is lush and ripe, flowing like poetry, or patterns on skin. But…but…
The characters – courageous horsegirl Mesema who sees patterns in the grass, damaged Sarmin in his tower room, Eyul, the Emperor’s knife himself, are all drawn with broad and narrow strokes, but with the possible exception of Mesema, they’re hard to warm to, difficult to care about. I got the impression that Williams loves the beautiful world he has created more than the people that inhabit it. I didn’t find myself loving them, or mourning the ones that died. Williams makes repeated references to Settu, which seems to be a game rather like chess, played with tiles, and the characters feel more like carefully placed Settu tiles, positioned to serve the plot, than living breathing beings.
“The Emperor’s Knife” is skillfully executed, well set, beautifully written, but it lacks something at the heart of it and I’m not sure what. From the blurb on the flysheet, I wanted to love it, and I couldn’t. Sadly, while it’s a very easy book to admire, it’s a difficult one to love....more
Needlessy rapey, casually sexist, with cartoon-stereotype characterisation. Gets bonus stars for zippy pacing, an interesting idea / setting and for aNeedlessy rapey, casually sexist, with cartoon-stereotype characterisation. Gets bonus stars for zippy pacing, an interesting idea / setting and for at least trying to give Neq some doubts and insecurities, but loses points for dialogue along the lines of, *ahem*, "Come, spit me on your monsterous member!", which at least had me spluttering coffee out of my nose in presumably-unintentional hilarity......more
"Shooting Stars" is a sweet, if slightly implausible, teen romance, written in a zippy, pacy style that's easy to engage with. "Zo Jo", teen paparrazo"Shooting Stars" is a sweet, if slightly implausible, teen romance, written in a zippy, pacy style that's easy to engage with. "Zo Jo", teen paparrazo, is sent undercover at a mysterious retreat in Boston to snap teen hearthrob Ned Hartnett, only to find she discovers more about herself, and Ned, than she really wants to know.
It's hard to suspend disbelief enough to get over the highly unlikely idea of the protagonist as a sixteen-year-old girl paparrazo, and Jo is, unfortunately, not as likeably as she could be. Sure, she embodies that over-used adjective "spunky", or possibly "fiesty", but it's hard to like a girl who, at least in the beginning, is so purely motivated by money, and who can't acknowledge the generosity of a father who is matching her dollar-for-dollar in her quest to raise cash for college. This reader doesn't buy that the only way Jo can make money is by papping, as she tries to justify in the pages of the book.
Jo becomes more likable when she arrives at the retreat and starts to develop a conscience, but by then the damage is already done in the readers eyes. Her budding relationship with the secretive Ned is sweet, but it feels like we're really only skimming the surface, and the supporting characters are thinly drawn. Which is a shame, because some of them are more interesting than the main protagonists, and it would have been nice to see them fleshed out.
Undemanding teens will be more than happy with the book, and will read it while doodling hearts round the name of Justin Bieber (or whoever it is this week) on their pencil case, and dreaming of falling for a star. I like my teen fiction with more depth, but I suspect I'm not the target market....more
“The Alchemist of Souls” is Anne Lyle’s debut novel, and I’d been drawn to reading it after hearing her read an extract at BristolCon last year, sucke“The Alchemist of Souls” is Anne Lyle’s debut novel, and I’d been drawn to reading it after hearing her read an extract at BristolCon last year, sucked in by what little I’d heard about the setting and characters. The novel takes place in an alternate version of Elizabethan England. Mourning the death of her husband and father of her two sons, Robert Dudley, Queen Elisabeth has retreated into seclusion in her old age, while explorers to the New World have been followed home by skraylings, non-human creatures of Viking legend. The skraylings set up trading camps in London, and send an ambassador to the court of the aging Queen.
Maliverny Catlyn, down-on-his-luck swordsman and secret Catholic, is desperate for money to treat his sick brother. He is plucked from the streets for reasons unknown to him and appointed as the bodyguard to the Skrayling ambassador as he judges a series of completely plays written to honour his visit. It is in this capacity that he meets Jacob Hendricks, the young tireman of a company of travelling players, who has secrets of his own. Conspiracy and counter-conspiracy weave around Mal and Coby, and the skraylings and the nobility are in the thick of it, tangled in a dangerous game that could cost Mal more than his life.
Tudor-era settings seem to be under-used in fantasy, which is a shame, because when they’re done well, as they are in “Alchemist of Souls”, they add a rich extra depth to the genre. Lyle brings life to the grimy back-alleys, the theatres and the taverns of alt-Elizabethan London in a way that’s totally convincing, and her characters – financially-embarrassed Mal, luckless Ned, shy, secretive Coby – are full and fascinating (I’d also like to add a small “mmmm” for the cover ;) ). Even the skraylings, who could have become cliché “aliens”, are given room to breathe and grow.
Recommended for fans of Ellen Kushner’s wonderful “Swordspoint” (and if you haven’t read that, put it on your wish list right now), and Mary Gentle’s “1610- A Sundial in a Grave”, which had a similar theatrical setting and thrilling combination of magic and history. The sequel, “The Merchant of Dreams” will be out later in the year. Give yourself a treat and catch up now.