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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

The Call : Q & A with Peadar O’Guilin

I was asked for a review and Q & A with Peadar for a brilliant new feminist website called EtymNews.  Here’s the thought provoking result:

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin: the next Hunger Games?

Looking for another The Hunger Games or Divergent?  Here’s a brilliant Young Adult novel set in a dystopian Ireland.  Imagine living in a country where every single teenager gets “The Call”.  Without warning, you are transported to the baroque horrors of the Grey Lands where the vengeful Sidhe hunt you for sport, killing you or worse.  Much worse.  The odds of surviving this ordeal are improving through intense training in special colleges and now perhaps one in ten teenagers make it back alive.  Nessa is the girl least likely to succeed with her legs twisted by polio yet she is absolutely determined to be the very best she can be.  Tension builds as we learn the horrific fate of other students as they are “Called”.  But who will be next and can Nessa and her friends make it through?

The Call was inspired by the beautiful northwest of Ireland where he grew up but now Peadar O’Guilin lives just outside Dublin.  He has written plays, published short stories, and performed as a stand-up comedian whilst holding down a day job. I tracked him down to ask him a couple of pertinent questions about the book …

Q: Why did you choose to make your main character a girl not a boy? 

A: When I first started reading, female protagonists spent their lives peeping out from between the covers in the romance section of the bookshop. Now and again, a few would make the journey over to the SF shelves, especially if the writer were somebody like C.J. Cherryh or the late, great Tanith Lee. I loved those books, but took no particular note of the character’s gender, except to think, well, the authors are female, so naturally that’s the type of character they’re going to use.

My own short-stories had a few female protagonists, but only when the story really needed one. My default, even for the bit-players, was “standard” straight, white male.  And then, one day, the internet exploded with talk of “diversity”. Back in the beginning, the definition was so limited, it was almost enough for a book to pass the Bechdel test. But even then, the debate looked to me like a lot of angry people shouting at each other and I didn’t want to be involved.

However, beneath all the passion were a few arguments that made me question what I was doing. The main ones were: 1) The world is diverse, if your stories are not diverse, you are not reflecting reality. 2) Everybody likes to see themselves in a story, so, why shouldn’t they? 3) Every book that adds to the overwhelming mass of “standard” characters lends credibility to the idea that only one type of story is valid.

At that point I decided to reverse my previous default. I would always start with a female protagonist unless the plot demanded otherwise.   And that, dear friends, is the story of how Nessa came out of the aether with two X chromosomes…

Q: Many reviewers appreciate that there’s no predictable “love triangle” in the story – though there is plenty of romance. Did you deliberately set out to break the formula?

A: I didn’t set out to break the formula. I generally don’t read the type of book that has love triangles in it. I am always more interested in the life and death tension of a story, rather than the will they/won’t they tension. It’s not that I dislike romance. I am a human being who has tender feelings now and again. When I write romance into a story, it’s usually a fantasy I’m creating for myself, that I want to believe in. Love triangles only confuse my simple soul.

Q: Did you find yourself drawing on your own experiences as a teenager as you were writing the book?

A: Very much so! I went to a boarding school when I was Nessa’s age. I took a smelly bus from the same station as hers, following much of the same route. Obviously, the idea of a refectory, of classes and a dorm, are extremely familiar ones to me as a result. I also read some dodgy love poetry and wrote lines that were far, far worse than anything she quoted!

 Peadar O’Guilin

Q: The world building includes an Ireland being shut off behind an impenetrable barrier; a terrifying yet wronged enemy; and hard choices children have to make when they are far too young.  Were you ever conscious when writing of exploring your country’s recent past, or are the roots all in Irish mythology?

A: I am very conscious of history.   We Irish have seen both sides of colonialism. We were colonised, but in Scotland, and in North America, we were also colonisers. The famous US general, Sheridan, often misquoted as saying “The only good injun’s a dead injun”, was of Irish stock. Almost every human being alive today lives where they do because their ancestors drove out somebody else. The fact that the concept is right there in the Book of Conquests is just a reflection of how long we have been doing this to each other.  Ethnic cleansing is a horrible practice that I hope we are starting to grow out of. But the consequences live on a long time after the crimes, and in a way, that’s what my book is about.

Peadar O’Guilin has written an intense and thrilling story which is definitely my favourite Young Adult novel of the year so far.  With a deft touch, Peadar builds very genuine, complex characters with a great deal of humour and humanity. I loved Nessa: her unfailing determination, her unflinching honesty about her condition, her fierce friendships and, ultimately, her strength of purpose which shines through at the tremendous climax.

So, with the nights drawing in … why not treat yourself to a fresh, thought provoking, and really scary story?

David Fickling Books; 01 Sep 2016; Hardback; £10.99

Cogheart : Peter Bunzl

… a riveting good read …

I love it when I can relax into a story, enjoying the easy ride of a born story teller.  Cogheart is just that type of book.   With a host of clockwork mechanicals, including Mrs Rust and Mr Wingnut and a stubborn fox mechanimal, Lily and Robert race through a thrilling plot, fighting  deliciously sinister mirror eyed villains towards a tremendous finale full of airship chases and clockwork skullduggery.

cogheart

Peter Bunzel spins a well constructed story with immaculate pacing and lovely plot twists which create various anticipations to savour for a sharp eyed reader.  Nothing  is wasted or extraneous, though Peter takes time to add decorative Steampunky flourishes.   It’s a great fun and I highly recommend it – probably in the 9 to 12 age range.

Cogheart is Peter Bunzl’s debut novel. He is a successful animator working on commercials, promos and 2 BAFTA winning kids’ TV shows. He has also written and directed several short films.  This is why there’s a delightful mini website for this book: cogheart.com and some FREE gifs on offer.

Cover design moment: With Peter’s visual background, it’s not surprising that Cogheart has a great cover, map and occasional illustrations by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.

Cogheart was published on 1st September 2016 by Usborne and recommended to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

Mistborn, The Final Empire : Brandon Sanderson

… pacy and intriguing …

On holiday I finally got round to reading Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.  As I hoped from such a well received book, it has a solid plot, satisfying world building, and some interesting story weaving with a passages from an unintroduced “memoire” at the head of each chapter.  00a_mb_ukI enjoyed the protagonist, Vin’s, development from lowly skaa to Mistborn and thought the various secondary, but very important characters, well drawn. My eyes did glaze over all the Allomancy explanations and metal technique in the fight scenes.  I just don’t think it’s necessary to go into the mechanics.  Character and plot are more important than the world in any fantasy and I am now interested to read a later work to see how his writing style has developed.  However, a great pacy and intriguing start to this trilogy.  Recommended.

Brandon Sanderson is the award-winning American author, best known for his Mistborn and his Stormlight series.  He is very prolific and seems to be working on loads of projects at the same time.  The Mistborn series has been followed by the Wax and Wayne series which sets the Mistborn world in a future, Western type arena.

Cover design moment: The UK covers for the series are an outstanding set by Sam Green, a London illustrator.  They really enhance the Mistborn concept.  Well done whoever commissioned them.

Mistborn was published by Tor back in 2006.

 

 

Revenger : Alastair Reynolds

… perfect escapism …

An entertaining adventure about the sisters, Adrana and Arafura, who escape a genteel bankruptcy by signing up on Captain Rackamore’s sunjammer, travelling through space scavenging ancient technology from highly protected planets.

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The girls are both “bone readers,” who can pick up traces of spacecraft communication using skulls from an ancient civilisation and so are valuable members of his hard-bitten crew.  Experienced writer, Alastair Reynolds has developed a beautifully constructed universe with plenty of room for sequels and introduced a likable protagonist in Fura as she grows up fast amidst treachery and bravery, robots and alien artefacts.  He uses a fair bit of Victorian slang to suggest a pirate/sea dog atmosphere which I found slightly irritating but the story romps along to a satisfying climax.  A perfect escapist read.

Alastair Reynolds is the award-winning author and astrophysicist best known for his Revelation Space and his Poseidon’s Children series.

Cover design moment: The UK cover is a stylish update on the standard and old fashioned hard boiled SciFi design with a stand-out spine in contrasting red.  The designer has not been credited in the ARC and I couldn’t find any reference to them – even in the Cover Reveal GollanczBlog post …

Revenger will be published by Gollancz on 15 September 2016.  I read a copy lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

Vigil : Angela Slatter

… dazzlingly inventiveness with smart as a whip one liners makes Vigil a sheer delight …  

Vigil is a brilliant urban fantasy from an accomplished Australian writer.  I read it too fast and had to force myself to slow down; I carried the book around just in case I had time to sneak a couple of pages … now, I can’t remember the last time I did THAT.

Smart and sassy detective, Verity Fassbinder, walks between the two Brisbanes, accompanied by (and bickering with) an assortment of entertaining characters such as Ziggi, the three eyed taxi driver; the Three Sisters who keep Little Venice cafe; and the grizzled Inspector McIntyre.

Damaged by memories of a dark Weyrd father and sore from an impossible Weyrd romance, Verity still feels duty bound to keep the peace, making sure the Weyrd remain hidden from the normal city.  Now multiple problems are clamouring for Verity’s attention including snatched children; an urban golem; a witchy wine maker and some seriously damaged sirens.

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Angela’s dazzlingly inventiveness of plot and character combined with smart as a whip one liners make Vigil a sheer delight to read.  I highly recommend it.

Angela Slatter is the award-winning author of various story collections. She has won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and five Aurealis Awards. Vigil is her first solo novel.

Vigil was published was Jo Fletcher Books (a Quercus imprint) on 16 July 2016.  I read a copy lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.  Thanks, Em!

 

 

Nevernight : Jay Kristoff

… exceptional world building …  with dazzling fights & unexpected treachery …

Like the inky shadows that swirl around the heroine, an undercurrent of darkness is never far away from this wonderful epic.  The story traces the story of sixteen year old Mia as she pulls herself and her fear drinking non-cat, Mister Kindly, up from despair and into the school of the Red Church.  With other student assassins, Mia battles through knife fights, blood pools and poisons, through staged trials and unexpected treachery, hoping to become a Blade in the service of the dark Mother – and then avenge her family.

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An exceptional world building talent, Jay has created a fascinating backdrop of setting and history in which to place his complex and likeable heroine, Mia.   Set amongst a well drawn array of secondary characters, the story has some great plot twists – with some dazzling fight and chase pieces – and a tremendous ending, with enough trailing lines for another book or two.

I enjoyed Jay’s deft use of flashbacks to create the past narratives, and his occasional move away from Mia’s point of view to create a particular effect. However, his footnotes!  After the first couple, I ignored them as they slowed the pace too much for me.

Apart from that, Nevernight is a real pleasure to read and I highly recommend it.

NB: Nevernight contains scenes of graphic sex and extreme violence and so is definitely Adult rather than Young Teen territory. 

Cover design moment : The UK cover is by Philippines-based illustrator, Kerby Rosanes, and is absolutely brilliant.  A real asset to the novel.  Well done whoever at HarperVoyager sourced and chose it – and for crediting him on the back.

Jay Kristoff is the author of the award winning Japanese Steampunk series, The Lotus War; and a second well received series, The Illuminae Files. With his work, Jay has been a winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction and a nominee for the David Gemmell  Award.

Nevernight will be published by HarperVoyager on 11 August 2016.  I read an ARC lent to me by Emily at A Festival of Books.

Baddesley Clinton

BC2.. gorgeous moated house set in beautiful gardens …

Baddesley Clinton is one of my top ten National Trust houses. The charm of this small Warwickshire site is matched by the enthusiasm of its volunteers and the strange and wonderful stories it holds.

Largely built in the c16th, Baddesley Clinton is a gorgeous moated house set in beautiful gardens; it boasts several great priest holes, a magnificent Elizabethan fireplace and an attendant willing to tell you all about the murder and the ghostly blood stains on the floor …  Great for children and history buffs alike with a lovely cafe and second hand book shop (yay!)

BC1

If you want to know more, the National Trust’s page about the house is here.

Children of Earth and Sky : Guy Gavriel Kay

… beguiling alternative Renaissance saga …

This is a beguiling historical yarn set around the Mediterranean during an alternative Renaissance.  The novel follows multiple characters: a female archer, a young portrait painter, a dismissed daughter, a merchant’s younger son,  who meet and part, weaving their way through the political, religious and commercial themes of their time.

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This is a slow yet rewarding read with some genuinely interesting characters and themes that linger for days after I finished. It’s my first GGK and now I do understand the passionate commitment his fans have for his work.  This is not so much fantasy as a well-constructed alternative history.  He has a remarkable way of recreating a credible texture and depth to background events whilst stitching the personal lives of his characters into the broader geopolitical narrative.

It is also graced by a particularly fine cover design by Ben Summers, though he is not credited on my UK hardback sleeve.

Children of Earth and Sky was published by Hodder & Stoughton in May 2016.

 

The King’s Revenge : Philip Womack

… exhilarating quest, resonating myth and rich characters  …

This is the concluding part of Philip’s fantasy trilogy, The Darkening Path.  Simon and Flora have saved their siblings and now the four children and their companions are in a desperate race to reverse the Broken King’s trap which has severed the connection between the worlds.

8727446Set in the mysterious and fantastical Silver Kingdom, the quest rattles along at a tremendous pace and is studded with some marvellous scenes (joining a Roman legion, anyone?) and characters (the huge bat-crab creature is a favourite).  It has a exhilarating conclusion with an unexpected, yet satisfying, twist.

Philip’s deft use of mythic images sets strong themes resonating throughout the novel whilst the delicate interplay of the different characters, and their gradual character development, keeps the emotional side of the story alive with possibility and significance.

Definitely to be recommended for lovers of fantasy, The King’s Revenge is pitched at 11+ readers and was published in paperback on 16 June 2016 by Troika Books.

Many thanks, Troika Books, for the review copy.

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