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Rigg's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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historical fiction

A Skinful of Shadows (Extract) : Frances Hardinge

… deliciously atmospheric …

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Frances Hardinge‘s next novel is a thrillingly dark tale of witchcraft and possession set during the turbulent Civil War of the C17th. I have been given a First Five Chapters promotional extract by my indie bookseller, Emily, at Emily’s Bookshop. Thanks, Em!

The fierce Makepeace feels friendless and awkward. She is no more than a servant in her Uncle’s house. Her distant mother frequently locks the girl in a disused chapel at night.  “You need to stay here and sharpen your stick.” For the woman knows there are ghosts that will try to invade Makepeace’s mind. Out on the marshes one day, she tries to rescue a dying animal, and the creature’s spirit becomes part of her. As a “by-blow”, she is sent to live at Grizehayes, her grandfather’s house, and this is where the adventure really begins …

… and I can’t wait to read the rest of it!

Frances has conjured up another passionate, caring outsider in Makepeace. Her character alone would make me read on. But this girl combined with the C17th and witchcraft is my idea of heaven. As always, her turn of phrase is sparkling: the terrifying minister whose preaching contains “love like a cold white comet”; and her pacing of the exposition is spot on, trailing just enough clues for the reader to guess at what’s to come.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: The gorgeous cover, reminiscent of mille fleur tapestry patterns, is by the very talented Romanian illustrator, Aitch. More of her work can be found here.

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge will be published by Pan Macmillan on 21st September 2017.

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Gilded Cage : Vic James

… absorbing and compelling ..

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Imagine a Britain ruled by an elite where ordinary folk – you and me – are condemned to choose ten years of slavery to keep the economy going. Teenager Abi has a perfect plan to keep her family together by working for the Jardines, a family Skilled in magic.  Only something goes terribly wrong and her brother, Luke, is sent to a grim Northern slavetown.  This split allows reader to follow both Abi and Luke in their different worlds: the luxurious yet dangerous country house of Kyneston and the brutal factory complex of Millmoor.

The differing stories of Luke and Abi, and the lesser chorus of four other viewpoints, threw me for a while, as I do like to invest in one lead character.  However Vic uses this technique to great effect and her compelling narrative and clean prose style makes for a smooth, fast read.  Add some sparkling secondary characters including Renie-rhymes-with-Genie; the pitiful Dog; and the  menacing Silyen; mix with a little romance and Vic has created a highly enjoyable adventure which rather catches the zeitgeist of an elite rich with a drone underclass  …

My only slight quibble is that the ending was rather ragged.  By that I mean consequences of the story’s climax are only briefly played out in this book with obviously much more to come in the second, Tarnished City.

Vic James is a current affairs TV director and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She has twice judged the Guardian‘s The Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpad.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a quarter of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015. Vic James lives and works in London … which means – HURRAH – she can be counted as the seventh review in my British Books Challenge 2017.  Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.

Cover design moment:  The cover design is by Joanna Thomson, a senior designer in the Pan Macmillan Art Department – and she is credited on the back.  (Second HURRAH.) I loved the curly magical font and the strong, embossed silhouette of the cage.  I wasn’t entirely sure of the relevance of the black bird (a crow?) and feathers apart the overall sinister implication but hopefully it will become clearer as the trilogy progresses.  Further examples of her work can be found here.

Gilded Cage by Vic James was published by Pan Books on 26 January 2017.   It is the first in the Dark Gifts Trilogy which will also include Tarnished City and Bright Ruin.

 

A Symphony of Echoes : Jodi Taylor

… great fun alt. history …

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I’ve been wanting to read this series for a while and the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary‘s arrived before the first.   Undeterred, I went right ahead and read A Symphony of Echoes.  It didn’t matter; the writing doesn’t take itself seriously and I just went along for the ride.  And what a ride!  Jodi sets her protagonist, Max, off at a tremendous lick, ricocheting from Victorian slums to c12th Canterbury to Ancient Nineveh taking in dodos and arch villainy at the same time.

The background to the series is the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research: an academic establishment full of historians who travel in pods to investigate major past events.  This allows Jodi to take her pick of any historical episode and drop her characters straight into the heart of it; her vivid imagining of the past adds to the fun and the story can lift itself up and put whenever it wants.     All this frenetic activity teeters on the brink of excess, but I can forgive Jodi as she has created a splendid character, Madeleine Maxwell.  It’s told in the first person and the speed of the narrative is heightened by this smart, sassy, possibly damaged young woman’s stream of observations and one-liners.

Recommended.

Cover design moment: The old UK covers of this series all feature a rather cool clock spiral, looking rather like a trilobite, and a book-specific mock historical painting.  It’s fine but … the fuzziness wouldn’t grab me if I was browsing in a bookshop.  I prefer the new design even though there are quite a few cod Victorian covers around at the moment.  They are altogether brighter and echo the breeziness of the storytelling – which, I think, is a great selling point.

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Jodi Taylor ‘s biog states (amongst other things) … born in Bristol and educated in Gloucester (facts both cities vigorously deny), she spent many years with her head somewhere else, much to the dismay of family, teachers and employers, before finally deciding to put all that daydreaming to good use and pick up a pen …

She started out self publishing her novels, very successfully, before being approached by independent publishers, Accent Press.  A quick and interesting account of her journey can be found here at the Writers’ Workshop website.  Jodi, herself, writes some very entertaining blog posts on her own website, here.

This book is the third review in my British Books Challenge 2017.

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Peters is published by Accent Press.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop recommended it to me.  Thanks, Em!

A Curious Beginning : Deanna Raybourn

… enthusiastic and charming storytelling …

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Deanna is the creator of the best selling Lady Julia Grey Mysteries series and my local bookseller suggested I give this tongue in cheek Victoria romp a go.

I really enjoyed the set up: Veronica Speedwell, intrepid lady Lepidopterist (cue scientific passages) defying Victorian mores (kiss-ass heroine) with attractive male companion whilst solving murder.  It’s a fun proposition.    However, after the first third, I felt that  Deanna had fallen too far over to the cartoon side of her creation.  There was little complexity to Veronica and much repetition of her convention-breaking,  no-nonsense approach to the opposite sex.   This, and the very broad brush strokes of plot building,  broke the illusion that I was reading more than a collection of fictitious characters being moved around a Victorian toy theatre.   And yet, I did read to the end because Deanna is an enthusiastic and charming story teller.  I hope the sequel, A Perilous Undertaking, due January next year, brings more depth to an enjoyable construct.

Cover design moment: A bold and attractive pastiche of silhouettes and Victoriana by Julia Lloyd makes for a bright and very attractive cover.  She also designs the UK covers for VE Schwab‘s A Darker Shade of Magic series, though I can’t find a website for her studio.

A Curious Beginning was published in October 2015 by Titan Books.  Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her copy.  Thanks, Em!

Judging a Book by its Cover : Favourite Designs of 2016

I’ve been blogging for just about a year now and, during this time, I am gradually appreciating just how important the cover designs are and just how much thought goes into each one.   So I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate some of the truly brilliant covers that have passed through my hands.  My favourites complement their novel’s theme and genre whilst creating a stand out design to attract the browsing customer.

In no particular order, my top five are:

Beetle Boy by  M.G. Leonard.  These gorgeous illustrations are by Barcelona illustrator, Julia Sarda Portabella.  A link to her website is here.  I love the whole joie de vivre of the concept including the fore edge decoration – which is an added bonus.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.   The UK cover was designed by Cherie Chapman from the Harper Fiction team featuring an illustration by Philippines-based artist, Kerby Rosanes; it’s absolutely brilliant.  A real asset to the novel.  Here’s a link to Jay’s blog post where Cherie describes the design process.  I think it is so much better than the US design.

Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson.   I loved this cover with its old engraving style and the clever use of colour to create a Tricolour impression.  The wonderful illustrator is Royston Knipe.  His website is here.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl.   With Peter’s visual background in animation, it’s not surprising that the book has a great cover created by Kath Millichope, Fiction Designer at Usbourne.  There’s a lovely post by Middle Grade Strikes Back which includes an interview by Kath and the design animated by Peter.  The illustrations are by a wonderful American artist,  Becca Stadtlander.  Her work really enhances the story.  You can see more of it here.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. I thought, on first picking it up, this was an old Fifties style design.  Of course, it’s a stylish remake by the Italian twin sisters, Anna and Elena Balbusso.  Their website is here.

Blade and Bone : Catherine Johnson

… a thrilling adventure set in Revolutionary Paris …

9781406341874In this sequel to Sawbones (published in 2013), Catherine moves her characters from c18th England to c18th France and we follow the young surgeon, Ezra McAdam, to Revolutionary Paris.  Here, the English are the enemy and Citizen Renaud is anxious to involve Ezra in his reanimation experiments for which the “National Razor” is creating a steady supply.

In this dangerous city of harsh poverty and unpredictable violence, can Ezra find and rescue his friends: the impetuous Loveday and high handed Prince Mahmoud?

Blade and Bone is a thrilling adventure involving complex, believable characters with an intriguing background of c18th fact.  Catherine has a lightness of touch and she deploys her considerable knowledge to colour the story without weighing down the narrative.  I particularly enjoyed the dashing Lieutenant Colonel Dumas  of the American Regiment – a  real person and, as Catherine explains in her epilogue, still today the highest ranking soldier of African descent in any European army.  She has written more detail about the man here, in The History Girls blog.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: I loved this cover with its old engraving style and the clever use of colour to create a Tricolour impression.  The wonderful illustrator  is Royston Knipe.  His website is here.

Blade and Bone was published on 6 October 2016 by Walker Books.  

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