The detective is one of the Wild Folk, hurting and lonely in the city of an Olde London where magic reigns. Her apprentice is a Bird Shaman. They need to solve the murder and work out how the justice system can be corrupted before an innocent man is executed. They have five days.
… fighting, moral ambiguity, death – what’s not to like? …
I hadn’t really heard the term “grimdark” until a couple of years ago and, as a relatively new term the definition is still fairly flexible. Wikipedia currently has this: Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent. I guess what sets grimdark apart from horror is that the supernatural element can usually be controlled by characters or is treated as a force to be channelled by these characters rather than being some nameless inhuman horror.
Three of my favourite reads this year have been set squarely in the grimdark field: their protagonists are not very noble, their worlds are dystopian with dark forces at work and the deaths are generally gruesome.
Strangely enough I don’t like horror. Never read the stuff. So why did I enjoy these books?
After much thought I think it’s a combination of the pace, the unpredictability and the black humour of this genre I love so much. Looking back over my reviews, I use phrases such as: tremendous pacey thriller, a beguilingly flawed hero, exuberant story telling and enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.
Two other favourite reads of 2017 could almost be grimdark for their flawed protagonists, black humour and dark forces. The urban fantasy Corpselight by Angela Slatter with an excellent detective, Verity Fassbinder, set in Brisbane and the Young Adult novel, The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin which will be out next year. It is a delicious mixture of folklore, fantasy and horror.
Godblind by Anna Stephens was published by Harper Voyager in June 2017 in the UK. My review can be read here and her twitter account is @AnnaSmithWrites
Blackwing by Ed McDonald was published in July 2017 by Gollanczin the UK. My full review is here. Ed’s very entertaining blog is here It includes some great posts on writing and the publishing journey. And longsword technique. He is on twitter @EdMcDonaldTFK
Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff was published by HarperVoyager in September 2017. My review is here. For further information on Jay, his website is here. His twitter feed is fun to follow @misterkristoff
Corpse Light by Angela Slatter was published by Jo Fletcher Books in July 2017. My full review can be read here and her twitter account is @AngelaSlatter
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin will be published by David Fickling Books in March 2018. My review is here and his twitter account is @TheCallYA
Sequel to City of Stairs (which I absolutely loved), City of Blades is a more sombre yet still an extremely satisfying novel with a loveable hero to follow against the incredible backdrop of Robert’s rich world building.
It is quite a challenge to produce a sequel that can stand up to a brilliant and much praised first book. Robert very sensibly refuses to repeat a winning formula and shifts focus to a secondary character from the City of Stairs. He homes in on the very wonderful Turyin Mulaghesh, a kick-ass, troubled and almost retired General who argues and swears her way through this novel, with the grimmest determination. I adored her.
Though other main and loved characters from the City of Stairs such as Shara and Sigrud appear do, we are following Turyin, this broken, war scarred woman, as she is sent to Voortyashtan, under cover, to investigate the disappearance of another officer. There are murders and assassinations, the politics of occupation and a lot of back history to ramble through and, of course, some divine intervention to contend with.
It’s hard to categorise the genre exactly (not that I want to shove this book in a box) but I would guess it is a mixture of epic fantasy for its soaring, complete and satisfying world building combined with urban fantasy for the wonderful Turyin Mulaghesh‘s approach to life.
Cover design moment: The cover of UK edition is by the Soho-based KS Agency and it made the long list for the Ravenheart Award for fantasy cover art which is chosen by open vote. It features the rocky landscape of his world and hints at the divinity that lies beyond. I love the clean lyricism of lettering which invites a second look though I think the book deserves something bolder.
City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett was published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books in January 2016. It is the second in the Divine Cities trilogy.
… great fun urban fantasy with a kick-ass female lead …
Verity Fassbinder is half Weyrd and half norm – a status which makes her well placed to police the blurred lines between the normal and the shadowy in the city of Brisbane. When an insurance company gets troubled by an “Unusual Happenstance, Verity is called in and the threads of the situation unfurl to coil around her friends and her family, and ultimately Verity herself.
Angela writes with great style and economy. The story line is fast and furious with lots of fabulous characters and relationship twists but, most of all, I’ve waited all year to spend time with Verity again. She is loud mouthed, full of heart and this time, she’s very, very pregnant.
Angela Slatter is an award-winning author of short story collections for which she has won the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and five Aurealis Awards. Vigil, the first Verity Fassbinder book,was her first solo novel. Angela lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Cover design moment: The illustration of a Kitsune (fox) assassin is by Rory Kee, who is name credited on the back and appears to work for Quercus quite a bit – though unfortunately I can’t find a website for her.
Corpse Light by Angela Slatter was published by Jo Fletcher Books, an imprint of Quercus, on 13th July 2017. This is the second in Angela’s Verity Fassbinder series. Restoration, the third, is hopefully out next year.
Looking back over the 32 book reviews I have posted in 2016, I’ve had a brilliant reading year : so much imagination; so much wit and adventure; scenes and characters that linger long after the books close. If you follow my blog, you will know that I only publish reviews for books I would recommend and so my “Best of 2016” is really ALL my reviews. Obviously.
However, if someone forced me to narrow it down, I would chose (in no particular order):
The Australian Urban Fantasy, Vigil by Angela Slatter, for its dazzlingly inventiveness of plot and character combined with smart as a whip one liners. My original post is here.
The intense, thrilling Nevernight by Fantasy virtuoso, Jay Kristoff, for delving so gloriously into the dark side of the genre. The full review is here.
The fast paced and scary The Call by Peadar O’Guilin for its kiss-ass heroine and seat of the pants race to the end. Here’s a link to my review post.
Although I didn’t plan it this way, they all have strong female leads and dark Fantasy backgrounds. Whether it’s my preference or some 2016 zeitgeist, who knows?
And my very favourite visit of 2016 was to the extraordinarily inspiring Lost Library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, a fascinating exhibition, crammed full of gorgeous exhibits and helpful explanatory notes. I could have camped out there. My full review is here.
I started this blog just over a year ago to share my love of books and to create an aide memoire for myself. It’s great fun to write and I find the quality of my reading (and visiting) has improved with the focus of this blog. I particularly want to say a big THANKS to Emily at Emily’s Bookshop in Campden for giving me so many ARCs and book suggestions.
Wishing you all a productive and creatively filled 2017.
Emily, my excellent bookseller, thought I might like this … and I was dubious as I’m more of an urban fantasy girl myself. But, what a read! This book is written in the present tense balancing the supernatural world of ghosts with the growing tension of a stalker about to pounce. Its charm builds slowly as the book starts with a boiler plate policeman, DI Dark, who is nursing a broken marriage and a serious drink problem – so what’s new? Well, quite a lot as it turns out.
AK Benedict deftly plays her stock characters and various strands: a blind mudlark, a vengeful spirit, a psychic funeral director, a criminal ring, and a taxi driving ghost around the main plot of a stalker planning to take his next victim. DI Dark has already failed to catch this stalker and a miasma of desperation and grief hangs around this story of murder victims, brutal coercion and fading ghosts. This is lightened by believable characters that linger long after you’ve stopped reading and a truly wonderful and intriguing Maria, the object of the stalker’s desire: “I’m a stalkee. He’s not MY stalker.”; and her guide dog, Billy who huffs.
AK Benedict also has great fun scattering potential candidates for the stalker liberally around the story : is it Denver, the computer whizz, or Martin, the would-be boyfriend or some one else in the Force? My mind started to jump with the possibilities.
This is a captivating supernatural crime thriller. I was rooting for DI Dark and Maria all the way and do I hope they return sometime soon.
AK Benedict lives in Hastings and writes in a room filled with teapots and the severed head of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Her debut novel, The Beauty of Murder, was shortlisted for an eDunnit award and is in development for an 8-part TV series. Her audio drama, The Victorian Age,was released as part of the Torchwood range at Big Finish while Outbreak, a full-cast Torchwood audio co-written with Guy Adams and Emma Reeves, will be released in November 2016.
Cover design moment: The designer of the smart UK cover is credited in AK’s blog. He is the lovely Patrick Knowles who is responsible for the hand lettering and cover design for Ben Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London series.
Jonathan Dark was published in February 2016 by Orion Books. I was given a proof copy by A Festival of Books. Thanks, Em!
This has a great protagonist, Red Ben Garston, and a mix of satisfying story ideas drawn from myth. The story is fun, however some of James‘ more florid descriptions stopped me dead as I tried to figure them out. I do remember some brilliant images though: a wizened witch’s lips being described as a “fish bone” DOES work!
I felt James deserved a better editor as there was too much back story slowing the pace and a whole chunk of substory (about 16 pages) which really should have been excised.
I’m sure the editing will improve and I’m definitely enough curious to read the next in the series … when it arrives.
Cover design moment: The first class UK cover design is by Tracy Winwood who may (or may not) be a British designer based in Winchester. The internet search I did on her brought up next to nothing. This is a shame as I thought her design is distinctive and has lots of legroom for development in a Ben Garston series.
Chasing Embers was published on 8 September 2016 by Orbit Books. I was given a review copy by A Festival of Books. Thanks, Em!
… a diviner with a troubling past and a dangerous future …
Alex Verus is the owner of Arcana Emporium, a shop in Camden Town, North London. He’s also a diviner with a troubling past and a dangerous future with a sort of cursed girlfriend and a habit of not taking sides. Alex gets dragged into the middle of a treasure hunt with Dark and Light mages competing for an ancient prize hidden in the British Museum: a fateweaver, a wand that can control the future. Ghosts from Alex’s teenage years come back to haunt him – and kill him – as he tries to protect the ones he loves and hold himself apart from the deadly competitors’ claims on his loyalty.
Benedict weaves a thoroughly enjoyable story with a likeable and damaged hero through to a thrilling and very well constructed end. I would say there’s slightly too much explanation which began to slow the pace down, but I’m guessing Benedict’s writing can only get better.
A great addition to any urban fantasy shelf and, as Fated is the first in a series of seven, I look forward to reading more …
Cover design moment: The UK covers for at least the first couple in the series are by Sian Wilson. She is currently a Senior Designer at Simon and Schuster . They really are good which is just as well as they have to compete with the urban fantasy bestseller, Ben Aaronovitch‘s, gorgeous covers based on a work by Stephen Walter.
Fated was published by Orbit in March 2012. I came across the book as the first chapter was printed in the back of Chasing Embers by James Bennett.
… 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.
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!