Once again we follow Zen Starling as he travels across the galaxy with Nova, the almost human Motorik, trying to work out their relationship – (How does that even work, a human and a Moto? Zen is asked.) – whilst fighting the Guardians for control of the Great Network. Continue reading “Station Zero : Philip Reeve”→
… 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
… addictive mix of wild savagery and messy emotions …
Peadar is a master of combining thrilling horror with thoughtful characterisation, creating an addictive mix of wild savagery and messy human emotions. As with The Call, he drives The Invasion‘s plot forwards at a tremendous pace whilst adding just the right amount of intimate scenes for the reader to become very attached to his cast – an incredibly difficult balancing act to achieve. I guess it’s something to do with his Irish folklore heritage.
Peadar’s mixture of horror and tragedy is highlighted by the deformed S’dhe animals made up of tortured humans including the centaurs apologising as they scythe through people and, my particular favourite, the tiny winged Fr Ambrosio who craves eyeballs.
The Invasion‘s story is spread across three different viewpoints: between Ness, the main character in The Call, her boyfriend, Anto, and Aoife, a student from their Boyle Survival College. I was keen to find out how he could make their predicament even worse than the first book. Well, Peadar doubles the pressure by making the beleaguered government believe Ness to be a S’dhe spy. They lock her up in prison research establishment whilst sending her beloved Anto to the front line of the Sidhe invasion. Can Ness use her S’dhe given powers to defeat the invasion and be reunited with her beloved Anto? The plot races to a satisfying final battle and conclusion.
With his tightly written story telling and deft characterisation, Peader is one of the finest YA novelists around. The Call was on the shortlist for The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2017. My review of it is here. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
Notice: The horrors are truly disturbing and there’s a little discreet sex so this book is definitely a Young Adult rather than a Pre-Teen choice.
Cover design moment: The striking cover is by the award winning Blacksheep design team. It’s not black! HURRAH. Proving images can be sinister and intriguing with being black. Further details of their work can be found here.
The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin will be published by David Fickling Books in March 2018.
A Gathering of Shadows is the second in VE Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series following the adventures of the impetuous and very determined Delilah Bard, a brilliant protagonist who is an entertaining delight to spend time with – the opening sequence was worth the price of the paperback. Truly.
Victoria skilfully manoeuvres Lilah via a spot of piracy back to Red London to compete in the Element Games, a magical tournament, where she will face Kell, adopted brother of Prince Rhy and one of the few Antari, who can travel between other worlds. The book had some great set pieces, new intriguing characters and a wonderful sense of place though I thought, on occasion, the story could have been pacier and every so often there was a slight sense of the architecture behind the story showing through … nonetheless very enjoyable.
Cover design moment: Congratulations to Julia Lloyd, Senior Fiction Designer at Titan Books for another stunning cover design. A wonderful silhouette of Delilah Bard with distinct red and black colour scheme perfectly conjuring up the feel of the book. Interestingly, the US cover by Will Staehle is also gorgeous: stylish and distinctive – and unusually for different countries’ cover both designs can be seen as a riff on each other, using the same color scheme – which is pertinent to the book’s setting. It is really is a very close call, if I had to choose between between the two, after a long pause, I would have to say I prefer Julia’s. Will’s woodcut element is slightly less complementary to the novel; it’s more fairy tale-like and less adventure story. Whichever you prefer, both UK and US designs for the series are some of THE best covers around at the moment.
A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab was published by Titan Books in the Uk and Tor Books in the USA in February 2016. It is the second in the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy.
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.
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. And a blogpost about the ideas behind the design can be found at MyKindaBook here.
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge will be published by Pan Macmillan on 21st September 2017.
“I think I might be a murderer.” STAGS starts out at a cracking pace and never lets up until the end. Told in the first person, MA creates the very likeable Greer MacDonald, a scholarship student at an elite boarding school. Full of arcane rituals and costumes, Greer is lonely and desperate for approval until the invitation arrives for a long weekend away with Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy in the school, and his friends. The action then moves to Henry’s country house in the Lake District for a weekend of hunting, shooting and fishing. With no telephones and no parents around, Greer gradually realises Henry’s ulterior motive to her inclusion.
MA builds tension and great empathy in S.T.A.G.S by choosing a close first person narrative. By keeping the locations tight, just the school and the house, she also leaves herself ample space to expand and explore the various relationships in this quite short book. A very readable story in the hands of an experienced writer.
Just a couple of kisses and very little actual violence, make this suitable for lower end YA or upper end MG. US readers should be aware that the 18 year olds drink, sometimes to excess.
MA Bennett is the pen name of Marina Fiorato, who has written a series of historical novels including the best selling The Glassblower of Murano. She is half-Venetian, born in Manchester and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. She is a history graduate and since worked as an illustrator, actress and film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. Further information about these historical novels can be found at her website here. There doesn’t appear to be a separate MA Bennett website yet.
This is my twelfth review in the British Books Challenge 2017. Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.
Cover design moment: As this is an ARC, there are no details of the designer. The mottled dark brown background reminds me of worn leather – and therefore suggests a country house feel – whilst the eye catching golden stag’s head illustration possibly has a nod towards Harry Potter’s Patronus. I would have preferred either a stained glass window of St Aidan or a tapestry hunting scene but that maybe off putting for some YA readers.
S.T.A.G.S by MA Bennett will be published by Hot Key Books, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, on 10th August 2017 in the UK and Delacorte Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will publish the novel in the US in 2018. Feature film rights have already been bought.
It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!
Kellen is approaching his sixteenth birthday and it is becoming increasingly obvious he will not become a Jan’Tep. Unlike his sister who has the potential to be a magus; his friends, Panahsi and Nephenia; and even his rival, Tennat, none of the bands at his wrist have sparked so he will become Sha’Tep, part of the servant class.
Kellen, furious and desperate by turns, fights back using his wit against this high magic. With the help of a foreign cardsharp and a bolshy squirrel cat, Kellen uncovers secrets that will change him and his society forever.
Sebastien has created a cracking good read: clear and attractive characters set in effortless world building with a great narrative pace and lightened with some lovely touches of humour. Its tagline: “the fantasy novel that keeps you guessing on every page” sums it up. Sebastien backs Kellen into so many unwinnable situations, I just had to read one more chapter to see how it turned out …
Usually, I edit down biographies in my posts but his is such fun that I didn’t wield the blue pencil quite so energetically. Here’s the (almost) full length piece … Sebastien had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His debut novel, Traitor’s Blade, was shortlisted for both the 2014 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy and the Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut. He lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats. You can reach him at www.decastell.com
Cover Design Moment: There are two cover designs for this book. I am assuming I have a proof of the UK edition – which I prefer. It’s a clear and dramatic design featuring a playing card design with the magical wrist tattoos Kellen tries so desperately to quicken. The US (?) design takes the card theme further showing Kellen with his familiar, Reichis, and Ferius Parfax, the Argosi cardsharp, on the flip side. It’s still a bold clear design yet portraits of fantasy characters are always a problematic mismatch for me … they just don’t look anything like the images created by my imagination! I’m going to email the publisher to find out more details about the designer.
Spellslinger will be published in May 2017 by Hot Key Books, the teens and YA imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group. It is the first in a planned series of six books. Emily at Emily’s Bookshop lent me her proof copy. Thanks, Em!
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.
I have come rather late to the Tearling party! I loved this book. It’s a brilliant page turner with an incredibly strong narrative and well drawn, likeable (or dastardly) characters. On her 19th birthday the soldiers come for Kelsea to take her to be crowned as Queen of the Tearling … if she survives that long. There’s a wicked Uncle, an evil witch, bandits, slavery and a loyal pack of personal guards. As the book blurb quote from HEAT magazine says helpfully : “Did you like The Hunger Games? Partial to an episode of Game of Thrones? Then you’re going to want to dive straight into this.” I particularly enjoyed that fact that Kelsea is not the perfect heroine. She is not superfit, has trouble handling a sword and has a puppy crush on someone. Yet, her heart is in the right place and she’s trying to make up for her appalling mother’s legacy. I also was greatly entertained by the growing relationship between Kelsea and her bodyguard, Lazarus. Highly recommended.
btw The book does have some sex and hints at rather horrid and gruesome slavery so it’s for older teens.
Erika Johansen grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and became an attorney. Now she lives in England … which means – HURRAH – she can be counted as the sixth review in my British Books Challenge 2017. Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.
Cover design moment: The UK cover for this book of a bear trap on a red cushion is cute and to the point, if slightly cloying for such a strong protagonist and very little romance . The design continues through the series and are by Sarah Whittaker, a Senior Designer, at Transworld Publishers.
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen was published by Bantam Books on 16 July 2015. It is the first in the Tearling Trilogy which includes The Invasion of Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling (Dec 16).