debut

Review: The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

The Bone SeasonThe Bone Season (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Samantha Shannon (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

Details

Series: The Bone Season #1
Genre: Dystopia/Paranormal Fantasy/Sci-fi
Published: Bloomsbury, August 20 2013
Pages: 480
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

With a fast paced story, a strong heroine and a world described with exquisite detail, I enjoyed The Bone Season from beginning to end. I had heard a lot about how this was to be the next Hunger Games, the next big hit. While I’m not sure it quite hit that mark, I thought it was a brilliantly written debut that fans of the Hunger Games should certainly enjoy.

Paige is a clairvoyant – living in hiding in the criminal underworld from those in Scion London who believe her to be “Unnatural”. Her gift is to be able to sense other people’s dreamscapes and can influence others, even hurt them. She discovers that her abilities can even be deadly when she is discovered on the underground and kills two guards in self-defence. For that crime, she is arrested and sent to the penal colony of Sheol I, in the mysterious lost city of Oxford. There, she is introduced to the Rephaim – a strange race of humanoid beings who are living alongside voyant humans as their masters. All Paige wants to do is get away from her cold and aloof keeper, Warden, but as the weeks unfold it seems that the Rephaim are up to more than just keeping the world safe from the flesh-eating Emite beasts.

The Bone Season isn’t actually publicised as Young Adult, but it reads a lot like a YA Dystopia with its young protagonist, fighting to release other young people from an repressive society. This is not a new story – in fact I can think of several books I’ve read recently that have quite a similar high-level storyline, but in the Bone Season we are treated to quite a unique take on it. The world that Samantha Shannon has created here is rich and incredibly detailed, not just the corporeal world of the Scion citadel of London and of Oxford’s Sheol I, but also the etheral world – that of dreamscapes, spirits, soothsayers and guardian angels.

The world of Scion is a sort of alternative future, where the United Kingdom was rocked by some kind of event in the early nineteenth century. The Rephaim appeared from the aether and clairvoyants started appearing in the population. Fast forward to 2059 and London is now a Scion citadel, providing young voyants for the use of the Rephaim of Sheol I, or Oxford. It all has a slightly steam-punkish feel to it, although history seems to have continued in a similar fashion to the real world with Frank Sinatra music, computers and high heels still around.

The first few chapters of the story felt rather overwhelming at times, as the reader is thrown right into the thick of this world and its vernacular. There is a glossary at the back of some commonly used slang which might come in handy if you know about it before you get to the end! We only gradually learn about what has happened in the past and what the Rephaim actually are, and by the end of this first book in the series I still have a lot of questions about all manner of things in this world. The Rephaim themselves actually confused me a little as in another series I’ve read recently by Paula Weston, the Rephaim are half-angels and quite different from the beings in this book.

Information overload aside, Samantha Shannon has done an amazing job of keeping the pace up in this debut work. I had a hard time stopping at the end of each chapter, especially towards the end! The action grabbed me more than the characters did – while some of the characters were charmingly unique, I felt that most of the Dials group were a little nondescript and even the Rephaim themselves were hard to visualise. I did love Paige though – she was incredibly determined to hate everyone she perceived as an enemy and that made her a very strong character. The progression of her relationship with Warden was slightly predictable but subtle enough that I loved how it evolved.

I found The Bone Season to be a fantastic debut from Samantha Shannon who at only 22 years of age, with a seven-book publishing deal and upcoming film production under her belt certainly has a bright career ahead of her. Bring on the next in the series!

Warnings: Graphic violence, some sexual situations

What did others think of The Bone Season?

  • “If you like urban fantasy at all, please read this, you won’t regret it.” – Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  • “Shannon has created so much strange and peculiar mythology that provided so much depth to the novel. This book is just something so odd and yet so special at the same time. ” – Scott Reads It
  • “The world in The Bone Season was very in depth and well thought out, with its own language and a uniqueness unlike anything I’ve ever read before. But … sometimes it got a bit confusing and hard to grasp.” – Auntie Spinelli Reads

 

Watch the Trailer

Review: Shadows, Paula Weston

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


ShadowsShadows (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Paula Weston (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

It’s almost a year since Gaby Winters was in the car crash that killed her twin brother, Jude. Her body has healed in the sunshine of Pandanus Beach, but her grief is raw and constant. It doesn’t help that every night in her dreams she kills demons and other hell-spawn.

And then Rafa comes to town. Not only does he look exactly like the guy who’s been appearing in Gaby’s dreams—he claims a history with her brother that makes no sense. Gaby is forced to accept that what she thought she knew about herself and her life is only a shadow of the truth—and that the truth is more likely to be found in the shadows of her nightmares.

Who is Rafa? Who are the Rephaim? And most importantly, who can she trust?

Details

Series: The Rephaim #1
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Published: Text Publishing in Australia, July 2012. In the UK was published January 2013 by Indigo. Will be published in the US and Canada by Tundra Books in September 2013.
Pages: 388
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository • Barnes & Noble (pre-order) • Bookworld
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Gaby has been living in Pandanus Beach for eight months, seeking peace and quiet after the tragic accident that killed her twin brother Jude and almost her as well. She’s still trying to shut out the nightmares and the grief when the very attractive Rafa shows up, revealing a whole new world of fallen angels, demons and hellions that Gaby had literally only dreamed of – and to top it off, Rafa claims to have been friends with Jude.

Shadows is a roller-coaster ride of a read, very tense all the way through. The story is told in the present tense exclusively by Gaby, so we only get revelations about what’s going on as she does. I found it very difficult to put down!

Gorgeous UK cover

Gorgeous UK cover

The romance (yes, of course there’s some) is very subtle and slow-burning, even after a “whoa, hang on a minute” section right at the start of the story where I was a little worried insta-love was going to be rearing its ugly head. Early on I did feel like slapping all the male characters for various reasons, but they did start to grow on me (especially Rafa!). I loved Gaby and her friend Maggie and their relationship all the way through, though. Gaby is certainly what I’d call a kick-arse heroine, not really in the physical fighter sense (yet) but even after she’s hit with a bewildering variety of situations and information about what her life was really like before the accident, she never stops questioning what is actually going on.

I think the thing I loved most about reading this story is the “Aussie-ness” of the settings, the characters and the dialogue. How many books have baddies referred to as “arse-clowns” or that one’s injuries “sting like a bastard”? Pan Beach sounds like somewhere north of the Sunshine Coast I may have visited on holiday – just perfect for the story, and the whole atmosphere feels very familiar. I enjoyed every moment of reading it and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, Haze.

If you’re looking for a paranormal fantasy with an Aussie twist, I highly recommend Shadows. Certainly one of my favourite YA reads of this year!

Warnings: Sexual references, graphic violence

The Rephaim series

shadows_uk Haze Book 3: Shimmer Due 2014  Book 4: ??

About the Author

Paula WestonPaula Weston is an avid reader and blogger, a huge fan of Australian literature and fantasy/paranormal stories, a closet comic reader and TV addict…and she’s borderline obsessed with the Foo Fighters.

In her day job, she’s a writer-journalist-professional communicator with pH creative.

(Bio from Goodreads)

 

Review: Aurora: Darwin, Amanda Bridgeman

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


Aurora DarwinAurora: Darwin (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Amanda Bridgeman (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

When a distress signal is received from a black-ops space station on the edge of inhabited space, Captain Saul Harris of the UNF Aurora is called in from leave to respond. But the mission is not what it seems. Female members of the United National Forces have not been allowed to travel into the outer zones before, but Harris is ordered to take three new female recruits.

For Corporal Carrie Welles, one of the Aurora‘s new recruits, her first mission in space seems like a dream come true. Determined to achieve the success of her father before her, and suddenly thrust into a terrifying mission, she must work with her new captain and the strained Aurora crew to make it home alive.

When the Aurora arrives at the station Harris and Welles soon find themselves caught up in a desperate fight for survival. Station Darwin is not what they expected. The lights are off. But somebody is home.

Details

Series: Aurora #1
Genre: Science fiction Thriller
Published: Momentum Australia, May 1, 2013
Pages: 532
My copy: the publisher for review, thanks!

E-copies only:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Aurora: Darwin on the Momentum books site!

Review

It’s been a while since I read a proper hard military sci-fi. Often they are cold, violent stories with few realistic characters, and while Aurora: Darwin doesn’t hold back with the violence, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the crew of the Aurora before the action starts. I was even a bit disappointed when they arrived at the Darwin because I was quite enjoying reading about how the original crew were reacting to suddenly having three women in their previously all-male domain.

The story is told from two alternating points of view – Captain Saul Harris, who knows something is up with this mission even before he accepts it, and Corporal Carrie Welles, a young Aussie sharpshooter, new to Space Duty but desperate to fit in and prove her usefulness. The rest of the crew are various nationalities and backgrounds, including the two other women sent along with this mission as a supposed PR exercise.

There were a few things about this story that I didn’t really buy. Firstly, several of the crew members of the Aurora question orders, including Captain Harris. Now, I’m no military expert, but I’m fairly sure that orders aren’t there to be questioned and in the real Earthly armed forces you’d get your arse kicked pretty severely if you defied orders as much as Carrie does. Then there was the Darwin. If your crew had just been attacked by vicious hostiles of unknown abilities and you knew they were locked off your ship, why go back in after them? Especially when there’s backup on the way! I just couldn’t understand why they were so keen to get back into the Darwin and find the baddies, when they were pretty obviously out-gunned. I mean I realise it wouldn’t have been such a great story if they’d held back, but it just seemed like a really dumb decision to me. One last thing that I didn’t like so much was the ending – without giving anything away, the story peaks at about the 80% mark and I was rather underwhelmed by such an anticlimactic wrap-up after that.

Plot problems aside, I really enjoyed reading this story. The action scenes were great and although the character-building scenes slowed the pace a little at times, the tension was kept high throughout the story and it’s pretty nail-bitingly scary at times! The characters themselves are interesting and their relationships and banter are what made this story a really enjoyable read.

I’d recommend Aurora: Darwin to anyone who likes their sci-fi to be about realistic people, and not overly technical. There’s a sequel on it’s way later in 2013 – Aurora: Pegasus. I’ll be interested to hear what the Aurora‘s crew get up to next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual situations

About the Author

amandabridgemanBorn and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs.

She lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue her dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides.

When she’s not writing, she loves to travel and partake in a little photography.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: Mudlark, Chris Matthews

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


MudlarkMudlark (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Chris Matthews (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

On the outskirts of the city, a young orphan boy, Lark, is forced to scavenge the muddy flats of the river for treasure in order to survive. When he finds a magical box that cannot be opened, his life changes forever. Lark soon learns that he is destined to battle the Capposeign – the corrupt and evil theocracy that rules the city of Perous with fire magic.

However, Lark soon discovers that he has his own sort of magic, earned through a childhood spent in the water. He must quickly learn how to use his power or die trying. In his quest to take down the Capposeign, Lark must ally with a witch, an artist, a revolutionary, and a strangely familiar and beautiful courtesan. Facing the powerful fire mages will push Lark and his friends to the very limit as they fight to save the city but will their efforts be enough, or will it all go up in flames?

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA/NA High Fantasy
Published: Momentum Australia, July 1, 2013
Pages: 430
My copy: the publisher via Netgalley

E-copies only:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Mudlark on the Momentum books site!

Review

A hundred years ago, the magic-users of Perous relinquished their magic to one man to save the land from an endless winter. The Capposeign Fire mages were not happy with giving up their power, however, and took it back forcibly, taking over the city and keeping the other magics of Earth, Air and Water locked away in a box.

Now, a mudlark boy finds a mysterious box in the mudflats along the end of the river. He doesn’t think much more of it as he is literally grabbed from the scavenger’s life. He is given the name Lark and is taken into a company of artists and free-thinkers who are preparing to instigate a rebellion against the Capposeign rulers and take back control of Perous city. Lark and his strange wooden box will eventually play a key part in the rebellion and the return of the other magic to the people.

Alongside Lark’s journey from young boy to young man, there are a host of other characters throughout this story – the young girl Fleur learning the courtesan’s trade on a pleasure barge, the earth witch and mother figure Magda, the charismatic ladies (and man’s) man Azule… At times the sheer number of named characters was overwhelming and I occasionally had trouble remembering who each person was, but by the end of the story each of the main characters were as familiar as friends – fabulous character writing in Chris’ debut work!

Mudlark incorporates a guy-girl-guy love triangle of an unusual type for most high fantasy, where the mutual love interest is one of the guys in the triangle, and the two guys fall in love. It’s quite romantic and a very natural progression – this isn’t an LGBT-targeted book in particular, it just happens that some of the relationships are of that nature. Just like real life, in fact!

I was a little confused with the nature of the magic in this world – all magic except Fire magic was supposedly taken away during the Relinquishment, but the adherents to each deity still have some ability to call up mists, become invisible, and other various skills. Is that not magic? That wasn’t explained so well, but apart from that, the magic system seems quite complex. Each spell costs energy and gifts are bestowed by the four deities. Even though this is a stand-alone story, I’d be interested to know whether there was more planned for this world, just to see the magic in action at full power.

The pacing in Mudlark is just right with action interspersed very well with the planning and travelling scenes, and the travelling parts cut down so there wasn’t days and days of horse riding or walking described. I found it very difficult to put this one down – very highly recommended to those who enjoy a story of revolution and the desperation of a repressed people. Despite having such a heavy subject matter and dark themes such as torture, prostitution and abuse, the overall story remains optimistic and left a smile on my face.

Warnings: Violence including torture, sexual situations (some abusive, but none explicit)

About the Author

Chris MatthewsA Londoner, Chris came to Australia as an unskilled migrant and finished up working as a lawyer, which she thought she’d like, but didn’t.

Instead she decided to write the sort of speculative fiction book she would have liked to read when she was a young adult. One where the women aren’t ‘damseled’ and the gays don’t all end up dead.

She lives with her partner of many years, Maria, and between them they have three children and two grandchildren.

She is a self-proclaimed sports tragic who supports Tottenham Hotspur, Port Power, and, because it is good to support at least one team that wins games, Barcelona FC.

On a gayer note, she is addicted to Eurovision.

(Bio (paraphrased from) and image from Goodreads)

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Scott Lynch (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves. The Gentleman Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they have ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.

Details

Series: Gentleman Bastards #1
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Published: Gollancz, 2007 (originally 2006)
Pages: 531

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

A swashbuckling story of vengeance and loyalty, betrayal and lies, all set against a beautifully described city reminiscent of Venice. I wanted so much to give The Lies of Locke Lamora five stars, but sadly it didn’t grip me as much as I wanted it to. Allow me to explain.

The Lies of Locke Lamora  is set in Camorr, a city built on the remains of an ancient city of unyielding Elderglass, sectioned by canals and peopled by a colourful mix of the nobility, adherents of the twelve (or thirteen) gods, and the thieves and low-lives that make up the criminal underbelly. Locke and his gang of Gentleman Bastards live poised on the edge of the criminal boss Capa Barsavi’s control – giving the appearance of being mediocre thieves, when in fact they are masterminds of high-stakes heists and are really quite wealthy. When leaders of other gangs start turning up murdered by the mysterious Grey King, things start to go wrong for the entire criminal society. Locke and his friends must fight for their lives on several fronts.

There are essentially two stories in one here, as at the end of each chapter there is a flashback to the Bastards’ childhood as they are being trained by their mentor, Father Chains. With a slightly Oliver Twist feel, we learn how the gang developed each of their specialised skills and various other things about the way Camorr society works. Each of these snippets is important to understanding the rest of the story.

The only problem with having snippets of flashback is that it really breaks the story up. They ruined the flow of the main storyline for me, and prevented me from getting properly hooked.

I thought it was a real shame that the pacing was so disrupted. Every other aspect of the story was fantastic – the characters are snarky, brilliant and loyal to a fault. Their banter had me chuckling to myself all the way through, and I loved the variety of disguises the Bastards use in their work. The descriptions of everything are amazingly detailed but not overwhelmingly so – I loved the way the ancient Elderglass holds the light of the day after sunset, the dangers lurking in the waters beneath the city and all the different foods and drinks described so lovingly throughout the book.

The magic in Camorr is mostly based on alchemy – glowing light globes, poisons and other botanical oddities are everywhere. There are also the Bondsmagi of the faraway city of Karthain, who work their own particular magic for a hefty price. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of the Bondsmagi before long.

The action towards the end of the story was the most gripping part and even though the ending wrapped things up very nicely, I’m still keen to get my hands on the second in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies, just to see what the Bastards get up to next!

This is a debut that reads like the production of a veteran writer. Fans of Game of Thrones and the like will love this story of adventure.

Warnings: Brutal violence, torture and plenty of swearing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Gentleman Bastards series

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007)
  3. The Republic of Thieves (tbp October 2013)

… and 4 more planned!

Review: The River of No Return, Bee Ridgway

The River of No Return, Bee RidgwayThe River of No Return (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Bee Ridgway (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

1812: On a lonely battlefield in Spain, Lord Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to die… But, the next moment, he inexplicably jumps forward in time, nearly two hundred years – very much alive. Taken under the wing of a mysterious organisation, The Guild, he receives everything he could ever need under the following conditions:

He can’t go back.

He can’t go home.

He must tell no one.

Accepting his fate, Nicholas begins a life of luxury as a twenty-first century New York socialite, living happily thus for the next ten years. But, when an exquisite wax sealed envelope brings a summons from the Alderwoman of The Guild, Nicholas is forced to confront his nineteenth century past.

Details

Series: The River of No Return #1
Genre: Historical science fiction (time travel!) and romance
Published: Penguin, April 23, 2013
Pages: 464
My copy: the publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

The River of No Return is a period romantic drama with a modern sci-fi twist – with the glamour of Regency London life combined with time travellers, anything is possible!

Nicholas Falcott, Marquess of Blackdown, is about to be run down and killed in battle in Spain, 1812. Instead of death, he is met with a strange rushing sensation and wakes up in 2003 – almost two hundred years in the future. He is looked after by the mysterious organisation known as the Guild, taught how to live in modern times over one intensive year and released in the United States as Nick Davenant, with the assurance that there is no going back. He settles himself into a comfortable life in modern New York City, and for ten years he enjoys all that the modern era has to offer. That is, until he receives a summons from the Guild and is charged with a special task. As it turns out, it is possible to go back in time as well as forward – one only has to draw on powerful emotions. He learns about the Ofan – a rival organisation that the Guild is concerned may disrupt the flow of Time itself.

Meanwhile, back in 1815, Nick’s young neighbour Julia Percy is dealing with the death of her grandfather. Her cousin Eamon has come to take over the manor and he is convinced that Julia’s grandfather was hiding a secret artefact that allowed him to control time. Julia is sure that it was just her grandfather’s natural ability that allowed him, and now her as well, to freeze and manipulate time. But how can she escape from Eamon without damaging her reputation, and where would she go?

There are quite a few intertwined stories here that span multiple time periods, but they tie together very well. The “science” behind time travel is rather magical – no-one is quite sure how it’s done, just that some people have a natural ability to do it. At one point the Guild members say that you can’t go back to a time you have already been in – that must make it difficult for time travellers to keep track of a list of when they’ve visited where! The concept and the details of the time travel itself feels quite realistic though – the fact that the air in Devon in 1815 would have been much fresher and cleaner, but the buildings of London in 2013 were sparkling clean compared to their 19th century counterparts.

The romance in this story is very swoon-worthy. It feels slightly instant at first, but the two of them have known each other since they were children, they just hadn’t seen each other for many years. Each encounter has that delightful kind of romance, you know, the type that sends shivers up your spine? Just great!

The pacing is a little slow at times – a mixture of learning about Nick’s ability to time travel, and mysterious goings in with the Guild and the Ofan, but there are action scenes to keep it all flowing. The fact that the story involves people who have lived in modern times allows Bee Ridgway to include random modern pop-culture references and mannerisms, often rather out-of-place but quite funny. I’m not sure that Nick would have learned all these things so well as to slip up in his “home time”, since he was only in modern New York for ten years.

I loved reading The River of No Return and I’m glad this isn’t the end of the story – the ending has been left open for plenty more to come. A fantastic debut from Bee Ridgway that both period drama enthusiasts and sci-fi readers should enjoy!

Warnings: Sexual situations, some mild violence

What did others think of The River of No Return?

  • “In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend it! Is there a recommendation higher than highly?” – Popcorn Reads
  • “The whole time travel concept Bee Ridgway introduces us to is fascinating, but I still have so many unanswered questions. I really hope there’ll be a sequel!” – Between the Pages
  • “The characters are likeable and the dialogue sparkling and witty in a rom-com- period-drama kind of way.” – Natasha at Tea, Daydreams and Fairytales

Review: In The End, Alexandra Rowland

In the EndIn The End (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Alexandra Rowland (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Fallen Angel Lucien never expected the world to end. Inconveniently enough, it did. He and Lalael, an angel of the Higher Realm, are abandoned to make their way in what’s left of the world.

It has changed, however. Uncountable humans have died or vanished, and leftover groups are determined to survive however they can, fighting off new dangers and killing anything they do not understand.

But demons were not the only thing released into the world at the End: A strange new power fills the world, and no one knows what this might bring.

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: Paranormal/Apocalyptic Fantasy
Published: Self-published, June 2012
Pages: 299
My copy: from the Author for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Createspace
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Smashwords • Barnes & Noble

Or you can download the first couple of chapters for free, here!

Review

I seem to have ended up reading quite a few apocalyptic angel/demon stories lately. I thought that In the End would be another slightly depressing, fire and brimstone end-of-the-world thriller, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that, as well as being quite thrilling at times, this story is also very funny. The blurb doesn’t really give that away at all, but yes, this is a snarky comedy.

The Fallen Angel Lucien has been based on earth for several years now, and is just starting to wonder if he might be able to stay here forever when the trumpets sound and the Last Days arrive. The souls of the believers are taken, and Lucien rushes to the battle ground and sees the hosts of Heaven (Ríel) and Hell (Rielat) fighting for supremacy. In the confusion he runs into an angel who mistakes Lucien for a demon and tries to kill him, but as they are fighting, the battle somehow ends and the angels and demons disappear, leaving Lucien and the somewhat bewildered angel, Lalael, stranded. Lalael is angry and confused as to why he should be left behind, not to mention baffled as to why Lucien, a fallen and cursed angel, should be so kind to him. Lucien takes Lalael back to his apartment to meet his cat, Antichrist.  The unlikely friends must try to find their place in this new, post-apocalyptic world, and maybe even find a way back to Ríel.

Firstly, let me just say that Alexandra Rowland is certainly a talented author. This story gripped me all the way through – the action scenes were brilliant and the banter between Lalael and Lucien, while occasionally silly, lifted the whole tone of the story. The two angels have very strong personalities and their relationship is the highlight of this story for me. Loved them, need more please!

There were, however, some things that genuinely confused me about this story. The plotline is a little odd. Here we are, travelling from one community of humans to the next trying to find somewhere to fit in, when Jocelin shows up and the whole story just changes into something in quite a different direction. I’m still not sure who or what Jocelin is and what Jocelin is supposed to represent. Also, we never find out what happened to Ríel and the souls taken from earth. I really hope there’s another story coming to follow up, because the whole tale felt a little unfinished to me.

My issues with plot aside, I really did enjoy reading In the End. It’s a very dry and witty take on the apocalypse, and a well-written debut. I hope there’s more to come from Lucien and Lalael!

Warnings: Strong violence including torture.

What did others think of In the End?

  • “I recommend In The End if you’re a fan of Neil Gaiman style fiction. It’s a really unique novel well worth a read.” – Once Upon a Time
  • “The language is playful and mood-appropriate.  The creativity is humbling.  It is sophisticated entertainment.” – Heather McNamara
  • “…I was really impressed that the humour in In the End felt genuine and the characters were so skilfully brought to life in just a few sentences. Well…for the most part.” – SFF Chat

Review: The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni, Helene WeckerThe Golem and the Jinni (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Helene Wecker (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master-the husband who commissioned her-dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free-an unbreakable band of iron around his wrist binds him to the physical world.

Overwhelmed by the incessant longing and fears of the humans around her, the cautious and tentative Chava-imbued with extraordinary physical strength-fears losing control and inflicting harm. Baptized by the tinsmith who makes him his apprentice, the handsome and capricious Ahmad-an entity of inquisitive intelligence and carefree pleasure-chafes at monotony and human dullness. Like their immigrant neighbors, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to make their way in this strange new place while masking the supernatural origins that could destroy them.

Details

Series: Stand alone
Genre: Historical and Paranormal Fantasy
Published: HarperCollins, April 23 2013
Pages: 496
My copy: the publisher via Edelweiss

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Not available on kindle • Barnes & Noble

Review

I was first attracted to The Golem and the Jinni because of the cover (see my recent Cover Lover post), but the blurb further intrigued me. It combines two genres that I love to read – historical fiction and mythological creatures.

The Golem and the Jinni is the story of two creatures of myth – a Golem created out of clay and animated with dark Kabbalist magic, and a Jinni of the Syrian desert, trapped for a thousand years in a metal oil flask. Each of them comes to America with migrants, and must try to find their way while keeping their natures secret. Luckily for them, each has a confidante in their respective ex-pat communities who helps them to integrate into society as best they can. They meet in New York at the turn of the twentieth century and each instantly recognise the otherworldliness of the other. This story is not just about their relationship, but also about the lives of those in the Jewish and Syrian ex-pat communities as well as others who call New York City home. Each has their own story of heartbreak and hope and their story threads are woven into the picture of immigrant life. It was a hard life for those who chose to leave their countries, families and all that was familiar and make a new start in a strange country, but the community banded together to help newcomers, and as long as you brought with you a willingness to work hard, things worked out just fine.

These are characters that stay with you after you’ve finished reading – the doctor who was possessed by a demon and cannot look at faces anymore, the coffee shop owner who knows all the business of her customers and oils the cogs of community life, the young heiress who cannot face the life of boredom that awaits her once she is married.

As the characters travel through the city of New York, it almost feels like the city is a character in itself. I’ve only been to NYC once for a couple of days, but I could feel the spirit of the city as I read about the Jinni walking the streets and visiting the different neighbourhoods.

Throughout the story the subject of religion is brought up at different points – from the Jinni trying to understand why these strange humans would bother believing in a ghost in the sky who grants wishes, to the agnostic Michael re-discovering the soothing sounds of his childhood in the Synagogue. This is by no means a religious story, but the different ways that religion manifests in people’s lives is explored in quite a profound way. The main feeling I took away from the story is that for many people, their faith is a constant – a comforting way to deal with everyday pressures, joys and tragedies. Thankfully, the different religious groups in NYC keep to themselves and there’s no actual religious conflict during this story.

The Golem and the Jinni has been compared to quite a few books, such as A Discovery of WitchesThe Night CircusJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but I really didn’t think it was similar to any of those. The pacing is spot on – quite comfortable for much of the story but gradually building with the tension. The romance element is very subtle, almost non-existent in fact, but still quite lovely.

Helene Wecker has created a beautiful story full of loneliness, self-discovery and magic. It is a perfect combination of folklore set in a historical setting. I found it very enjoyable and I’ll be looking out for Wecker’s future works for sure.

Warnings: Sexual situations (not graphic) but on the whole, quite squeaky clean.

What did others think of The Golem and the Jinni?

  • “It’s a magical tale, but the magic is not overt. It’s subtle, and lies more in the sense of wonder and creation than the fantastical.” – Let Them Read Books
  • “Absolutely stunning and captivating I cannot recommend the Golem and the Jinni enough.” – Kimba the Caffeinated Reviewer
  • “Both subtly magical, and mythical, The Golem and the Jinni excels at crafting a wide array of characters, as well as showcasing 19th century New York.” – Ageless Page Reviews

Review: The Seers, MD Kaczkowski

The Seers, MD KaczkowskiTitle: The Seers: New World Order (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa M.D. Kaczkowski (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Seers introduces a world where good battles evil for the world’s soul. The fate of humanity rests in the hands of the Seers, a handful of humans with the rare ability to see the unseen, who call their Angels into action to do battle with Demons.

NYPD Detective John Scarcepho is investigating the murder of dozens of homeless who are dead with their eyes surgically removed. As he tracks down what he believes is a crazed serial killer, he discovers that he has special powers that he had suppressed as a child. He is drafted into saving humanity by empowering his unrivalled abilities, but self-doubt, temptation, and anger challenge his ability to harness his gift for good.

This captivating, fast-paced story blends two classic genres: part apocalypse and part detective story. Through the characters’ lives, readers are introduced to the prophets of humanity, known as the Seers. Between chapters, Dr. John Alderson, a well-traveled Seer-physician, shares his inside knowledge and encourages readers to delve deeper by guiding them to sections in The Seers’ Handbook, which makes up the final third of the book. Welcome to the universe of The Seers. Your journey has only just begun.

Details

Series: Stand alone (for now)
Genre: Paranormal fantasy
Published: Scilestial Fiction Press, March 2013
Pages: 304 (story 227)
My copy: For review via Media Connect

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

The Seers

Review

The world as we know it is breaking down – country after country is rejecting democracy and installing a single leader – King, Emperor or Dictator. Meanwhile, in the USA, ex-cop-turned-PI John Scarcepho is investigating a series of murders in which the victims’ eyes have been removed surgically and the sockets filled with sea water. He is approached by a strange man who introduces him to the world of the Seers, a group of people with the ability to see into the spirit world and observe the battles between angels and demons for the souls of the living. As it turns out, John has a particularly powerful Archangel as his guardian, but can he gain enough control of his new power to save the world from Lucifer’s control?

The Seers is not just a story, although it is a rather enjoyable page-turning thriller. It is also a new experience in multimedia storytelling, backed by a wealth of information available to the reader through QR Codes and links at the end of each chapter, plus the extensive Seer’s Handbook in the back of the volume.

At the end of each chapter, the QR code links the reader to a page on the seers website containing information about the subject matter in that chapter. Sometimes it is just links to sections of the Handbook to further explain concepts. Other chapters contain links to news articles, videos or real-world organisations that were mentioned in the story. It’s an interesting way to get access to information about aspects of the story and adds a lot of extra depth.

Even though I found the extra information interesting when I did look at it, I found it was a little distracting at first having to pick up my phone after every chapter. After a few chapters I just kept reading the story, and only went back to look into the information further after I was finished. The way the info is linked means that you can look at as much or as little of it as you wish, and wow, there is a lot of it to take in.

Although it is stated in the start of the book that it is a work of fiction, it’s quite clear that the author has put in years of research into belief systems around the world and painstakingly collected the resources into this accessible format. It has to be assumed that he believes in the tenets to a certain degree, and at times the story itself did come across as a bit “preachy”, showing the reader that their soul is being harmed by such vices as greed, lust, arrogance and vanity and that only your guardian angel is keeping you from being possessed by a demon. That said, if you read it from the point of view of an urban paranormal fantasy, it’s a very well put together system and quite an enjoyable story. The writing itself may lack some of the finesse of a veteran author, but The Seers is still a very enjoyable debut novel and an interesting concept in the future of storytelling.

Warnings: Graphic violence

Review: Jinx: The Wizard’s Apprentice, Sage Blackwood

Jinx, Sage BlackwoodTitle: Jinx: The Wizard’s Apprentice (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Sage Blackwood

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s not every day that your evil stepdad abandons you in the deep, dark forest of Urwald. And it’s not every day that a wizard rescues you from the clutches of gnarly trolls. But for Jinx, this isn’t turning out to be a very normal sort of day…

The bubbling cauldrons and coloured potions of the wizard’s house are a world away from the life Jinx has left behind. Even the walls are soaked in magic, and it’s not long before Jinx begins to unlock his own rare powers.

But Simon Magus is no ordinary wizard. He seems to need something from Jinx – something dark. And Jinx begins to wonder: can he trust Simon… at all?

Details

Series: Jinx #1
Genre: Middle-grade fantasy
Published: Quercus, February 2013 (also HarperCollins Childrens Jan 2013)
Pages: 360
My copy: For review via The Book Depository’s review program

Get your copy from Book Depository!

Jinx

Review

Jinx lives with his step-parents in a clearing within the Urwald – a vast forest teeming with nasty creatures and nastier wizards and witches. One day, Jinx’s stepfather decides he can no longer support the boy and takes him out into the forest to abandon him. Unfortunately for Jinx’s stepfather, they cross paths with Simon, an evil wizard. Simon offers to buy the boy instead and takes him home to do chores for him. He doesn’t seem that evil to Jinx, but can he really be trusted?

At first glance you may think that this book is another Harry Potter-ish clone, but while there are similarities, Jinx is quite a different story altogether.

Jinx’s story is told entirely from his ten-year-old point of view, but through his observations of the adult characters in the book, I got the feeling that there is a deeper story here that makes it all the more interesting for an adult reading it. Magic is performed by drawing on power, which can be stored in objects. Evil wizards (or those with less morals) can draw power from the lives of others. As Jinx learns more about magic and how wizards obtain and store power, we’re never quite sure whether all wizards are evil or just various shades of unpleasant. Is Simon, who seems kind enough to Jinx at first, actually performing evil death magic on him?

Jinx is a very determined little boy – he wants to get out and see the world, and feels trapped living with Simon. Once he’s set on his quest, he begins to question everything and must stick to his beliefs and trust in his own power to get through the coming trials. He’s quite a grumpy child at times, but is also quite cheeky and there are some very funny moments as he interacts with the world around him.

The only thing I disliked about Jinx is that a lot of the action seems to happen in dialogue between the characters – a device which doesn’t describe what’s actually going on all that well. Apart from those few occasions, I thought this was a very well-written debut with plenty of scope for future tales.

Jinx is a fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sets a perfect tone for its intended audience. Highly recommended for the middle-grader in your life, or for anyone to enjoy, for that matter!

Warnings: Violence against monsters.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: