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fantasy

Godsgrave : Jay Kristoff

… exceptional storytelling …  with dazzling fights & unexpected treachery …

kristoff godsgrave nevernight

In this book, our attention shifts from Mia‘s education in the Red Church to her training for the gladiator games at Godsgrave where her father’s murderers will be making a rare public appearance. Mia sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium and she needs to be the last fighter standing for a chance to get close enough to kill them. Accompanied by her not-cat shadow Mister Kindly and not-wolf Eclipse, Mia negotiates her way through the gladiator school finding new friends and enemies as the body count rises and glints of treachery appear.

Jay has an exceptional world building talent and in it he has placed a complex and likeable heroine. But that is not all: what I will remember most about the book is his exuberant story telling which gave me so much pleasure. The novel starts with two stories which doubles the tension; he mirrors scenes between different characters; and he is a master of a great one-liner.

Set amongst a well drawn array of secondary characters, the story has some brilliant plot twists – with some dazzling fight pieces – and a tremendous (abrupt) ending, leaving me wanting the next book – immediately.

(An aside about his footnotes: I ignored them as they slowed the pace too much for me and didn’t detract from the main narrative. Perhaps they are meant for the second or third reading.)

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

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

Cover design moment : The UK cover illustration is again by the Philippines-based Kerby Rosanes and is brilliant. His website is here.  A real asset to the novel.  Well done Micaela Alcaino who designed around it (website here) and whoever at HarperVoyager for crediting them both on the back. I don’t mind the US cover version but feel this design series has more presence and, quite frankly, I could do without an artist’s impression of Mia.

Jay Kristoff is the author of the award winning Japanese Steampunk series, The Lotus War; and a second well received series, The Illuminae Files. With his work, Jay has been a winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction and a nominee for the David Gemmell  Award. For further information his website is here. His twitter feed is fun to follow. Currently he is calling himself Jay Killzurfavesoff.

Godsgrave was published by HarperVoyager in September 2017.  It follows Nevernight which was published in August 2016.

City of Blades : Robert Jackson Bennett

… kick-ass hero against rich world building …

city of blades locus awards

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.

Recommended.

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.

 

A Gathering of Shadows : VE Schwab

… an entertaining delight …

schwab shadows

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.

Recommended.

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.

 

Blackwing : Ed McDonald

… tremendous addition to the grimdark genre … 

grimdark fantasy

 

Ed McDonald‘s debut novel Blackwing is tremendous pacey thriller with a beguilingly flawed hero. The story has a collection of vivid side characters, believable gods and Hieronymus Bosch type monsters. Ed also has the rare ability to maintain the terrific pace right through the novel.

Most of all I loved Captain Ryhalt Galharrow: a flawed, wounded man hiding behind drink and a flippant approach – yes, not exactly a new character – but Ed really does write so well that I was more than happy to spend time with him.

A tremendous addition to the grimdark shelves and definitely one of my top five of 2017. I am really looking forward to the next in the The Raven’s Mark series.

Ed McDonald lives with his wife in London and works as a university lecturer. His notes say: “When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes.” His very entertaining blog is  here It includes some great posts on writing and the publishing journey. And longsword technique.

This is my sixteenth review in the British Books Challenge 2017.

Cover design moment: Superb UK design by Dan Smith of Bionic Graphics. Compared to the more traditional US design – which includes heavy block type and a hooded, wind whipped cloak silhouette – the UK cover has a looser, more painterly feel which is just right for the story. The UK edition also has cool black fore edges – surely a must for grim dark fantasy from now on. Dan’s website is here.

Blackwing by Ed McDonald was published on July 27th 2017 by the Orion imprint Gollancz in the UK, and in the United States it will be out in October 2017 via the science fiction publisher Ace. It is the first part of The Raven’s Mark trilogy.

It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!

 

A Skinful of Shadows (Extract) : Frances Hardinge

… deliciously atmospheric …

frances hardinge costa lie tree

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. 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.

Norse Mythology : Neil Gaiman

… whiff of the mead hall …the sinews of something more …

neil gaiman

I was Sweden bound last week and so I picked up an airport paperback edition of Norse Mythology as suitable reading matter for the Uppsala burial mounds.

I have never really got into these myths, having tried them on several occasions in the past. To my embarrassment and frustration, I have often found Norse sagas lacking in emotional depth and far too beardy masculine for my liking. Nothing was ever explained to my satisfaction. So I hoped Neil‘s magic wand would wave some life into them

His playful re-telling of the stories with likeable characterisation and quick dialogue certainly makes the tales whizz by – and I laughed out loud at times which was unexpected. So I would definitely recommend this collection of fifteen stories to anyone who wants to know why these are loved so much.

Reading Neil‘s approachable version, almost in one sitting, I think I got closer to understanding why the stories are so resonant. Obviously, there is the romantic whiff of the mead hall and the long winter nights: a simple life where the main concerns are fire, food, death and sex. This does appeal. Yet the trials of strength, boasting and trickery feel like Viking “locker room” talk rather than anything more substantial.

However, on reading together, the collection grew in my mind to evoke a smoky, brutal atmosphere and I began to feel that these tales are the sinews of something more: a substantial body of imaginings which lie tantalizingly just out of each. Like true mythology, these stories don’t give definitive answers but prompt the reader/listener to more questioning and visions beyond the bones of each simple plot. So now I understand their allure to storytellers such as Neil: they appear to me to be a springboard for creativity rather than a completed work of art.

Highly recommended.

Cover design moment: The artwork of Thor’s hammer and glittering background for Norse Mythology was created by Sam Weber, an American artist, for WW Norton.

Norse Mythology was published in hardback on 7 February 2017 by Bloomsbury in the UK and WW Norton in USA. There will be an illustrated edition coming out for Christmas 2018.

Spellslinger : Sebastien de Castell

… a cracking good read …

IMG_2212Kellen 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 …

Highly recommended.

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!

Chasing Embers : James Bennett

… enjoyable urban fantasy with a dragon’s twist … 

Chasing-Embers-final-visual-600x934.jpgThis 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!

 

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