… some astonishing works amongst the usual suspects …
Yes, I know all his portraits look the same (as Henry James put it: “this languishing type … which savours of monotony”) and walking from room to room can be a little like scoffing a whole box of chocolates BUT to see the two iconic series, Briar Rose and Perseus, Continue reading “Edward Burne-Jones : Tate Britain”→
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
… 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 Continue reading “The Invasion : Peadar O’Guilin”→
This is a perfectly paced ghost story about a girl living next to a derelict orphanage.
Pam Smy carefully weaves together the stories of two girls in a beguiling mix of diary and illustration. The ghost, Mary, writes heartbreaking entries of her bleak childhood in the diary which is discovered years later by the lonely Ella, whose story is told entirely through unscripted illustrations. With no narrator to help, we are left to piece together the gaps in each story.
Pam then intersperses the diary entries and cartoon narrative with heavy black pages to represent sleep. The cumulative effect of these blanks, combined with the silent illustrations, recreates the detachedness of a lonely childhood and gives the reader delightful pause to think about and guess (deliciously) what might happen next.
The whole effect is intriguing, creepy and otherworldly by turn and builds to a terrific climax.
Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, part of Anglia Ruskin University, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Julia Donaldson (Follow the Swallow) and Kathy Henderson (Hush, Baby, Hush!), among others. This is the first book she has both written and illustrated. Pam has a blog spot here which traces some of the development of this work.
This is my seventeenth review in the British Books Challenge 2017. Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.
Thornhill by Pam Smy was published on 24 August 2017 by David Fickling Books in the UK and on 29 August 2017 by Roaring Brook Press in USA.
It was recommended to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!
… 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.
A chase across England after the bones of Ursula Cadence, a C16th witch, before the ghost of her son does something extreme.
Syd’s deft writing establishes the protagonist, Rosie Strange, as the new owner of the run down Essex Witch Museum whilst smoothly setting up the working (and love/hate) relationship between her and the museum curator, Sam Stone.
The relaxed breezy style and numerous Essex jokes belie the amount of research that obviously went into the novel’s background. These details add depth and thoughtfulness to an otherwise lightweight read. This isn’t a criticism but more of a comment on an interesting juxtaposition between the constant froth of Essex humour against the dark witchcraft subject matter. This contrast is further highlighted by the fact that in her acknowledgements Syd explains she has tried to get funding for a witchcraft museum – and still hopes one day to achieve this dream; and yet the novel’s by-line on the cover is “The only way is witchcraft” – a reference to the popular British reality soap, “The Only way is Essex” which full of love triangles, fake tans and hair extensions. There’s a lovely 5 minute Youtube clip of Syd Moore explaining the 1980s prejudice, comparison between witches and Essex girls, and her revisioning of them both here.
A thoroughly enjoyable holiday mystery and I am looking forward to the next in the Essex Witch Museum series.
Syd Moore lives in Essex. She has been a lecturer and a TV presenter before becoming a writer.
This is my fourteenth review in the British Books Challenge 2017. Come and join us at over at Chelley Toy’s site.
Cover design moment: Superb design by James Jones: clear, vibrant, stand out from shelf kind of work. Lovely to see that this Art Director of One World name checked on the back and mentioned by Syd Moore in her acknowledgements for the “gobsmacking Oh-my-god-I-love it so-much jacket design”. Bravo! A selection of his brilliant designs can be found on his Tumblr feed here.
Strange Magic by Syd Moore was published by Point Blank, an imprint of One World, on 4th May 2017. A sequel, Strange Sight, is due to be published in October 2017.
Exciting and well written, Godblind proves that debut novelist Anna Stephens can handle a multiple narrative epic with flare and skill. Roughly in the same field as George RR Martin‘s Game of Thrones series, there’s much intrigue, fighting and moral ambiguity with some charismatic personalities including Dom, the reluctant seer; Rillirin, the escaped slave, and Captain Crys Tailorson. Anna is a fantastic story teller and the novel packs enough twists amongst the battles and assassinations to keep the pages turning fast.
Having 10 characters’ view points was a challenge for me. I would recommend choosing a moment when you can read a substantial amount in one sitting to establish as many of the characters’ story lines as possible. In her blog, Anna reveals that her editor asked her to take four more strands out. Thank you, Natasha the Editor.
As this is grim dark, there are some gruesome scenes including one particularly nasty sacrifice to the Red Gods … so not for younger readers.
Anna Stephens works in corporate communications for an international law firm. She has a BA (Hons) in Literature and a Diploma in Creative Writing, both from the Open University. She has a chatty and entertaining website here where she reveals inflatable guitar playing at her wedding.
This is my thirteenth 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, it’s a riff on the final cover and there are no credits for the designer yet. If I do find more details, I’ll update the review. In short, I like it! It sets the tone for the book: bold, epic and intriguing. With red and black tones and messy background, it clearly positions the book as grimdark. Whilst searching for the creative, I happened on this lovely “Cover Reveal” interview over at Fantasy Faction.
Anna has been in touch. The cover design is by Dominic Forbes, the Managing Designer at Harper Collins UK. This means he commissions and art directs others as well as finding the time to design. A small selection of his own work can be found here.
Godblind by Anna Stephens will be published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins, on 15th June 2017 in the UK. Sequels are due for publication in 2018 and 2019.
It was lent to me by Emily who runs Emily’s Bookshop in Chipping Campden. Thanks, Em!
“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!