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fantasy

Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy : Compton Verney

… intriguing multimedia mash up with added stage and audio effects …
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‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters, Henry Fuseli, 1783 © RSC.

My favourite art gallery, Compton Verney, is celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary  with an inspirational mix of multimedia and C18th works, put together like so many stage sets and arranged in “Acts.” The show has been designed by RSC’s Director of Design, Stephen Brimson Lewis.

I particularly enjoyed Davy and Kristin McGuire’s mesmerising holographic projection onto water, “Ophelia’s Ghost” and the brilliant audio of the performance poet, Kate Tempest, rapping her RSC commissioned version of The Tempest.

JS86067554Ophelia’s Ghost Kristin and Davy McGuire, photograph by Electric Egg

The exhibition runs 19 March ‐ 19 June 2016 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a a cafe and a restaurant, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

The Shepherd’s Crown : Terry Pratchett

Please note : This review includes a couple of spoilers.

… brilliant cast and astute humanity

I wanted to add a couple of things to the many reviews of Terry’s elegiac last Discworld novel.  What stands out for me always in his books is his brilliant cast and his astute humanity.

9780857534811Lord and Ladies, his reinterpretation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, is one of my very favourite DiscWorld novels and so I was delighted by the Elves’ return.  I love his reversal of this race with their unprincipled, vicious glamour so akin to modern celebrity culture; and his parallel championing of the strong minded honest folk: midwives, shepherds, blacksmiths over the weaker kings and queens.

After focussing for so long on strong women in his latter books, it is also lovely to be introduced to Geoffrey, the apprentice witch with his unique calm-weaving ability; and Mr Sideways and the magic of the man-shed.

As Antonia Byatt mentioned in her Guardian review :“Something I came to love about Pratchett was his inability to go on disliking either a character or a race.”  It was fascinating to watch Tiffany carefully teaching Nightshade, ex-Queen of the Elves, why is matters to be kind and thoughtful; and I was delighted, though not entirely surprised, by the sudden bravery of the irritating Letice Earwig.

I was also going to point out Terry’s art of not saying too much about some of the characters, for example: You, the enigmatic white cat, which adds to the reading pleasure. However I have since learnt that there is a story behind Granny Weatherwax’s familiar.   Back in August 2015, Neil Gaiman’s revealed a plot layer that was never included because time ran out.  Click here for a link to this article if you are interested … which I suggest you read after reading the book.

 

 

 

Beetle Boy : MG Leonard

… sparkling  adventure with added beetle …

I thoroughly enjoyed this sparkling and inventive adventure story surrounding a sealed room mystery.  How could  Bartholomew Cuttle disappear from the locked Coleoptera collection room in the Natural History beetleforeedgeMuseum?  His son, Darkus, along with friends, Virginia and Bertolt, set out to solve the conundrum.  Confronting a couple of grotesque pantomime villains, Pickering and Humphrey, and foiling the Cruella de Ville-esque, Lucretia Cutter, along the way.

The real stars, of course, are the beetles: Baxter, the rhinoceros beetle who is featured on the front cover; Newton, the firefly; Marvin, the frog-legged leaf beetle, and the unforgettable insect fashionista, Hepburn.

I was beguiled by the blossoming camaraderie between the beetles and children as the story enfolds to a satisfying conclusion … with a sequel, Beetle Queen, on its way.

I really must mention the fore-edge decoration on the paperback which is a delight.  Well done to Chicken House Books and Studio Helen for such a charming touch.

Beetle Boy is published by Chick House Books, March 2016.

The Call : Peadar O’Guilin

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… thrilling novel which is very difficult to put down …

Imagine a world where every teenager gets The Call.  Without warning, you are transported to the baroque horrors of the Grey Lands where the vengeful Sidhe hunt you for sport, killing you or worse.  Much worse.

Nessa is the girl least likely to make it with her twisted legs yet she is absolutely determined to be the very best she can be.  In the Boyle Survival College, where they are all drilled with mock hunts and with fragmentary reports of the Sidhe, Nessa refuses to let herself be distracted by handsome Anto, her best friend and bolshy Megan, or bully boy Connor.

The tension builds as we learn in separate chapters of the fate of other students as they are Called.  Each desperate chase lasts for a day in the Grey Lands but only 3 minutes and 40 seconds in our world.  The horrors are truly disturbing and so this book is Young Adult rather than a Pre-Teen choice.  The odds are improving through the intense training and now perhaps one in ten teenagers survive.  But who will be next and can Nessa and her friends make it through?

This is an intense and thrilling novel which is very difficult to put down once you’ve started.  With a deft touch, O’Guilin builds very genuine, complex characters with a great deal of humour and humanity.  I particularly liked the febrile, hothouse atmosphere of the Survival College with its friendships, rebelliousness and romance.   And most of all I loved Nessa: her unfailing determination, her unflinching honesty about her condition, her fierce friendships and, ultimately, her strength of purpose which shines through at the tremendous climax.

I look forward to its sequel, The Cauldron, with impatience.

Down Station : Simon Morden

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“an intriguing world of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences”

Escaping from an underground fire and certain death, Mary, Dalip and Stanislav are thrown together into another place.   With its uncanny skies, weird beasts and barely touched landscape, they find themselves in a lush green country sparsely populated by people who are carving their own rules.

The door they came through has disappeared and they have to make their own way in this strange land and, perhaps, create new futures for themselves: Dalip, the honourable Sikh engineer; Mary, the belligerent East End girl; and Stanislav, the workman with his murky, military past.

In “Down,” information is power and can be withheld or even stolen.  Can they trust the Wolfman’s directions ?  Who is the imperious Geomancer?  Will the mysterious man called Crows help them?

The story is told through Dalip and Mary’s eyes and I particularly enjoyed their characters’ evolution through the book from bewildered strangers to certain heroes.  But the star of the book is “Down” itself.  Morden gradually builds an intriguing world full of fascinating surprises and inescapable consequences; the drumbeat of danger gets louder when, like the landscape, events start to creep up and multiply.  Revelations start slow and get faster as the plot twists the narrative awry to end in a tense and thrilling conclusion.  Recommended.

Simon won the Philip K Dick Award in 2012 for  The Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy.

Published in February 2016 by Gollancz.

Bullet Catcher : Joaquin Lowe

getimage_195_300_c1_center_center_0_0_1 (1)If there’s a debt to be paid, it’s to oneself.

Imma’s parents are dead and her beloved brother, Nikko, has run from the orphanage; now she must find her own way.  Imma becomes entangled in a world of obligations, betrayals, and no second chances.   Through the harsh deserts and mean water parched towns, she learns how to catch and deflect bullets  … and she learns much, much more: about life and honesty, about the desert and death.

If all of this sounds a little heavy, Imma’s searing honesty and determination made me really want her to succeed and the plot twists and turns like a rattlesnake to a satisfying climax.  There’s a well drawn cast of secondary characters including the mentor, the Bullet Catcher; an old Gunslinger, Hartright; the beloved Nikko and his friend, Cloak.

The book is full of beautiful descriptions and deftly worded images which makes it a pleasure to read.  I enjoyed being absorbed into the Bullet Catcher’s world where a girl learns what it is to decide between hard choices and where Imma finally realises: If there’s a debt to be paid, it’s only to oneself.

Out in paperback 4 Feb 2016 published by Hot Key Books.

Black Arts : Prentice & Weil

“rollicking stew of Elizabethan slang and demonic magic”

img_1994Prentice and Weil lead a merry chase through the Shambles, wharves and teeming alleys of a  gloriously vivid Elizabethan world of shifters and gimblets, intelligencers and coneys.

We follow  Jack as he rises through Mr Sharkwell’s ranks from a pickpocket Nipper to a Blooded Darksman.  He is fighting across London to find his mother’s murderer and can see beyond the everyday terrors of Mr Smiles and Meatface to nightmares conjured by the darker myths of London.

The two authors have a sure touch of adventure and infectious enthusiasm for the period as they serve up a rollicking stew of back street cant and Elizabethan demonic magic populated with a Dickensian cast of juicy characters.

Recommended.  This book is being relaunched with a new cover in advance of the second book in the series, Devil’s Blood, which will be published May 2016.

The Double Axe : Philip Womack

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pacey re-telling of the Minotaur myth

This is a refreshing and lively version of the Minotaur myth is pitched to capture the attention of a new generation of readers.  The story is told from the viewpoint of  13 year old Stephan, son of King Minos, and includes all the familiar characters: Ariadne, Daedalus, Theseus and Icarus, all in slightly different but very believable roles and concludes with a satisfyingly terrifying ending.

The Nest : Kenneth Oppel

… compelling, intense story about witchy wasps and a boy who fights back …

When Steve’s brother is born, something isn’t right.  The baby is waiting129 for an operation and may not pull through.  In his dreams, Steve is visited by a witchy albino wasp who says she and her sisters are going to fix the baby.  Can Steve trust her?

Oppel has created a beautifully realised world of childhood fantasy and a brave hero who fights through his own fears to save his brother.

The Nest is a short, intense read with a vivid and scary finale.  Recommended.

 

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