Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…
Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

David Fickling Books

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Hands up those who wanted a Lyra Belacqua origin story? Philip Pullman has returned to the world of His Dark Materials and delivered one. But apart from being a vehicle for dragging the other characters in, Lyra doesn’t do much sleep, soil herself and feed, mostly because she’s a baby.

Malcolm Polstead, the son of Oxford inn owners, is drawn into a conspiracy because he’s observant; Malcolm’s trick is he notices detail. He’s not a big cog in the conspiracy, but he becomes an important one due to circumstance. This plays out large at the end of the novel. But that’s getting ahead and may even be a spoiler.

The action mostly takes place in the small confines of Malcolm’s world: his parents pub, his school, the priory over the river where Lyra is sequestered. For most of the story, the point of view is Malcolm’s. Occasionally it switches to Dr Hannah Relf, an Oxford academic and member of the liberal conspiracy, Oakley Street. Like Malcolm, she’s a minor cog, but she works with the alethiometer, often on Oakley street business. The world has taken a conservative turn, and the Church is pushing hard against its enemies. Naturally, Lyra’s parents make their separate entrances and in much the way they are initially presented in Northern Lights, Lord Asriel as a benign presence and Mrs Coulter as malign.

This book is the first of Pullman’s new trilogy, The Book of Dust. Pullman’s style is suited to the young adult or older child. The language is about that of the average 10-12-year-old, but I was surprised to see one expletive, even though it was in character. I liked the characters -immensely, especially Malcolm and his sparring partner Alice. Whether they both feature in the sequel can only be guessed. The main villain was very threatening, and making his daemon a hyena heightened his menace. The only thing I found a little unreal was the flood inundating the Thames’ valley.

I enjoyed this book and want to get hold of the sequel the moment the proof copies are produced.

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It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

Gollancz

Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

I was somewhat surprised to be sent what is a sequel of sorts to The Gospel of Loki, because when I reviewed that work back in 2014, I made it quite clear that I didn’t think much of it. But, in my opinion, Runemarks is a far better book, and far more enjoyable. There are far fewer jarring anachronisms, and the story is much stronger in many ways.

That story is set in an indeterminate future, five hundred years after Ragnarok. Maddy Smith has a ruinmark on her hand, and runes signify magic. But the Order is deeply opposed to magic of any sort. You can see where this is going… I have to say that I am heartily tired of the “Organized Religion is a front for Evil” trope, but it is pivotal to the story in this case, and that story is both well-structured and entertaining. Of course the Norse gods are meddling in human affairs again, but there is a lot more to it than that, lots of plot-twists and deception, and it all comes together in a spectacular climax. Or almost, because I suspect that the author loses control around about there, and some things don’t quite work. But there are some fine ideas on the nature of Order and Chaos, and of Hel itself. The prose flows, and produces some very quotable lines…

“So what you’re saying is . . . I shouldn’t play with fire,” she said at last.
“Of course you should,” said One-Eye gently. “But don’t be surprised if the fire plays back.”

So what we have here is a well-written, cleverly plotted Norse fantasy with just a touch of satire. A B+ this time, I think!

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…
Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.
He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.
When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; a gyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.
Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make chocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

Random House Children’s Publisher UK

 Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree

This is the backstory of Lyra Belacqua, also known as Lyra Silvertongue, the heroine of Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials trilogy. This is the first volume of her story. As a baby she is introduced as being left with the nuns near Oxford. When a major flood threatens the south of England, she is rescued by the book’s protagonist, eleven-year old, Malcolm Polstead and his friend Alice. They have to make their way to safety pursued by the villainous Bonneville and Consistorial Court of Discipline, who want Lyra. This is all to do with the Dust, which Lord Asriel studies and which seems to be a significant component of matter in the idea of entwinned matter and spirit. Spirit being represented by the daemons animal spirit creatures everyone has.  What do you do with a baby who is destined to be the 0catalyst to change the way the world works? With no one they can trust they have to find Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, so they can take Lyra to Jordan College Oxford and Lord Asriel can ask for Scholastic Sanctuary for the child.

A must-read for fantasy fans both young and old.

When Baron Morgarath escaped to avoid punishment for treason, an uneasy peace fell on Araluen. But the Rangers know Morgarath will be planning his next move. King Duncan must prepare for war.

Halt volunteers for a seemingly impossible task – climbing the deadly cliffs of the Mountains of Rain and Night and venturing deep into enemy territory to spy on Morgarath. Meanwhile, Crowley must ensure the Queen’s safety as she undertakes her own perilous journey for the sake of her unborn child.

Morgarath’s force of savage, inhuman Wargals seems unstoppable against Duncan’s depleted army. One wrong move could mean defeat. At the Battle of Hackham Heath, the fate of a kingdom will be decided.

Published by Random House

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Flanagan didn’t exactly plan his world for a series of prequels. The placement of the plateau known as the “Mountains of Rain and Night” in the south-east of Araluen makes little sense geographically, and I keep wondering if they were present in the chronologically later novels that he wrote earlier. I’m also beginning to question numbers and distances in his world. King Duncan’s army takes on Morgoroth’s monstrous Wargals with barely five hundred men. There were at least six thousand English at Agincourt, and many more French. Medieval armies could theoretically march 15-18 miles in a day, so how close is Castle Araluen to Hackham Heath, if the King’s army gets there in a matter of days? There is no scale on the map.

That said, other details in Flanagan’s work are well thought out. His army needs to be fed and supplied (although what Wargals eat when they can’t get human is a mystery). The plot is straightforward. The Queen is having a baby, but meanwhile the Kingdom is under threat from Morgoroth’s beasts. The Rangers must scout out Morgoroth’s stronghold, protect the Queen, and then guide the King’s army into battle. And of course, it’s the Rangers who save the day in the end.

I find Flanagan’s prose very easy to read and enjoyable. If only he would create a new and wholly original fantasy world, doing a proper job of world-design, I could really get into his work. But he persists in writing more stories about the same world, and from what I’ve seen, even his fans are tiring of the similarities.

 

The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery and capture. Under flooded London’s canals they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty – the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no further than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the Imperial soldiery comes ravening, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power

Pyr

Purchased from an Amazon Reseller

Reviewed by Jacqui

I probably should not review this book without first warning you that a physical copy might not be readily available, although Amazon has the e-book. But since I had already accidently acquired a second copy of the sequel, I thought I really ought to get hold of Cuttlefish and then read them in sequence.

Cuttlefish is very much a steampunk novel, but unlike most it is not stuck in Victoriana. Freer has created a solid scientific and alternate historical background, choosing as his turning point not the outcome of some momentous battle or treaty, but a simple pre-marital argument, which meant that the Haber process for the production of synthetic ammonia was never invented. And this changes the world. In the 1950’s when the novel is set, the world is still heavily dependent on coal, and global warming has drowned many of the world’s coastal areas. If there is a message here, it’s about consequences.

Enter our heroes. Clara must escape with her mother, a brilliant chemist who has discovered how to synthesize ammonia. Starting in Ireland they are chased by Mensheviks and Imperial British agents to London where they meet up with the rebels and smugglers who roam the canals of the flooded city. There they are taken aboard the Cuttlefish, a coal-fired sail-submarine. And there Clara meets Tim, a young half-Jamaican submariner, and initial dislike turns to eventual friendship as Cuttlefish battles her way to the other side of the world…

This is in many ways a simple and familiar story of young people finding themselves as they run into peril and adventure, escaping a relentless enemy. It’s the setting that makes it different, that adds both excitement and interest. Cuttlefish is a character in itself, a truly remarkable vessel, and her crew are a curious bunch as well. I can happily recommend this book to young adults, and to readers of any age who fancy something a bit different in the steampunk theme.

 

Teenager  Tim Ryan comes into his own as he  faces danger on a remote Australia island where magic lurks in land and sea.

Tim Ryan can’t shake the feeling that he is different from other teens, and not in a good way.  For one thing, he seems to have his own personal poltergeist that causes fires and sets him up to be arrested for shoplifting.

As a result Tim has been sent to live on a rundown farm on a remote island off the coast of Australia with his crazy grandmother, a woman who seems to talk to the local spirits, and who refuses to cushion Tim from facing his difficulties. To make matters worse, Tim is expected to milk cows, chase sheep, and hunt fish with a spear.

But he’s been exiled to an island alive with ancient magic—land magic that Tim can feel in his bones, and sea magic that runs in his blood. If Tim can face down drug-runners, sea storms, and worse, he may be able to claim the mysterious changeling heritage that is his birthright, and take hold of a legacy of power beyond any he has ever imagined.

Baen

Purchased from Amazon

 Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

There is something special about this young adult novel. It took me right back to my own childhood and those Arthur Ransome novels from the library. This is young adult literature the way it used to be written, all about growing up and finding yourself, and not so much about sex and drugs. Only it’s not exactly “Swallows and Amazons”, because there is something different about Tim Ryan… he has the blood of the fae in him, and even has a little fae following him around, trying to be helpful. Stuff happens around Tim, not all of it good.

As a result of one such incident, Tim’s mother sends him away from Melbourne, and off to Flinder’s Island. Yes, that’s the island where Dave lives, and that island is a big part of this story. Here, Tim will discover who he is, and where he belongs; and a selkie may or may not get want she wishes.

I did enjoy this book. It is real in a way that many young adult novels are not, and yet fantastical at the same time. And the nicest thing is that you can give this book to your young teenager without worrying that they’ll get any unwelcome ideas… although they may want you to take them fishing.

Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends – to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War?

Now is the time for the women of Troy to tell their story.

Thrillingly imagined and startlingly original, For the Most Beautiful reveals the true story of true for the first time. The story of Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest, and of Briseis, princess of Pedasus, who fight to determine the fate of a city and its people in this ancient time of mischievous gods and mythic heroes.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

This is apparently an attempt to write the events of the Iliad from the point of view of the female characters… to re-write an ancient story of war as romance. The problem with this is that Homer doesn’t give you a lot of female characters to work with. So the author decides to choose Krisayis (Chryseis) as her central character. The problem with this is that Chryseis has a tiny role in the Iliad with no connection to Troilus, and her story wasn’t developed into the romance of “Troilus and Cressida” until medieval writers got hold of it. So, we’re already several steps away from Homer.

And that was only part of what irritated me… Maybe it’s just that I’m not into love stories. Or maybe it was that the attitudes of the characters seemed strikingly modern. Or simply that I read too many of Mary Renault’s excellent historical novels when I was young, which set the bar too high. But I failed to get past the first few chapters of this work, before casting it aside in annoyance. I suspect others like it better, but for me it was definitely opportunity lost.