Archive for the ‘fantasy’ Category

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.

 

Ten Years have passed since the events of the Demon Child books that left the god Xaphista dead, the nation Karien without a religion or king, and the matriarchal country of Medalon ruled by men. But it is in the kingdoms of the south that things really heat up. When Princess Rakaia of Fardohnya discovers she is not of royal birth, she agrees to marry a much older Hythrun noble in a chance to escape the wrath of her “father”. Rakaia takes nothing but her jewels and her baseborn half sister, Charisee, who has been her slave, handmaiden, and best friend since she was six years old. And who can pass as Rakaia’s double.

These two sisters embark on a Shaksepearian tale of switched identities, complicated love triangles … and meddlesome gods. Rakaia is rescued on the road by none other than the demon child, R’shiel, still searching for a way to force Death to release her near-immortal Brak. Charisee tries to act like the princess she was never meant to be and manages to draw the attention of the God of Liars, who applauds her deception and only wants to help.

Then there is the little matter of the God of Music’s magical totem that has been stolen … and how this theft may undo the universe

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Published by Harper Voyager

Supplied by Harper Collins New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

I picked this book up with interest, knowing that I enjoy high fantasy, and it did not disappoint. I hadn’t actually read any of Jennifer Fallon’s work before, but that wasn’t a problem. I did have a bit of an issue half-way through when I realised that it wasn’t a novel complete in itself, but the first part of a trilogy. But, I got back to it and was pleased to find that the ending, although it clearly led in the direction of the next book, was still a satisfactory conclusion in itself.

The story focuses around two sisters from the harem of King Hablet of Fardohnya, one of whom is rather more royal than the other. Identities are switched and characters head off in different directions, only to find themselves embroiled in the same messy conspiracy. The villain here is undoubtedly quite mad, in more ways than one; and there is a sub-plot involving the Demon Child which I’m pretty sure will collide with the main plot at some point.

It’s complicated, and yet elegantly simple at the same time, and definitely goes somewhere. I finished the book, which is more than I can say for “A Game of Thrones”, and that has to be a good thing.

The Dangerous Women anthology contains following stories:
– Introduction by Gardner Dozois
– “Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie – A Red Country story
– “My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott
– “Nora’s Song” by Cecelia Holland
– “The Hands That Are Not There” by Melinda Snodgrass
– “Bombshells” by Jim Butcher – A Harry Dresden story
– “Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn
– “Wrestling Jesus” by Joe R. Lansdale
– “Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm
– “I Know How to Pick ’Em” by Lawrence Block
– “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” by Brandon Sanderson – A Cosmere story
– “A Queen in Exile” by Sharon Kay Penman
– “The Girl in the Mirror” by Lev Grossman – A Magicians story
– “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress
– “City Lazarus” by Diana Rowland
– “Virgins” by Diana Gabaldon – An Outlander story
– “Hell Hath No Fury” by Sherilynn Kenyon
– “Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling – An Emberverse story
– “Name the Beast” by Sam Sykes
– “Caretakers” by Pat Cadigan
– “Lies My Mother Told Me” by Caroline Spector – A Wild Cards story
– “The Princess and the Queen” by George R.R. Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire story

Published by Harper Voyager

Supplied by Harper Collins

Reviewed by Steve

While Gardner Duzois and George R.R. Martin are better known for fantasy/science fiction anthologies and writing respectively, they have collaborated here as editors of a collection that purports to be about dangerous women. The range of fiction collected is very broad – historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, crime, and fantasy/science fiction. Most of the authors I had heard of, but there were one or two new faces and they didn’t disappoint.

I could discern no obvious pattern in the ordering of the stories, which may have been intentional. Historical fiction camped by science fantasy and crime fiction. Which meant I had to at least sample the style if I wanted to do a good job of reviewing. As well as the volume’s introduction, each author and story was introduced. A good idea as I doubt any but the most vociferous reader would know all of the authors and their genres.

As with all anthologies, there were some stories I felt didn’t jibe, primarily from the historical authors – when writing about medieval royalty, historical reality has to be contended with. That said, historical fiction, and Carrie Vaughn’s Raisa Stepanova could loosely be claimed as such, also produced a couple of winners in the above Vaughn piece and Diana Gabaldon’s Virgins. Jim Butcher’s Bombshells was an excellent piece of urban fantasy, and also gives hope to every Harry Dresdon fan alive (and maybe one or two of the dead, it is fantasy, you know). And while George R.R. Martin is frustrating all by not finishing the A Song of Fire and Ice saga, he is at least still alive and whets our appetite with the final tale in the volume, a prequel in that universe.

I enjoyed the anthology

Before they became the most famous Ranger in the land and the hard-working Ranger Commandant, Halt and Crowley were young friends determined to change the world.

The scheming Baron Morgarath is drawing other power-hungry knights and barons to his banner. King Oswald is wasting away and, if gossip can be believed, Prince Duncan is causing havoc in the north.

Halt and Crowley set out to find the prince, uncover the truth, and re-form the weakened Ranger Corps. Once-loyal Rangers are scattered across the country, and it will take determination, skill, and leadership if they’re to come together as one. Can the Rangers regain the trust of the Kingdom, or will the cunning Morgarath outwit them at every turn?

the-tournament-at-gorlan

Random House

supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Flanagan continues to mine his “Rangers” world; only now he’s digging into prequel territory.

The flaws in his world-building are still evident – coffee ought to be a rare luxury in any pseudo-medieval world unless the setting is very close to its point of origin (or there are improbable amounts of magic messing around with transport and economics).

I keep wishing he’d chuck out this background and start again doing a proper job of it, because he’s otherwise not a bad writer.

The Tournament at Gorlan fairly rollicks along, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. The story is that the young Prince has be taken captive, and an imposter is stirring up trouble in his name, while the old King is being slowly poisoned in mind as well as body. Our rangers make it their business to get together and put things to rights.

Which they do, culminating in the events of the titular tournament (which I must admit felt more like a modern re-enactment than the real thing, but that’s Flanagan).

The reality is that the majority of his young readers will not even notice the mistakes that annoy me, and this is probably the best of his work that I’ve read so far. Which is as close to a recommendation that you’re going to get.

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the-severed-land

Puffin

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Fliss, an escaped slave, pulls Kirt, whom she thinks is a drummer boy, though the Wall. But he is not as she thinks, and Fliss is sent back through the Wall with Kirt by the Old One on a mission. They must rely on Fliss’s street smarts to survive the journey south deep into enemy territory to rescue Kirt’s sister Lorna and return with her to the Old One. This will not be easy as not only is Lorna hunchbacked and blind, but she is the prisoner of an enemy faction.

This is Gee’s first children’s book for almost ten years, but his skills haven’t faded. The story rattles along quickly with no unnecessary padding. The characters are believable, and the situation, an oligarchic plantation society bent on dominating an entire continent, is credible. Gee is not afraid to present the ugly fact of challenging such authority and failing: execution.

I enjoyed this book. The story was a page turner, it was neither too long, nor too short – the multifarious side plots in adult fiction had been omitted and the barebones of the story told. A good read.