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Mr. C. Horner "hierath" (Bristol, UK)
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A Tiding Of Magpies
A Tiding Of Magpies
by Peter Sutton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Tidings of Wonder and Fear, 27 July 2016
This review is from: A Tiding Of Magpies (Paperback)
There are many rhymes about magpies, and it’s the original, lesser known version of the “One for Sorrow” rhyme that forms the basis of the bulk of this collection by Bristol author Pete Sutton from new-ish publishers Kensington Gore. I’ve been lucky enough to hear or have read a number of stories in this collection before it was published, but Pete is a fine writer and it was great to be able to go back and revisit the stories, particularly the ones I had only previously heard read aloud.

The collection takes in the full scope of speculative fiction, from fairy tales (“Swan, Wild”, the story of a prince cursed with a swan’s wing and his quest for revenge) to horror (the dark secret in the attic in closing story “Latitude”, and shock opener “Roadkill”), to pure SF (“The Soft Spiral of a Collapsing Orbit”). The stories range in length; some are flash fiction, but I found the longer stories worked better to convey the many ideas the author is trying to put across – Pete Sutton is a charismatic and complicated writer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with a novel.

Highlights for me – “Sailing Beneath the City”, which was a new one for me, a fantasy of a lost soul who consumes his own memories because they are too painful to bear, and which felt like it could and should be part of a much larger world that I wanted to explore. The previously mentioned and deliciously creepy-twisty “Latitude”, and “Thunder and Magpies”, a revenge story that doesn’t lose any impact from repeated telling.

One small note of frustration, there were a number of small but irritating errors in punctuation and odd formatting errors like random changes of font in the contents page, so perhaps the publishers need to look into fixing that for future editions of the book. That was annoying, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book particularly. Recommended for those who like their stories to be a bit more than just black and white…


Masks and Shadows
Masks and Shadows
by Stephanie Burgis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.89

5.0 out of 5 stars Bohemian Rhapsody!, 18 July 2016
This review is from: Masks and Shadows (Paperback)
The book revolves around not only the machinations and political intrigues in Eszterhaza, one of the grand palaces of the Hapsburg empire, which I know nothing about, but also opera, about which I know absolutely less than nothing. So I confess I was a little daunted and unsure. Powdered wigs and librettos? Was I going to enjoy this? Doesn’t really sound like my thing…

Of course, I should have known better. Masks and Shadows is an unalloyed delight from cryptic opening to the final dramatic flourish.

The story follows two leads, renowned castrato singer Carlo Morelli, and the recently widowed Charlotte von Steinbeck. Morelli has travelled to Eszterhaza in the company of both a Prussian spy, and one of Europe’s most notorious alchemists, while Charlotte is recovering from her recent loss at the invitation of her (fairly awful) sister, Sophie, who is ensconced at the palace as the mistress of Prince Nikolaus. Thrown together by circumstances, this unlikely pair most unravel a plot that threatens to use magic to strike at the very heart of the Hapsburg Empire.

It’s fair to say the fantasy elements of the novel are relatively slight, and without them this would be a highly entertaining straight historical novel, with appearances and cameos from several real figures from history. The addition of strains of alchemy and black magic lifts it into the realms of SFF, and adds a level of richness to the novel, an extra layer of cream on an already-pretty-delicious torte, with quarrelling opera singers, a neglected wife, and a sinister underground organisation thrown into the mix as well.

It’s a splendid book, full of music and magic, forbidden and impossible loves and passionate rivalries, set against the backdrop of a Europe on the brink of dramatic change. Read it, even if it doesn’t sound like your thing. You won’t regret immersing yourself in Eszterhaza’s intricate world.


Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (Shadow Police)
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? (Shadow Police)
by Paul Cornell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Holmes Under The Hammer, 27 Jun. 2016
This review contains spoilers for all three books in the Shadow Police series, so tread carefully…

When we left DI James Quill and his Shadow Police team, burdened with keeping London safe from occult forces only the gifted can see, Quill had literally dragged himself from the depths of Hell, and that journey has left him with a terrible knowledge that will impact on everyone he has ever met. Wrestling with his secret, Quill is unravelling, and his unit is crumbling.

Lisa Ross is desperate to win back her future happiness, and that desire draws her into a dangerous liaison, Sefton is struggling with the Sight, and even Tony Costain, bad cop gone good, isn’t quite himself these days. When the sight calls the Shadow Police team to investigate the murder of London’s most famous detective, they find themself drawn into a spiral of lies, half-truths and misleading clues leading to murder after murder, that even the victim himself would struggle to unravel. While the Shadow Police are always a step behind, in another part of London their boss Rebecca Lofthouse has her own assignation with the Smiling Man. One that will leave her changed forever.

Where The Severed Streets was more Quill’s story, Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? definitely belongs to Ross and the previously-little-seen Lofthouse, who betrays and goes to depths that would catch even a reader who has been immersed in the series so far by surprise. Quill’s emotional battering in Hell forces him onto the back foot for much of the novel, pushed around by dark forces. Ross’s side-quest to retrieve her future happiness has repercussions for both herself, the team and the ongoing plot, as she finds herself entangled and tangling with a plummy voiced Sherlockian actor with a silly name who is more than he might appear. And while the appearance of Neil Gaiman in a previous book sounded a slightly duff note, one “Gilbert Flamstead” in Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? is an absolute delight.

The writing displays Cornell’s love for the genre, and for playing around with it – there are plenty of puns and in-jokes, and its clear to see he’s having entirely too much fun *winks* Despite the serial murders, this feels like a far lighter book than The Severed Streets, and even though it leaves the reader with the threat of Shadow London hanging over the team, there are glimpses of redemption for both Ross and Quill that lead the reader to the feeling that no matter how dark things get in the shadows, there’s always some light…

*I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review.


Grey Stone & Steel
Grey Stone & Steel
by Kate Coe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Real Steel, 14 Jun. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Grey Stone & Steel (Paperback)
Grey Stone and Steel takes up the ongoing story of Toru and his accidental partner, S'ian, where previous novella Green Sky and Sparks left off. Toru's lover Catter has left, unable to deal with the soulbond between S'ian and Toru, and now S'ian takes centre stage. She is sent to Aleric, a city under siege by Ziricon, an enemy nation intent on stealing the newly-discovered secrets of flight and "spark", or electricity. Taking one of Toru's Gliders to use as a reconnaissance craft, she is thrown into the midst of the battle. But her nascent mage powers and her unwanted soulbond to Toru cause suspicion amongst the people who are supposed to be her new allies.

Kate Coe packs a lot into this slim volume, moving the story that flashes between S'ian and Toru along at a swift pace, never letting the tension drop. It's clear that events are moving in the world outside the confines of this story. This is the second volume in a projected series of ten, and there's a definite sense of pieces being pushed around the board, setting up future conflict and tensions, but Grey Stone and Steel also stands alone as a slice of life in a city under attack, and S'ian is a sympathetic protagonist, struggling with both her bond with Toru and her own grief for a lost lover even as she throws herself into the defence of the city.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, with a dramatic glider crash and a new threat from the sea. It's anyone's guess where the story will go next, but I know I'm strapped in for the whole journey....


The Invisible Library: 1 (The Invisible Library Series)
The Invisible Library: 1 (The Invisible Library Series)
by Genevieve Cogman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Libraries Gave Us Power, 26 May 2016
When we first meet Irene, she is stealing a priceless manuscript from a magically-guarded boys’ boarding school, fending off both gargoyles and werewolves in the process. It turns out this hazardous undertaking, rather than being an act of wanton criminality, is actually part of Irene’s job. As a Librarian for the interdimensional Library (capitalise the L, to differentiate it from all those regular very magical but non-interdimensional libraries. But hang on… L-space. We’ll come back to L-space…)

Anyhoo, Irene’s job is to obtain rare books from a variety of alternate worlds and bring them back to the Library. It’s a job that requires quick wit, courage, and fighting skills, all of which Irene has in spades. The Library exists in the space in between worlds, and a trained Librarian can open a portal to the Library anywhere as long as she is surrounded by a sufficiently large collection of books. Which brings us back to L-Space, the Library is, in essence, a portal through L-space by which all sufficiently large collections of books are linked, as well as a repository for pretty much every book ever written.

Irene’s latest mission sees her sent to a quarantined world, a world under the influence of the Fae, to retrieves a rare version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. With her is Kai, a trainee Librarian with a big secret, and she is pursued by both rival Librarian Bradamant, who wants the glory of finding the book, and by Alberich, a former Librarian who has now gone rogue. This particular book contains some secrets he would stop at nothing, even murder, to protect.

On the streets and in the skies above an alternate London, Irene must take on werewolves, giant robot centiepedes, cybernetic alligators, a deadly Fae lord with a personal interest in her, and the secret that Kai is hiding, all to find one precious book. It’s a rollicking steampunk ride with a love of books and libraries (real and magical) that’s apparent on every single page. Irene is an adorable heroine, tough and determined but none too slick, and Alberich is a suitably dastardly foil to her talents.

This is a brilliant debut, and the first in a very promising series. Highly recommended!

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Fear The Reaper
Fear The Reaper
by Tom Lloyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bitter Harvest, 21 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Fear The Reaper (Paperback)
The story follows Shell, a slave freed from her fate my a mysterious entity known only as The Voiceless. Trying to make a life for herself in a village near the border, Shell is coerced into returning to the wasteland where her liberation occourred by an angel, Ice. Ice wants her to track down The Voiceless, for reasons he refuses to make clear to her, and Shell is forced into an uncertain alliance with both the angel, with Moss, a former soldier who professes to be in love with her, and Lichen, a man Ice saves from a disfiguring sickness. Together they travel deep into the wasteland, towards a final confrontation that will change everything…

In a relatively sparse amount of pages, Lloyd draws us deep into the history of a world that’s been at war for a long time, it’s people riven both by conflict and by the fungal disease Lichen has been afflicted with, that turns its victims into mindless wanderers. Shell is a wanderer too, marked by the Voiceless, an empty woman without home or purpose, drawn into a heavenly dispute. It’s a lesson in drawing a detailed world in broad brushstrokes, and it leaves the reader wanting to hear more, both about the history of this world and its dark, uncertain future.

As an introduction to Tom Lloyd and his writing, this comes highly recommended.


Winter Tales
Winter Tales
by Various
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Wolves are Running..., 10 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Winter Tales (Paperback)
Huddle down by the fire, for the nights are drawing in, and the clawed hand of winter is closing tightly on the land…

(Ironically, I started reading this just as we got our first actually hot days of spring in this part of the world. But not to worry, because now it’s howling a gale and lashing down with rain outside, and what passes for summer in England is as close to winter as makes no difference. But I digress.)

In the eons before Skyplussing and Playstation, people would while away the long winter nights telling stories around the fire. Tales to warm the blood with excitement, or chill the heart at the thought of the terrors that may be lurking in the wild, cold darkness just outside the door.

In Winter Tales Margret Helgadottir has put together a fine collection of short stories that do just that. Winter, snow, ice and frost, all are essential to every story in this SFF anthology, which takes us from mountaineers trapped in a Highland bothy by a sudden storm who find they’re not as alone as they think they are, via the freezing famine of war-torn Leningrad, to a futuristic travel agent where Sadie discovers that her request for a virtual holiday “somewhere cold”changes her life forever.

Highlights – apart from the aforementioned stories by, respectively, Su Haddrell, K.N. McGrath and David Sarsfield – include the warm and funny “Cold-Hearted” by G H Finn, “When the Trees Where Enchanted” by Masimba Musdoza, which brings ancient Zimbabwean magic into a fight against developers in modern-day Middlesbrough, and “The Coming of the Cold”, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s dark take on a wintery children’s classic.

Pick up a copy of Winter Tales. Go swift! for the wolves are running…


The Tiger and the Wolf (Echoes of the Fall)
The Tiger and the Wolf (Echoes of the Fall)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.14

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aye of the Tiger!, 15 Mar. 2016
Imagine a world where everone is a shape-shifter, where people can shift skins as easily as thought. Deer, Boar, Horse, Crocodile. And, battling for supremacy at the icy Crown of the World, the Tiger and the Wolf.

Maniye is the daughter of two cultures, her mixed heritage from her Tiger mother and her Wolf father battling for supremacy within her and threatening to tear her fragile human form apart in the process. When she rescues an elderly priest of the Serpent from sacrifice within the Jaws of the Wolf, she is forced to flee her tribe, and her actions lead her into conflict with both her warring souls, and the tribes that inhabit this wasteland. Her allies are uncertain, and for the first time in her life Maniye is alone.

Maniye is a remarkable heroine, conflicted and doubting, but determined and courageous at the same time, facing a conflict within her that she knows could drive her insane. The world is rich with detail, with the clash of cultures though through at every step, from the trade-minded people of the Horse to the savage (Komodo) dragon-pirates of the far south – the interplay between enslaved Dragon Venater and his captor Asmander, a man torn between his loyalty to an unloving father and his desire to do the right thing, is a delight to read.

It’s a novel of shifting perspectives as well as shifting skins, of uncertain alliances and conflicted loyalties, of the fragile bonds between tribe and freedom that can only be stretched so far.

This is a remarkable and unusual coming-of-age novel, the first in a series. I don’t know how Tchaikovsky keeps pulling these out of the bag (three excellent 600-odd page novels in different genres in 18 months, and probably more we don’t know about), but I’m mighty glad he keeps them coming.


The Silver Tide (Copper Cat)
The Silver Tide (Copper Cat)
by Jen Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars The Tide is (Going Out On A ) High!, 29 Feb. 2016
This is the end, my friends. The final volume in Jen Williams blood-and-thunderous Copper Cat Trilogy, and, as promised right from the start, we’re going out on a high.

I’ve made no secrect of my love for these books. It’s incredibly rare, in fiction as it is in film-making, to stumble across the perfect trilogy, and I’m going to go all-in up front (Wydrin would approve, I think) and say that The Copper Cat Trilogy is as damn-near close to the perfect trilogy as you’re going to get.

It’s hard to write a detailed review of the third book in a series without spoilerizing a little bit the previous books, so please be aware of spoilers ahead.

The Black Feather Three are called together once more to ply their trade as sellswords and adventurers of note, but this time the call comes from rather closer to home. From Wydrin’s obnoxious mother, in fact, notorious pirate captain Devinia the Red. Devinia needs Frith’s skills to sail her ship into the very heart of the notorious cursed isle of Euriale, legendary birthplace of the gods. But when the Poison Chalice is attacked the Three are seperated, and their individual journeys bring them to the heart of the island, to the secret held there. Together they must make a dangerous journey back into the past, to try and secure the future of their whole world.

One of the hallmarks of a good trilogy, and a smart writer, is the ability to bring a story full circle. While it’s no great surprise that at the end of all things the Black Feather Three find themselves back on the very spot where their adventures first began, at the Citidel in Relios, it’s also incredibly satisfying to see elements that were set up in the first and second books finally coming into play here. If there’s a theme to the book, it’s that of the importance of the freedom to make choices, even poor ones, and live with the consequences. Frith, coming face to face in the past with his future nemesis Joah Demonsworn, chooses not to warn the young mage of the dark path he is yet to begin his journey down. Sebastian, nursing a recently broken heart, must choose between his friends and the love of a troubled young god. And Wyrdin has to come to terms with the fact that falling in love means allowing herself to be hurt. But we all knew all along that beneath that boiled leather outer shell lurked a heart as big as the world…

It’s great to read a book where the author is clearly having tremendous fun writing it. That kind of infectious delight sparkles off the pages. There are nods to Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, and even Labyrinth. The mages even have a secret base hidden inside of a volcano, which is just that little extra touch of genius.

A fabulous ending to a wonderful trilogy. Can’t recommend these books highly enough. Read them in order, but do read them, because if you don’t you’ll be missing out on a whirlwind of dragons, pirates, mad gods, tavern brawls, cannibals, true love thwarted and found again, deranged mages, time travel, redemption… a feast of awesome things washed down with copious quanties of mead.

I know I will be revisiting and enjoying the Copper Cat Trilogy for many years to come, and I hope you will too.


Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure: Low Town 1
Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure: Low Town 1
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Low Town Happening, 22 Feb. 2016
Low Town is a gritty, grimy place, ravaged by years of war and pestilence, its streets ruled by criminal gangs and factions. Warden stands alone, soldier-turned-law-enforcer-turned-drug-dealer. He thinks he’s seen it all, and he thinks he’s past caring. Until horribly mutilated children start turning up in the alleys of Low Town, victims of a savage supernatural entity with links to Warden’s past, and it’s made clear to him that he’s the only one who can track it down. The clock is ticking…

The first volume in the Low Town Trilogy, The Straight Razor Cure doesn’t hold back with its punches, or its dark humour. Most of this humour hinges on Warden’s sarcasm and his scathing view of, well, just about everybody, especially the upper classes in this stratified society. Our narrator likes to pretend that he has no heart, but it’s his interactions with those close to him (an ex-military buddy, a street waif, his dying mentor) that provide the emotional core of the book and make you warm to a character who likes to think of himself as quite unlikeable.

The book loses some tension with an ending that readers are likely to see coming a mile away, but watching Warden dig himself deeper and deeper into trouble, and wondering how he’s going to extricate himself, is half the fun.

Recommended for those with a taste for dark cities and darker comedy.


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