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W.M.M. van der Salm-Pallada "A Fantastical Librarian"

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The Happier Dead
The Happier Dead
by Ivo Stourton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Equal parts riveting action and thought-provoking ideas, 19 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Happier Dead (Paperback)
A science-fictional crime novel set in a near-future London. I was sold on reading The Happier Dead, novelist and play-wright Ivo Stourton's first SF novel, by those elements alone. Add some fascinating thought exercises about immortality, memory, and morality to that mix and The Happier Dead was a novel that was equal parts riveting action and thought-provoking ideas. Although the ending bothered me somewhat in its sudden shift away from our protagonist Oates, I very much enjoyed this book, both for its story and its prose.

The Happier Dead is set in a near-future London, but it remains unclear how near a future exactly. Some of the political elements, such as a war in Syria, seem to have their roots in the now and taking the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in consideration, I'd guess that means it couldn't be more than fifteen or twenty years in the future? Then again the building of the Dome and the perfecting of the Treatment in such a relatively short time seems implausible. The timespan doesn't truly matter to the plot and it isn't clearly mentioned anywhere, but I found myself distracted throughout the narrative when coming across historical references, trying to use them to pinpoint the time the novel is set in. Oates's city is also very much a recognisable London, which would probably feel quite familiar to its current residents.

I found it interesting to see how the London Riots of 2011 are starting to seep into fiction. The Happier Dead isn't the first book I've read in the past few months where their echoes can be clearly heard. The riots in the book mirror and increase the narrative tension. They are also the result of the ever-increasing societal divide which happens when you have a rich upper class that will live forever and keep accumulating more of the wealth and resources in society. Immortality has two large problems in The Happier Dead. One is its impact on society, in terms of societal stagnation and the shifting wealth/power distribution, which breeds discontent ends in the riots. The other is the emotional effect of living forever, of having to deal not just with many losses, but also the ennui that sets in, the feeling the new-young have that there is nothing more and no new experiences out there anymore. Stourton names it the Tithonus effect, after the myth of the goddess Eos and her mortal lover.
The problems caused by the Tithonus effect and the Treatment and the possible solutions to these problems, which seem to be grounded in memory, also raise moral questions. How fair is it to those less privileged that they are essentially oppressed by the new-young? If new-young get to wipe their slate clean and memory is the North needle of our moral compass and a necessity for a proper functioning conscience, what will this do to society in a moral sense? What about guilt and repentance? Will it equal consequence-free sin and crime? Similarly, the way Dreem - a sort of subliminal advertising which is transmitted through some kind of electrical pulse and affects people by stimulating their memories - works also raises a number of moral questions. Questions Stourton never really addresses, unlike the seemingly larger questions mentioned before. However, I found Dreem far more insidiously creepy than the Tithonus problem as for some reason it felt far more plausible and invasive.

Usually my reviews are very much character-focused, but in The Happier Dead the ideas and the whodunit were far more compelling to me than the characters. Our protagonist Oates is a fascinating character, who is grounded by his active duty experience and his love for his family. I really liked him and his history. However, while the rest of the characters aren't exactly one-dimensional, the ones as well-developed as Oates are few and far between; The Happier Dead is far more idea-driven than character-driven. Stourton's writing was great. He creates some beautiful turns of phrase and combines these with very visual scenes. There is a climactic scene at the end of the book, which would look awesome on a big screen. Then again, given Stourton's play-writing chops this shouldn't be surprising.

The Happier Dead is a book filled with fascinating concepts and hard moral questions. I found myself thinking about the book when I had to put it aside and after I finished it, pondering the dilemmas Oates faces and how the mystery would unravel. The book combines thought-provoking themes and exciting action and delivers it with a neat bow on top. Stourton's first step onto the speculative fiction stage was an enjoyable one and I hope he'll give us many more encores in the future.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Book of the Crowman (Black Dawn)
The Book of the Crowman (Black Dawn)
by Joseph D'Lacey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning conclusion, 19 Mar 2014
Last year I was very pleasantly surprised, to put it mildly, by Joseph D'Lacey's Black Feathers, the first in The Black Dawn duology. I loved the mixture of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic storylines and found D'Lacey's writing to be compelling and at times poetic in its descriptions. I became very much invested in Gordon and Megan's stories and I couldn't wait to find out how they would end in The Book of the Crowman. I got a stunning conclusion to their narrative, but one which struck out in a different direction than I'd anticipated. While I'll be keeping them to a minimum there might be some things in the review that could be considered spoilers, so be forewarned: there be mild spoilers ahead!

As in Black Feathers, the story is told through to alternating timelines, that of Gordon and that of Megan. Both stories are again compelling, though their structure is far more defined and linked than last time; Megan's walking of the Black-Feathered Path is clearly begun by retelling Gordon's story in her own Book of the Crowman and there are even moments when they seem to touch. They are also quite different. Where Gordon's narrative is very much action-based - he fights, he searches, he rescues, and kills - Megan's story, though not lacking in action, is far more philosophical and a journey of the mind and spirit.

Black Feathers had heavy environmental themes and was very much about the breakdown of society and the way it was later rebuilt. The Book of the Crowman on the other hand carried far more themes of redemption and comparative religion. There is a scene in which Megan discovers that not all Crowman stories are alike, they follow the same general points, but the details vary, sometimes widely. These made me think strongly of how three of the largest religions seemingly have their roots in the same soil, but differ in the way the way they've grown to fruition. Or how early mythology from different areas of the Earth show surprisingly many common elements. The Black Dawn ended up far more of a Messiah story than I'd thought from the previous book, but the Crowman is the Earth's champion, not humanity's. The novel furnishes fodder for some interesting philosophical discussions. Such as what is the nature of religion? How strong is the power of suggestion, i.e. if someone tells people something is a fact with enough conviction, will they believe them regardless of a lack of tangible evidence? When does doing everything to survive turn into doing evil to survive?
Beyond the characters of the last book we have only few new additions with real impact. Most important are Denise and Flora, a mother-daughter pair Gordon encounters and who renew his hopes to find the Crowman. While Denise's actions are never judged in the text - I say in the text, because I certainly judged her, even if I shouldn't have - she's an utter pragmatist doing whatever she can to stay alive and she does seem to carry a lot of censure, even if most of it is her own. I liked little Flora and the suggestion that is raised about reincarnation of her spirit in the future. It makes me wonder whether out there Gordon (or a reincarnation of him) is waiting for Megan to find him. Another important figure in the book is Carissa, a seer who helps Megan on her journey down the Black-Feathered Path. I found her an interesting character and I'd love to know when and where she and Megan would meet up again.

The book is pretty graphic with a lot of violence. The climactic scene where the Crowman finally emerges was completely epic and at points brought tears to my eyes. This violence is not just part of Gordon's actions; it is even more intrinsic to the workings of the Ward. The Ward becomes even more sinister and Pike and Skelton are clearly portrayed as insane. I found their (working) relationship ambiguous and unsettling, based as it was not on love or friendship or even similar ideals, but on a predilection for violence. Yet the violence serves a purpose and never goes over the top, though Gordon's skill with a penknife is nothing short of astounding and sometimes a bit too polished.

This conclusion of The Black Dawn duology blew me away and I found the story and the characters of Megan and Gordon utterly compelling. A series with strong environmental, sociological, and religious themes, The Black Dawn is a stunning feat by a talented word-smith. The Book of the Crowman is a fantastic ending, which couldn't have been more emotionally engaging or rewarding if it tried. The Black Dawn is a series that shouldn't be missed.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Race for Polldovia the
Race for Polldovia the
by James Rochfort
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Charming tale, 17 Mar 2014
This review is from: Race for Polldovia the (Hardcover)
The Race for Polldovia is a charming middle grade novel for children on the younger side of that age scale. It's a portal narrative where Sophia follows the adventures of Princess Polly in a land she believes to be just something drawn from her imagination. I liked that aspect and while younger children might not get the context of how Sophia's extended adventure in Polldovia came about, to older readers this is quickly apparent. As such it's a layered reading experience that will keep it interesting for both the children and the parents reading the book with them.

Sophia is sweet and brave, but also young and inexperienced, almost stumbling into the realisation that she is brave and that she can be as courageous and steadfast as Polly. The latter initially came off as a little too good to be true, but Polly grew on me and there is definitely more to her than just the perfect princess Sophia thinks her at the beginning of the story. I especially loved the slow reveal of the true connection between Sophia and Polly and its eventual resolution. I also like that Polly is not just lovely and dutiful, she's also brave and quite cunning. In contrast, Naberius, the villain of the piece, is rather one-dimensional and comes off as none too bright. In addition, Polly can talk to horses and has a Noble Steed. I have a huge weakness for Noble Steeds, especially if they are of the talking variant, so Acanthus was a win in my book.

While there are definitely some lovely character and emotional notes, The Race for Polldovia is very much a quest-style adventure and that adventure is key to the story. However, this is also where the narrative lets itself down a bit. For a story so reliant on its plot, the plot is rather linear and a little predictable. Then again, given its fairy tale sensibilities and the fact that it follows the portal tale trope quite closely, this shouldn't be surprising and for a child who hasn't encountered it (as often) before, this probably won't be the drawback it was for me.

The ending of the book raised all sorts of questions. Was it truly all a daydream, one that was intensified due to Sophia falling ill? Or was it real and did Sophia become ill because of her being drawn into Polldovia? My cynical brain says the former, but the child in me hopes it is the latter. There are several other questions I'll not go into so as not to spoil them; ones that aren't answered outright, but whose answers are left to the reader's interpretation. I appreciated this as they could serve as interesting discussion points after finishing the book.

On the whole, I rather liked The Race for Polldovia and I know that the seven or eight-year-old me would have loved it. In fact, I'd read this story to my own girls once they get to the appropriate age and if their English comprehension is good enough to understand the story easily. The Race for Polldovia is a charming tale divided into short chapters which make it ideal for story-time reading before bed.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart-breaking and darkly funny, 10 Mar 2014
When I saw Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock up on Netgalley as a Read Now title, I didn't hesitate for a moment and downloaded it immediately, as I'd heard nothing but good about the title when it was first published in the US. But while I knew it was a well-received novel, I'd forgotten what it was about exactly, so when I started the book I didn't really know what to expect. What I got was a darkly funny, painfully honest, and heart-wrenching story about a troubled teen who is more alone than people realise and less alone than he knows.

The central character and narrator of the book is the titular Leonard Peacock. He's a troubled young man, deeply traumatised by events in his past that is alluded to from the start of the book, but only revealed in its entirety halfway through the narrative. These events have driving him into a profound depression, only exacerbated by the neglect and abandonment he suffers at the hands of his parents. When we meet Leonard he has hit rock bottom and he can see no way out. Yet despite his depression, his sense of worthlessness, and his loneliness, Leonard has a distinctive voice and he is deeply, darkly funny. His wonderful sense of humour pervades the tragic tale he tells and makes the pain and sadness of his tale bearable.

On his final day Leonard wants to give the four people who have kept him going a farewell present. These four are his neighbour Walt, his class mate Baback, his friend Lauren, and his teacher Herr Silverman. All of them have a connection to Leonard, three of them in that they offer an escape for Leonard, be it through film (Walt), music (Baback), or visions of the possibility of a different life (Lauren). Only Herr Silverman doesn't offer an escape as much as he offers validation of who Leonard is, that he is worthwhile in and of himself. He seems to care about Leonard, about who he is, how he is feeling without any underlying motivation, other than being kind and a good teacher. He reminded me strongly of my favourite teacher at secondary school and reminded me how much difference the kindness of one person can make to a teenager and how important that was to me.

Leonard's main adversary is Asher Beal, who surprisingly is Leonard's former best friend--from best friend to arch nemesis is a big shift. Asher is only shown as evil, which left me conflicted, because he is as much victim as aggressor. This is reflected and enhanced by Leonard's guilt over the feeling that he should have saved Asher, once it became clear something was wrong with him, even if he was victimised by Asher. While Asher plays such an important role in Leonard's development into who he is in the book and in his plans for his birthday, we hardly see him as an active player in the narrative. Leonard relates the events from the past and during the 'now' of the novel Leonard runs into him at school and trades insults, but that's it. One the one hand, it makes it easier to just see him as Leonard does, on the other it also leaves him rather flat as a character.

The one person in this book that I just couldn't understand was Linda, Leonard's mum. I can see how it would be awful to have what happened to Leonard happen to your child - just the thought of it happening to one of my girls gives me nightmares - but how on earth can you just abandon them because you can't deal with it? And how selfish do you have to be to not want your child to get the help he needs, because you don't want to be told that everything is your fault (the reason she won't let Leonard see a therapist)? I just couldn't see my way past that. Parents generally aren't portrayed in the best light in this book. Both Linda and Mrs Beal are portrayed as oblivious and in Asher's case enabling, and both dads seem to be absent. Lauren's parents are only mentioned in the context of Lauren's being home-schooled and their faith, not in terms of their actual parenting.

Quick's writing is different, with typographical tricks, elaborate footnotes, and interludes in the forms of letters from the future written by Leonard's future loved ones. These last confused me a bit, because I hadn't expected this rather science-fictional element to show up. I loved the use of the footnotes as some of the most important things were said in the footnotes, they were a fun way to tell more of Leonard's history, without breaking the immediacy of the narrative of Leonard's birthday.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock addresses some very tough issues, such as bullying, abuse, and depression, but does so without sermonising or becoming so bleak there is no returning to the light. Matthew Quick's Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a wonderful book, one that touched me deeply. Leonard's journey through his birthday was deeply tragic, at times desperately funny, heart-breaking and uplifting. It ends on hope, hope for a happier future, for justice, but mostly a future, any future period.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, smart, and entertaining, 9 Mar 2014
This review is from: OTHER TREE (Mass Market Paperback)
I first encountered DK Mok's writing in the FableCroft anthology One Small Step, where her story Morning Star was one of my favourites. When Mok approached me about reviewing her urban fantasy novel I said yes with alacrity as I was really interested to read more of her writing. And while The Other Tree is very, very different in tone and setting from Morning Star, I really enjoyed it. The story is set in a future version of Australia - though we also visit Italy and the Arabian Desert - and stars Chris, a librarian cryptobotanist, and Luke, a priest with some serious questions about his faith.

Chris is an interesting protagonist who is still mourning the loss of her mother and who is driven to complete her mother's work when her father becomes desperately ill. I liked her sense of determination and her blind faith that she and Luke can and will complete the mission to find the Tree of Life. She's also got a slightly acid sense of humour, which I really appreciated. Her quest to find the fruit of the Tree of Life, both to keep it out of the hands of the evil SinaCorp and to save her father, ends up changing her life in a completely different way than she expected. Her and Luke's journey is far more than an adventure quest it's also a spiritual journey, one in which both of them grow and change.

For Luke, the quest has a far different purpose; he wants to rediscover his faith and his vocation. His background is tragic, but his history is revealed only in drips and drabs and we get almost to the end of the story before we learn the whole of it. I liked the bond that slowly grows between Luke and Chris; where at first Luke is dragged along by Chris' enthusiasm and drive, the longer they work together the more important completing the endeavour becomes to Luke. I also enjoyed the fact that their partnership is built on respect and friendship, no romantic element there at all. And while I realise that Luke is a Catholic priest and as such he's celibate, that doesn't preclude Chris from falling for him or him falling for her. He's just not allowed to act upon it. But Mok doesn't go there and that makes their friendship all the more interesting.

Opposing Chris and Luke are SinaCorp, its ruthless CEO and a crack team of operatives who are trying to beat our heroes to the Tree of Life and its all-important fruit. Included in this team is one of Chris' university friends, Emir, who was more than just a friend. It's interesting to see how Mok develops Emir's story and re-connects Chris and Emir. She also does a wonderful job of giving many at SinaCorp faces and stories beyond their corporate identity and often in only a few paragraphs. There is also a mysterious third organisation that comes into play later on in the book. I won't reveal too much about them, other than to say I really liked the potential of their arc and was disappointed by the limited use Mok made of them. I would have loved to have seen more of them.

With The Other Tree Mok manages to deliver a story that is based in Biblical lore without being Christian or preachy. Instead it uses lore to build its mystery and to have Chris, Luke, and Emir ponder difficult questions on life, justice, morality, and faith, without the author coming down on either side of the debate. The story is told in third person omniscient and the narrative voice is quite strong and drily funny. So while we follow several protagonists, the narrator remains the same and it's unclear who this person is; a fact that in the context of the questions the narrative asks is ironic.

I had a lovely time with The Other Tree and really enjoyed Mok's writing. The book is also a rare thing in urban fantasy, a stand-alone novel. This story is complete in and of itself, without any clear hooks for sequels, which is refreshing in this age of series and trilogies. If you enjoy urban fantasy that strays off the beaten path then this is definitely a book you should consider giving a go, as it's funny, smart, and entertaining.

This book was provided for review by the author.

Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)
Someone Else's Skin (DI Marnie Rome 1)
by Sarah Hilary
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must-read British police procedural, 5 Mar 2014
I love a good police procedural, especially if its main character is female. That's why, when Someone Else's Skin arrived at my house, I was immediately intrigued by the blurb. And the book was every bit as interesting and riveting as promised, but where it surprised me was the fact that this is as much a psychological thriller as it is an exciting police procedural. Sarah Hilary's début was chilling in some instances, but it was also quite engrossing and I found myself drawn into our characters live and the case at the heart of the book more and more as the pages flew by.

The heart of the novel is DI Marnie Rome. She's is an amazing character, fiercely professional and driven in her work, but at the same time somewhat fragile and still trying to cope with the murder of her parents and her feelings for their murderer. Hilary slowly peels back the layers of protection around Marnie's deepest-held secrets, some secrets she's even held from herself and so creates a portrayed of a complex, flawed, and sympathetic character. I loved Marnie and I hope she'll feature in more books in the future, because there are many questions about her past I'd like to see answered. And I'd love to see where her budding relationship with Ed Belloc goes.

Marnie of course doesn't solve crime on her own she has two Detective Sergeants she works with, Noah Jake and Ron Carling. I absolutely loved Noah, especially because he is such a lovely bloke and he feels a little like the rookie to Marnie's experienced competence. Noah is gay and of half-Jamaican descent and as such has to deal with prejudice on two counts, both from the people they investigate and from his co-workers. We mostly see this behaviour from Ron Carling though in a way that drove me bonkers. Carling's snide remarks and completely rude and inappropriate questions were awful and felt only too true-to-life. In a way much of the treatment Noah encounters from Carling reminded me of the issues @EverydaySexism speaks about, in a slightly different, but just as pernicious, way. They are joined by Ed Belloc from Victim Support, and a friend of Marnie's, who is brought in as a safe and trusted case worker for the women in the shelter where they need to investigate.
Hilary does a wonderful job of portraying what abuse does to a person, that there are many ways of being a victim and many different outcomes of abuse. No one's story is the same and all the women in the shelter have their own story, bear different scars, mentally and physically, and have different triggers caused by their abuse. They have emerged damaged from a relationship - which doesn't necessarily mean they are broken or beyond healing - and all of them react a different way. From brave, strident Ayana, to muddled Mab, manipulative Shelley, and survivor Simone to doll-like, fragile Hope, they each cope differently with what their abuse has made of them and how to find their way back to themselves.

Without discussing them too much, for fear of giving away spoilers, the actual perpetrator is not only a surprise, but also a very, very scary individual and they truly gave me chills once Hilary revealed more of their psyche. The plot of the book is very well constructed with plausible alternate suspects and some tricky reveals that were very well done. All of it delivered in competent prose that didn't distract from the action in the novel and drew me in closer in the more introspective scenes in the book.

Someone Else's Skin was a fantastic read and introduced characters I hope to see more of in the future. Sarah Hilary is a talented author writing about a tough topic with sensitivity, but without flinching away from discomfort. If you love British police procedurals then Someone Else Skin is a must-read for 2014!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Invention of Wings
The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 3 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Invention of Wings (Hardcover)
After reading and reviewing The Secret Life of Bees I started The Invention of Wings with a bit of trepidation, because reviewing The Secret Life of Bees was hard and the book left me more than a little conflicted. Still, I'd heard a lot of good about Sue Monk Kidd's latest novel and it certainly sounded very interesting, so I dove right in and didn't come up for air until I finished the book. Well, I did have occasional breaks to feed myself and the girls and entertain them and to reload the washer and the dryer, but other than that the book had me spellbound.

The book tells the story of two extraordinary women. While the facts about Sarah Grimké that Kidd recounts are mostly factual, the life she invents for Hetty 'Handful' Grimké is partly fictional. Hetty was a real person and was the slave given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday, but unfortunately she didn't live past her early teens as explained in the author's note. Despite this difference in facts to follow, both of them feel equally vibrant and real. Of the two, I think I enjoyed Handful's arc the most, just because she's an irresistible character. She's indefatigable, stubborn, and cynical, but she's also never without hope--hope for a better life, for the return of her mother, hope for freedom. Handful's story is anchored by her natural talent at sewing, tailoring and crafting, which she's inherited and learned from her mother. In one way this is literally true; we learn most of Handful's mother Charlotte's history through the story quilt she creates. Quilting and especially quilts with the black triangles that symbolise blackbird wings are Charlotte's speciality.

Sarah, the privileged daughter of a planter judge, is also quite interesting and strong-willed in a totally different way from Handful. She is not just an abolitionist, but a women's rights activist too. Kidd attributes this to Sarah's prodigious intellect which is stimulated by her father and beloved brother Thomas when she is little, but once she actually sets her expectations beyond those fulfilling a traditional female role in Charleston society; this is quickly and completely stopped. The injustice of this coupled with some critical thinking on Sarah's part launches her on the path of abolitionism and feminism. Her taking up the cause of women's rights in addition to abolition was especially interesting, as Sarah and her sister Nina are asked to stop provoking men with their women's right advocating, because it's drawing away attention from the abolitionist cause, something they refuse to do. This reminded me of intersectionality and how even today there is a tension between white feminists and feminists of colour because the former tend to drown out the latter's advocacy on matters specific to women of colour. The two situations are not the same, but reminiscent of each other and I found myself pondering whether Sarah and Nina's refusal to stop advocating for women's rights to achieve abolition first was misguided or courageous. And to be honest, I still don't have an answer.

Kidd's writing is lovely, though I had to get used to the fact that Handful speaks in a patois that is reflected in the writing. Kidd evokes strong visuals and does so in beautiful prose. The scents, sounds and sights of Charleston especially are compellingly drawn for the reader and very much part of the fabric of the book. For better or worse it's home to both Handful and Sarah, even though it's not always that welcoming to either of them and its society is stifling to Sarah.

I loved The Invention of Wings quite a lot. It's a wonderful historical novel and one that really made me think, in the same way The Secret Life of Bees made me think. However, The Invention of Wings didn't have the problems for me that the former had. Sarah Grimké is one of history's less-remembered and celebrated heroines and I hope that Sue Monk Kidd's The Invention of Wings has put her in the spotlight in a lasting way.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Burn (Pure Trilogy 3)
Burn (Pure Trilogy 3)
by Julianna Baggott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Killer conclusion, 20 Feb 2014
This review is from: Burn (Pure Trilogy 3) (Hardcover)
I loved Pure and Fuse, and I was beyond excited to get an ARC for the trilogy's concluding volume Burn. It is a fitting conclusion to this bleak view of the future and human nature. If Pure and Fuse were bleak and bleaker, then Burn was bleakest and I found myself wondering how on earth Baggott was going to pull off a satisfactory ending, if not a happy one. But Burn provides a fitting conclusion to the tale started in Pure and while it may not be a Disney-style happy ending, it is an ending that leaves us with hope, hope for the characters we've become attached to and hope for a better world. Obviously as this is the last book in the series there will be spoilers for the previous books. If you haven't read those and want to remain unspoilt: Beware, here be spoilers!

All of the protagonists from the previous book return in Burn; the reader is reunited with Pressia, Partridge, Bradwell, Lyda, El Capitan and Helmut, and Iralene, with all but the last two having their own points of view. Even if the main characters are familiar, they're very much changed from the people we first met in the earlier books. Where I really liked him in Pure and Fuse, in Burn Partridge came off as a little whiny and confused and he was easily manipulated by those around him. I didn't like him as much in this last volume, mostly because I just couldn't understand why he wouldn't take a stand and choose- choose Lyda and their baby, choose to tell the truth and deal with the consequences without resorting to living a different lie, choose to be his own man. He became a character without agency, even if he does have clear desires and goals.

Pressia also comes across differently. Still very much driven by her desire to save those outside of the Dome and find a cure, she seems far more angsty about her relationship with Bradwell, which is rocky and pretty much non-existent after the events of the previous book, than I'd expected her to be. She's understandably upset, but the wildly competent Pressia we've come to know and love, wouldn't just have been angsty, she'd have been angry at Bradwell as well for not even wanting to talk to her. Similarly, Bradwell comes across as sulky and martyred, angry with Pressia for having caused his wings to become the way they are, yet at the same time completely resistant to the idea of working together with the Dome to find a way to undo the fusings. He becomes driven by anger and revenge, where before I saw him more as driven by truth and a need to save people from the Dome and the OSR.

My favourites in this book were Lyda and El Capitan. To me they are the ones who grow the most throughout the series. I also loved their themes in this book. Lyda has grown from a sheltered and naive girl into a strong young woman, one who takes her own destiny - and that of her child's - into her own hands. She makes decisions not just based on personal desires, but for the good of the people, even if that breaks her heart. She also decides her place isn't inside any more, but she longs for the outside even if life there is harsh, at least it's real. Cap's arc is far more about redemption, repentance, and penance. Cap isn't the angry young man we met in Pure; he's come to terms with being fused with his brother, Helmut, and his friendship with Bradwell and Partridge and his love for Pressia has made him re-evaluate his past. I really loved the relationship between Cap and Helmut and the way the latter gains identity throughout the series. He becomes more than just a lump on Cap's back; he becomes Cap's conscience and a person with his own opinions. Cap's unrequited love for Pressia and the way he handles it, broke my heart and I kept rooting for him to have his happy ending.

The development of the world is more political and Dome-focused this time around. The freaky nature of Dome society is revealed in full and we learn more about those Domers we've met before, such as Arvin Weed and Iralene. There were some revelations about characters both inside and outside the Dome, which didn't truly affect the narrative but did provide some cool moments of recognition and going 'OH!' such as the true identity of Our Good Mother. I also enjoyed the glimpse we had of the Irish settlement our intrepid quartet visit at the start of the book and it made me wonder what the other settlements around the globe would look like and what kind of things they'd developed to keep themselves safe.

Burn is a killer conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. However it's not a series for the faint of heart as it truly is a very dark and bleak series and Baggott spares neither her characters nor her readers from the painful realities of the world as she's created it in the narrative. There are beloved characters who won't make it to the end of the series, just as there are awful ones who do survive. But we end on hope and a glimpse of the possibility of a better future. It's a story complete, but this ending is the beginning of a new story and I wonder whether Baggott will return to this world and tell that story. Part of me hopes she will, the other part wants to take that ray of hope and run with it and not imagine all the awful things the characters will have to live through rebuilding their world. Whatever Baggott decides to write next though, I'll be reading, because with this awesome series she's certainly convinced me of her talent as a story teller.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Copper Promise (complete novel)
The Copper Promise (complete novel)
by Jen Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All it promised and and more, 17 Feb 2014
The Copper Promise was one of this spring's books I was looking forward to reading a lot, as I'd heard very good things about the novella when it was previously published - most notably Graeme Flory's review at his old blog - and it sounded like a really fun romp. So when the book was selected as the February title for the Hodderscape Review Project, I was stoked and got to reading with gusto. And I have to say, Graeme was completely right; this reworked and expanded version of that original novella was highly entertaining and reminiscent of classic sword and sorcery, but updated and lacking some of the more problematic elements of the classic sword and sorcery novels.

The book had three lead characters, Wydrin, Sebastian, and Frith. All of them are interesting and it's hard to pick a favourite, though it's hard to resist Wydrin's effervescent personality and free spirit. But beneath the happy-go-lucky exterior lurks a far more complex woman, something we see come to the fore in her interactions with her brother and in her care for Sebastian. Both Sebastian and Frith are far more openly troubled. I loved Sebastian's struggle with doing what was right versus doing what was Good. The reason he's left Isu's Order was revealed in good time, though I'd figured it out far earlier and I wonder whether that was the intent or because I'm a good guesser. Frith's burning desire for revenge is sometimes frighteningly obsessive, at times making him lose sight of those around him and their feelings. I did very much enjoy the interplay between him and Wydrin. There is no outright romance in the book, no fated meant-to-be love, but a growing companionship, that made the eventual outcome even more heartfelt.

Williams includes some very cool elements in her story, such as dragons, ancient gods, demons and a word-based magic. There is a lot of complex interweaving of storylines which are all linked, yet at the same time seem somewhat unconnected in their telling, almost seeming separate adventures made to fit the same timeline. I loved the brood army and their connection to Sebastian. I really liked the scenes we got from their perspective and I would have loved to have learned more of them and to see more of them in the future. There are many interesting secondary characters we meet, but my favourite had to be Ip, a young girl Sebastian rescues from a temple. I loved her devious nature and the twist Williams plays with her. There is a constant interplay between evoking the classic sword and sorcery vibe in the narrative and twisting the tropes in new and fresh ways.

The Copper Promise is comprised of four novellas originally and this background can still be felt in the book, as the transitions between the parts can feel a little abrupt. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the parts each end in rather big cliff hangers and that felt abrupt to me. The book does form a coherent whole however and I liked that the ending was a clear ending, but one that also left the door ajar for Williams to return to these characters for more adventures. The writing is very smooth and I enjoyed that the characters' voices are quite distinct from one another; they don't sound alike. While Wydrin, Sebastian, and Frith are very much the main characters there are several characters that get their own point of view chapters, most notably the Thirty-Third, one of the members of the brood army, and Gallo, a sell-sword who sometimes works with Wydrin and Sebastian.

The Copper Promise was all it promised and more. It's a wonderful sword and sorcery novel with some very memorable characters and a dragon to boot. If you enjoy full-throttle action, awesome monsters, and fun, snarky dialogues then The Copper Promise is definitely a story you won't want to miss. I loved Jen Williams' debut novel and I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes next. Hopefully we'll see more of our intrepid trio at some point in the future as well.

This book was provided by the publisher as part of the Hodderscape Review Project.

The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic
The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic
by Jan Edwards
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great set of stories, 15 Feb 2014
There is nothing I like more in my urban fantasy than a dose of magical London of the sort found in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, China Miéville's Un Lun Dun, Ben Aaronovitch's The Folly series, Tom Pollock's The Skyscraper Throne series, and Rosie E. Best's Skulk, to name but a few. So to be offered a chance to explore more of these magical metropolises (metropoli?) in The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic wasn't one I was about to refuse. And by no means are all of these stories set in London, and even more surprising most of my favourites from the anthology weren't even set in London.

Urban Mythic's first volume - the second has just been announced - contains a strong set of stories. What I really loved was the diversity contained in the stories; from the settings to the ethnicities portrayed to the mythical underpinnings, the anthology travelled the globe in every direction. There are Chinese dragons, American wizards, djinns, banshees and some supernatural beings I couldn't even name with certainty. All of the stories were quite enjoyable but there were five that stood out to me.

Graham Edwards - A Night to Forget
A Night to Forget is a curious story of a young woman who is still dealing with the consequences of an acid assault and after a number of years finally learns the truth about what happens that night. It asks the question whether sometimes it is better, or perhaps the better term would be preferable, to forget or remember certain facts, especially if they are painful and allows our protagonist to make her own choice. I like the emotional overtones of the story and there was a twist I hadn't seen coming.

Anne Nicholls - The Seeds of a Pomegranate
I loved the diversity of the characters in this story and the djinn. All of the characters in the story are people on the outside, different because of who they are. Nisha and her husband are immigrants, Zoe is a recent transplant from Rutland to London, and Bosh is - well, he's Bosh and what makes him truly different isn't the fact that he's gay, but the fact that he is a techno wizard and bonded to a magical spirit in the form of a dog. But by the end of the story there is a sense of homecoming that is almost palpable. I really loved these characters and I would love to see more of them in the future.

Adrian Tchaikovsky - Family Business
I loved the tone and setting for Family Business, which in some ways rather reminded me of the Guy Ritchie film Snatch. It also seemed only an outtake from a larger story; at the end of the story there remained several questions I'd love to be able to get answers for, such as who is the Other, where did Tarrant, Winston and their siblings come from and what would happen if they went back? It's also convinced me that I want to read more of Tchaikovsky's work as I really enjoyed his writing.

Zen Cho - Fish Bowl
This story might seem to be about a magical fish, but it seems to me far more about the pressures placed upon teenagers these days by their parents, often with the best intentions, but harmful nonetheless. I really loved the tragedy of this story and I'm still not sure whether the fish was a malicious entity or not. In addition, Zen Cho's sense of place and her ear (pen?) for dialogue are exquisite. Fish Bowl was a quietly impressive story that will remain with me for a long while.
Jonathan Oliver - White Horse
Jonathan Oliver's story resonated deeply with me as it is about a woman trying to reach the love of her life who is depressed and closed off to the world around him. Her feelings of helplessness and frustration at not being able to fix things for him were all too recognisable to me, having been on both sides of the divide. I loved how Imogen realises through the story that she can't fix things for others, but she can be there next to them while they do it themselves. All of this is woven into a narrative involving the White Horse of Uffington, past lives and dream horses in a way that was infinitely attractive to me.

I really enjoyed The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic. It was a great collection of stories, none of which disappointed really. If you'd like to discover more flavours of urban mythic and some wonderful stories, The Book of Urban Mythic is a good one to pick up. I'll be very much looking forward to see what the editors include in their second volume.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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