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When Jaine burst onto the Sci-Fi scene last year, I jumped for joy at her refreshing new world look at how things in the future could possibily be. It's definitely a tale that isn't too hard on the old grey cells to understand the science side of things and also allows the readers to get to know the world through her protagonist. It became essential reading and after a reread before starting her latest offering I enjoyed the whole thing a lot more as I could spot subtle clues that I'd missed on the original reading. Here we also get to see Jaine's talents as she allows us to see a backwards civilisation through the eyes of a stranger which not only proves that she has the clout to make a very difficult beginning work but also allows us to see perhaps how we ourselves must look to a civilisation far in advance of ourselves.

If you want a tale that takes the best of Science Fiction and blends it with a touch of fantasy then this is the book for you. With strong lead protagonists, Spartan style descriptiveness and a whole range of action sequences that take you from hand to hand to mind bending conflicts then you really can't get better than this. Add to the mix that this tale is just as engaging as the original and you know that Jaine is going to be a name to watch.
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on 13 February 2015
Fantasy and science fiction are genres that mesh well together. Some authors have written successfully across both genres, but not usually in the same story. Jaine Fenn has managed to combine both in one book and it's an interesting read.

One night, a stranger is found lying unconscious in a bog just outside the village of Dangwern. He appears to have come from nowhere and, apart from a strange piece of cloth lying near his naked body, there is nothing to suggest who he is or where he came from. Unfortunately, this includes the stranger himself, as he is suffering from amnesia and has no idea even where he is, much less how he came to be there.

Fortunately for Sais, as he is nicknamed, the boy who finds him is "sky touched". This means he is soon to travel to the City of Lights to be tested to see if he is worthy of being a consort of the goddesses. The village elders permit Sais and the boy's mother Kerin to accompany him to see if anyone there may recognise Sais or shed some light on his past.

The story begins as a fairly standard fantasy novel, with many of the usual elements you would expect to find. There are difficult living conditions, many conforming to old and impoverished ways of living by modern standards, which fantasy novels often thrive on. There are also all powerful gods, respected by all, and a journey to a major city from the edges of the world to seek knowledge not available elsewhere. There is a quest, one of the characters is special in a certain way the provides challenges as well as uses and others are battling adversity and unpopularity thanks to their past and hoping to become more than they are.

Most of this is fairly predictable and obvious enough and usually you would be able to see where the story would end up. But this is as far as the clichés go, as once Sais starts to recover his memory, it soon becomes obvious that Kerin's worldview isn't how it should be. From her point of view, worse news is to come in that her son's fate is not the glorious future everyone has been led to believe it would be. This means that the priests of the world are in for an even bigger shock than the average believers. As Sais' true identity comes back to him, the story adds some science fiction type elements that never looked likely from the beginnings of the story and the book edges away from the standard fantasy type tale as the two genres collide and settle down quite comfortably together.

Apart from the clashing of genres, one aspect of the story that is done particularly well here is the character and plot development. With Sais being an amnesiac stranger, he is completely unaware of the world he finds himself in, knowing nothing of their religion or their ways of life. This means that the reader has a character in their shoes; on the outside, looking in and starting from scratch and the necessity of explaining everything to Sais in very simple terms benefits the reader hugely, as it provides a very basic introduction to the world. With this fitting in so well to the story, it never seems forced or unnatural and it is the kind of introduction that very few novels provide. In return, Sais introduces new thinking to the people he meets and this helps the genres mesh a lot better, as the reader gets both explained in simple terms as they are explained to characters who simply wouldn't understand otherwise.

In much the same way, being a complete stranger helps with the character development. No-one knows anything about the other, so when a certain person reacts to a character in a particular way, based on a past the reader knows nothing about, it needs to be explained to Sais, with his knowledge growing alongside the reader's. Indeed, Sais knows very little about even himself and his voyage of rediscovery is slow and gradual, allowing both us and the other characters to learn about his past as he goes. This allows for a gradual and natural introduction to the characters which, again, is rarely present in other books of this type.

Whilst this gentle build up does work well for the character and plot development, it does mean that the pace of the story is a little slow for my personal tastes. There is a long journey to be made and a lot to learn about the world and the characters and whilst this is all necessary for the story, it does seem to take quite some time. As the story reaches a climax, things move a lot quicker and the contrast between the two parts is made even more evident by the ending, which seems to happen in a bit of a rush, making the opening seem even slower by comparison.

These things aside, though, it is a book that provides plenty of entertainment. The basic idea and the meshing of the genres works very well and the character development and the way that is accomplished is certainly better than in many such books. The pacing may be a little uneven, but whilst this is a minor annoyance, the aspects of the book that set it apart from many across both genres are ultimately what win out and make this a curious, but worthwhile read.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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It is a time of tribulation for Kerin. Discriminated against in her village for the circumstances of her birth, her son Damaru is skytouched and will soon be blessed by being raised to the ranks of the Consorts. Events are complicated by the discovery of an unconscious man in the mere outside the village. As Kerin helps him regain his health, his memory comes back in fits and starts...and indicates that Kerin's world and everything she knows may be a lie.

Consorts of Heaven is the second novel in Jaine Fenn's Hidden Empire sequence (which currently stands at four books, with a fifth out this year). It is not a follow-up to Principles of Angels, instead taking place roughly simultaneously with it but in a different part of the galaxy. It can be read independently of the first volume. The first novel was more overtly SF, with a dash of the New Weird added to it, but this second volume is more akin to traditional fantasy. It's set in a much more primitive world where some people have abilities that seem similar to magic.

As with her first novel, Fenn has created an interesting world based on some solid foundations, and seeing how this lines up with what was established in Principles of Angels can be fun. Also, as with her first novel, Fenn undercuts the premise and fascinating backstory with a fairly indifferent prose style. This is made even worse by featuring some considerably less-interesting characters than the first book. The major protagonists - Kerin, the amnesiac Sais and the priest Einon - have potential, but ultimately end up being fairly straightforward and predictable. The commentary on the planet's problems, such as being in the grip of a religious theocracy and its issues with rampant sexism, also disappointingly never rise above the obvious.

There are a few nice touches. A traditional SF mega-structure turns up later on in an interesting guise and, despite the primitive setting, we get a lot more information on how the basics of Fenn's SF universe work (such as how FTL is employed in the setting). But ultimately the novel, whilst certainly not disastrous, is not as engaging as its predecessor.

Consorts of Heaven (***) is available now in the UK and USA.
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on 16 February 2011
Every now and then a writer comes along that makes you want to jump for joy. And, if you're a writer yourself, experience just a little of 'wish I could do that' syndrome. Hi, Jaine.
Principles of Angels was fascinating, an alien but totally believable environment and a style which is spare, lucid and never boring. Jaine Fenn obviously care about her craft as much as she does her characters. Above all, she loves telling a story, as a story and not a series of connected events. A slight clunkiness in the denouement because her prose is actually much denser than it seems and she did cram a great deal of detail into the last quarter. Well, it seemed a little complex to me. Overall, a brilliant beginning. Then came the sequel, Consorts of Heaven. Jaine Fenn's prose is, at times, absolutely beautiful. She knows how to hint at future developments without being crass or precious. Her sense of place is excellent, her ability to take the reader there fascinating. The story concerns a stranger, a male amnesiac discovered on distant planet where society runs like a medieval theocracy. How he discovers his own past and how that interacts with the lives of a widow and her strangely abled, adolescent son makes for a deeply enjoyable read. There's been some criticism that the planet isn't quite alien enough. I didn't find this so. In fact, Jaine Fenn has Jack Vance's ability to take something that on the surface seems quite familiar and give it a little twist so that it actually becomes quite weird. Which also nicely seques into the my next point: these books aren't classic sci-fi, whatever that is. They're quite capable of standing on their own as novels, not least of all because Jaine Fenn can actually write about sex, something that few sci-fi authors ever manage. If I wanted to compare her to anyone, it would be Scarlett Thomas' The End of Mr. YY or Ian M Banks' Culture novels. But personally I think Jaine Fenn's a stand-alone. Only criticism: again the ending is a little cramped. The book could have done with another ten or fifteen or even thirty pages; it would have made the transition from medieval to high tech easier for the reader. There might also have been room to see things from the Sidhe - a strange race of psychic, psychotic women - first introduced in Principles of Angels[[ASIN:0575083298]- point of view. Overall, Consorts of Heaven fulfilled the promise of Jaine Fenn's first novel. I truly enjoyed it.
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on 5 March 2010
This book gets all of Jaine's brilliant (and very gripping) storytelling, and the ending lives up to the promise of earlier chapters. A better book than Principles of Angels (her first) which is saying something!
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on 9 November 2015
This is the second book in a five-part series. Although I have read the first novel, in my opinion this book can be read on its own without difficulty or loss. There are undertones of fantasy and science fiction in the book that sit comfortably with each other. The characters are well-developed and the social structure of the society around which the story is based is interesting though perhaps not as unique as that of the first in the series. In summary, I enjoyed the book and intend reading the next instalment.
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on 8 July 2011
Excellent read. A second start bringing in the roots of one of the main characters. Read alongside principles of Angels as this is not a second book in the series, but a second first book. Well worth the read.
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on 27 November 2012
Wonderful believable characterisation as well as brilliantly plotted: starts small scale and the canvas widens as the book progresses. No more detail or it would be a spoiler!
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on 6 May 2015
Waiting to see how it develops, but fine so far.
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