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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars masterpieces of thought provoking science fiction, 3 Oct 2012
This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
Alastair Reynolds (no less), in his introduction, talks of the joy of short fiction being the thrill of leaping into the unknown, I agree. The joy of short fiction is that it *allows* you to leap into the unknown without having to commit days of your life to the experiment. He goes on to talk of its fragility and how a successful short story will seem bigger on the inside. Again I agree, in these days of the blockbuster novel, where words are sold by the pound, the art of the short story is being lost. Jaine Fenn shows here that she knows exactly what not to say. She has written four stories based in her Khesh City where she sparingly tells us just enough background (for instance the city's name is not mentioned in any of the stories). Like an impressionist painter, she paints just enough dots of detail that we think we know it all. Her characters are sparsely painted without descending into caricatures. On top of all that these stories are interesting!

To my mind the sign of a good short story is when you spend longer thinking of the implications of the story than you did to read it. These stories are masterpieces of thought provoking science fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great story set, 31 Oct 2012
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This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
I'd read all of the Jaine Fenn series of books featuring such characters as Taro and Nual. I had thought that this set of short stories may be a let down but I was wrong as I thoroughly enjoyed all the stories and in fact think that short stories may well be Jaines strong point in terms of story telling. So whether you've read the other books or not make a point of reading this as it's excellent. Here's looking forward to more from Jaine Fenn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good intro to this author's work, 25 Sep 2012
By 
This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
The floating city of Kesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Kesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels - deadly state-sponsored killers - remove those unworthy to hold office.

When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a `removal' by the Angel Thiera. Downside, Isha's brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. Larnia Mier, a talented topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up.

This short story anthology features four individual tales all set in the fantastical city of Kesh.

Collateral Damage - A chance meeting between two women in a bar acts as our introduction to the City of Kesh. Vanna is having trouble at home with her husband, while Malia is a newly risen Angel still unsure about her choice of new career. Over a number of weeks a friendship forms, but perhaps there is more to this friendship than there first appears.

Death on Elsewhere Street - Some of Kesh's citizens will do whatever they can to avoid popping up on the Angels radar, Geal falls squarely into this group. Circumstance, however, leads her directly into the middle of an incident that is the stuff of her nightmares. Sometimes, no matter how hard you run from something you can't avoid it.

Angel Dust - The gangs of the Undertow are the mirror to the political machinations that occur up above. Irrespective of their differences, the same power struggles and schemes occur in both areas of the society. If anything, the gangs may at least be a little bit more honest about their goals. Angel Dust illustrates just how aware the Angels, and their mysterious leader the Minister, are of everything that happens in every part of the city - above and below.

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier - The final story in the collection focuses on Larnia, a musician with strong religious beliefs who is forced to re-evaluate her life after an accident.

If you have never read any of Jaine Fenn's novels, I hadn't before now, Downside Girls strikes me as being perfect place to start. There are some nice ideas that come across very well in her writing. The Angels, in particular, are a wonderful creation. I love the idea that they are the living embodiment of the people's will. If any of the city's politicians step out of line then the Angels deal with them without remorse. Is this perhaps not a policy that we could instigate when dealing with corruption in Westminster?

For such a small collection Downside Girls manages to cover a heck of a lot of ground. Using the unique world that she has created, Fenn takes the opportunity to explore topics as diverse as politics, gang culture, religion, the drug trade and gender. All four stories achieve exactly what they set out to do. The reader is offered a tantilising glimpse of a much larger world. It's true that this collection is likely going to leave you with more questions than answers but I dont think this is a bad thing. The good news is that, as quick internet search reveals, there are other novels set in the same universe already published.

This collection contains some thought provoking science fiction with a memorable cast of characters. Kesh is a vibrant, fully realised city-state offering a wealth of possibilities. I look forward to my next visit.

Downside Girls is released by Clarion Publishing and the ebook is available now and the paperback will follow on the 9th November 2012.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good indeed, 19 Jan 2013
By 
Rebecca /Liz (London, Englnd) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
I'd not call these absolutely excellent, but that's probably because I've been spoiled by the richness Jaine can deliver when given a whole novel to play in. On the other hand, for delicious short story goodness, this is a safe and highly enjoyable bet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely introduction to the world of the 'Hidden Empire' series, 8 Jan 2013
This review is from: Downside Girls (Paperback)
This collection of four short stories by Jaine Fenn, set in the universe of her series Hidden Empire, assumes no previous knowledge of her work. Leaping straight in, without any introduction to the world, it is still completely accessible to readers who have never read any of the series. Facts were laid out when they need to be, rather than dumping lots of information on the reader. It is for this reason that I believe it is the sort of science fiction that is accessible to any reader. One of the downfalls of the science fiction genre is that it is often very specialist, and so much of it is very heavy - someone who does not usually read sci-fi could easily be put off. However, that is not the case with Downside Girls.

The city in these stories has a 'topside' and a 'downside' - topside being the upper class area, and downside for the poorer citizens. Patrolling the city are Angels - downsiders chosen to be assassins and given special powers, who target corrupt politicians. The descriptions and feel of the city definitely gave me a bit of a Mass Effect vibe - I was imagining the scenarios taking place in the Citadel, which was pretty cool.

All four stories have very different situations, and weave together the lives of humans and Angels. The stories are also interlinked in small ways, but I think you have to read the main series to truly understand the link - I only picked it up from reading the synopses of Jaine Fenn's other work. The narrative of the stories is just about different enough to show that each one is being told by another character, but I do feel that this aspect could be improved on.

The writing flowed very well - not overly showy, or too simple. Despite only spending a short amount of time with each character, I somehow felt for them all - particularly in the last story. Fenn manages to pack a lot into only 80-odd pages - trickery, assassinations, gangs, as well as a rather sweet tale at the end.

This novella has made me definitely want to check out the main books. Whilst appealing to science fiction fans, I believe it is also a perfect collection of short stories for those wanting to ease themselves into the genre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Angelic Stuff, 25 Oct 2012
By 
Ms. Theresa M. Derwin (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Downside Girls (Paperback)
The floating city of Kesh rests above the uninhabitable planet of Vellern. For the Topsiders life is about luxury and opulence, while for those of the Undertow day to day survival takes precedence. Kesh City is a democracy by assassination, where the Angels - deadly state-sponsored killers - remove those unworthy to hold office.
Downside Girls is a collection of four short stories from Fenn's world, and to quote Alastair Reynold's introduction, "These are dangerous little fables, sleek and sharp as an Angel's retractable blades, and just as likely to cut when you least expect them to."
In the first story `Collateral Damage', Malia, the Angel from Fenn's debut novel Principles of Angels, is sitting in a bar when she meets Vanna Agriet, a Topsider who spills a drink on Malia before spilling out her story to the willing Angel. You see, Vanna has found a woman's earring under her bed and suspects her husband of cheating on her. A peculiar friendship between the Topsider and the Angel begins.
There is a brilliant ironic twist at the end of this tale and as usual, Fenn has a distinctive and strong authorial voice, as she narrates this story in the first person. The dialogue and `lingo' Fenn uses demonstrates the class distinction prevalent in these stories and the books.
In `Death on Elsewhere Street' we meet Geal, a downside girl coerced by Angel Thiera to be a witness for a removal, whilst in `Angel Dust' Isha is sent on a mission by an injured Angel to deliver a box to the Minister, and in `The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier' we meet older music teacher Mier, who on witnessing a removal is injured and may not be able to sing again.
Each story is tightly written with a strong female presence and a stronger narrative voice. Each ending is wholly satisfying and as a book, the stories blend well together as an accompanying piece to Fenn's Angel novels.
This is gritty, urban SF, which challenges the reader with every story. Simply an excellent collection.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Five for Downside Girls, 19 Oct 2012
By 
This review is from: Downside Girls (Paperback)
This collection of four standalone stories, with a foreword by Alistair Reynolds, features some of characters from Fenn's debut novel, Principles of Angels. It isn't a surprise that someone has jumped at the opportunity to publish further stories in this fascinating world, where the Angels are augmented female assassins principally employed to kill politicians that the electorate have judged to be inadequate. One of the ironies in Fenn's world is that the Angels are taken from the feral underclass who eke out a living on the underside of the floating Kesh City, most of whom are far too busy trying to survive to bother with voting...

I read 'Principles of Angels' after meeting Jaine Fenn at Bristolcon last year and while I enjoyed the story, it is her world that has lodged in my head ever since. Her clean, unfussy writing style belies the layered intricacy of her worldbuilding, where her protagonists are completely ringfenced by their extraordinary environment which Fenn manages to depict as entirely normal. It's a neat trick to pull off and a whole lot harder than Fenn makes it look. The slightest sense of flourish by the author immediately undermines the gritty edge of reality confronting the characters.

This collection can be read without having ever picked up a Jaine Fenn book - in fact provides an excellent introduction to Fenn's writing and the world.

Collateral Damage - When Vanna Agriet accidentally spills her drink over an Angel it could spell death, but instead it leads to a rather peculiar friendship. This story provides an insight into the life of an Angel, and their unique role within society is explored from an enjoyably oblique angle, compared to the political machinations that drove the plot in 'Principles of Angels'. I particularly enjoyed the twist at the end.

Death on Elsewhere Street - The downsider Geal hopes for a better life topside, only to find herself embroiled in a `removal' by the Angel Thiera. This is another story that explores the role of Angels - and what the consequences of becoming society's official assassins can be for those involved. I found it all the more powerful that it was told from the viewpoint of someone else caught up in the action.

Angel Dust - Downside, Isha's brother Rakul brings a little black box home with him, and sets Isha on a journey that takes her to a meeting with the most powerful man in Kesh City. This story is the one in the collection that highlights the grim conditions in Downside as Isha struggles to deal with the fallout when her brother becomes embroiled in one of the gangs. I particularly enjoyed the incident where Isha narrowly avoids death when she's drawn to the ornamental fountain playing Topside, only to receive an urgent warning that it is poisoned to prevent citizens from drinking free water...

The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier - Larnia Mier, a talented Topside musician and instructor, is injured after witnessing a removal first-hand. As her abilities diminish, new possibilities open up. This is the odd one out. Larnia Mier comes from the privileged part of Kesh City - Topside. No gritted, giddying journeys for her to gather sufficient water, hopping over holes in the walkways that could plunge you to your death...

The other interesting difference with this story is that it is told in third person point of view, whereas the others are all narrated in first person viewpoint. Yet, it's my favourite... I'm still trying to figure out why - I'm a sucker for gutsy heroines from hard backgrounds and first person pov is always the one I'm attracted to, both as writer and reader. I found her fascinating in 'Principles of Angels', too. Fenn has her brittle, solitary personality absolutely nailed, and I think she leaps off the page. I also very much enjoyed the ending - initially, I figured this was going somewhere more predictable and less tricky and hats off to Fenn for giving us this less tidy, yet far more convincing conclusion to this story.

As Reynolds mentions in the Foreword, short story writing is demanding in ways that novel writing isn't, and in order to produce an anthology of successful short stories takes a high degree of writing skill. Fenn's 'Downside Girls' not only is a great addition to her list of published books, but also demonstrates her talent.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent accompaniment and introduction to Hidden Empire series of Sci-Fi novels, 14 Oct 2012
By 
This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
This was my first introduction to Jaine Fenn's work, and this is a collection of four short stories set in her Hidden Empire series. What an introduction. Not being familiar with her work I worried I wouldn't understand what was going on, but this just served as an excellent taster for the rest of the series.

The length of the stories meant that there wasn't tons of background information, no infodumps as are quite often prevalent in sci-fi work, instead the reader has to piece together the setting from what limited information we have. I loved the whole concept of the angels, a fairly unique creation. This world is dark and gritty, filled with prejudices, interesting characters, and plenty more to explore.

I assume if I was familiar with Jaine Fenn's other work there might be a bit more significance in some of the stories, but at the same time not being familiar didn't detract from the stories. And once I have read the rest of her works I think I will find myself re-reading these shorts to better appreciate them.

It didn't take long to read these stories, but at the same time it's only four short stories, what do you expect? I have no doubt I will go on to read the rest of her novels now, this has just whet my appetite nicely.

Anyone considering reading any of Jaine's work I would recommend this as a good place to start. Definitely one Sci-Fi author to watch. And I think I should just mention there is an intro from Alastair Reynolds, that should be a good indication of what a good collection this is. Go on, read it, you know you want to.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science fiction delight, 11 Oct 2012
By 
Andy Pieters "x_terminat_or_3" (Plymouth, Devon, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
This is a book about heroines. They come in all shapes and forms and are all intricately connected to the city's political system. If you don't do your job as an elected official properly, then you will be asked to leave office. The asking is done by the city's angels. The angels ask the elected officials to leave office by killing them. The book is set in this world of castes and strange political systems with plenty of blood and plenty of humanity. A delight to read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent side-dish to the Hidden Empire series, 4 Oct 2012
By 
P. R. Vincent (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Downside Girls (Kindle Edition)
Being a short (novella-sized) book, I read this in a single sitting. It's a collection of four short stories by a British SF writer who I admit is new to me, but has previously written a series of novels - the Hidden Empire series - set in the same story universe. These stories are set in that shared universe, and the first three are interlinked. Fenn is a gifted writer, having the uncanny knack of explaining very little, but leaving the reader enough clues to fill in the blanks and slowly begin to understand the universe of the stories. I'm sure this makes the Hidden Empire novels even more rewarding to read, and I'm very keen now to do so! The realisation of exactly how the Angels fit into the society was nicely shocking! I won't talk about the specific storylines here, since as Alastair Reynolds says in his excellent introduction, the brevity of short stories makes spoilers even more annoying than for novels. I'll certainly be reading more of Ms. Fenn's work!
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Downside Girls
Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn (Paperback - 9 Nov 2012)
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