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Anne Lyle (UK)

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A5 Slim Ring Binder Book + 10 Plastic Punched Clear Pockets Quality Small Folder
A5 Slim Ring Binder Book + 10 Plastic Punched Clear Pockets Quality Small Folder
Offered by Tiger Cub Stationery + Craft
Price: £2.15

1.0 out of 5 stars Flimsy and poorly packaged, 3 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Product arrived with the spine so badly smashed that one half of the ring mechanism wouldn't close, and when I reported this and requested a replacement it arrived in similarly poor condition. Very disappointing.

The White Road (Nightrunner)
The White Road (Nightrunner)
by Lynn Flewelling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, but not the best in the series, 14 Mar. 2012
The White Road is the fifth installment in Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series, and concludes the story arc begun in Shadows Return. Having escaped the clutches of Plenimaran alchemist Charis Yakhobin, Alec and Seregil are faced with the problem of what to do about Sebrahn, the child-like alchemical being who can kill as well as heal. The paperback edition features another beautiful character illustration (right) by Michael Komarck, this time of Alec - appropriately enough, since this time he is the one making the difficult choices.

I have to admit that I found the first half of this book rather slow. It mostly consists of Alec and Seregil travelling back to Aurenan and encountering a mixed welcome from various `faie communities. The only real tension came from the occasional scenes from the bad guys' point of view, revealing that Alec and Seregil will not be safe for long.

By the middle of the book, however, the pace picks up and accelerates towards an action-packed finale. Once or twice the suspense was punctured, rather than heightened, by the fact that we the readers can see what all sides are up to, but on the whole it worked well. There was one plot thread that wasn't tied up, but maybe Flewelling is saving that for the next book?

Overall, a solid addition to the series that nonetheless for me fell a little short of the emotionally satisfying heights of Shadows Return. Still, I'm looking forward to Book 6, The Casket of Souls, due out this summer. It's about time our boys got back to some serious nightrunning!

Among Thieves (Tale of the Kin Book 1)
Among Thieves (Tale of the Kin Book 1)
Price: £6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Right up my (dark, rat-infested) alley!, 12 Jan. 2012
Among Thieves is the story of Drothe (no surname - he's too cool for that!), a "Nose" or informant in the pay of one of the crimelords of Ildrecca, the capital of a Renaissance-like empire. There are hints of a wider world outside, but the action of the book is confined to the city itself, particularly the seedier quarters where a "shadow empire" of organised crime holds sway. Drothe works for an Upright Man, one of the lower-level bosses who have carved up the city between them but who are themselves pawns in a larger game played by the Gray Princes, near-legendary figures known only by epithets such as "Longreach" or "The Piper's Son". Hulick's use of historical thieves' cant, supplemented by invented slang, gives shape to what could otherwise be a bewildering array of forgers, fences and hired muscle, as Drothe investigates what seems to be a minor mystery (an undecipherable code found on a smuggler) and finds himself way in over his head.

This is certainly the most action-packed book I've read since The Swords of Albion - poor Drothe rarely escapes a chapter without another chase or fight (and a good deal of resultant pain and injury). The pace develops gently at first, allowing the reader time to get to know the world, but by the halfway mark the plot revelations and action set-pieces are coming thick and fast. The fight scenes in particular are very detailed - Hulick is an aficionado of renaissance swordsmanship - indeed almost a little too detailed and blow-by-blow, but this is first-person narrative so I'm willing to cut Drothe a little slack for being hyperaware in combat. I know from firsthand experience (not fighting, I must add) how time really does seem to slow down when your adrenaline spikes!

It's not all swordplay, however; this is a world of magic too, from minor charms used by the criminal fraternity to spells of earth-shattering power forbidden to all but the emperor. Mostly, though, magic seems to cause more problems than it solves - an approach I heartily endorse.

Overall, a cracking debut, and I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel, Sworn in Steel, which is due out summer 2012.

A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet)
A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet)
by D Abraham
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Very nearly a five-star review!, 16 Dec. 2011
It's not often that a debut novel blows me away, but A Shadow in Summer did just that. I came across this book a few months ago on Fantasy Faction, where it was getting great word-of-mouth, and was surprised I had not heard of Abraham before; unlike contemporary debuts by Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, etc, this one had totally slipped under my radar.

The novel is set in Saraykeht, an Oriental-like city in an apparently pre-industrial fantasy world. It's hard to say who is the protagonist, since the book follows several characters involved on different sides of a complex political intrigue*, but my favourite is Amat Kyaan, the elderly chief accountant of a foreign merchant. Amat is what is generally described as "a tough old bird"; she refuses to take life lying down, despite the pain and fragility of her years, and is, to my mind, the most sympathetic and well-rounded character in the book.

What really sets this world apart is not just the Japanese-inspired culture, but the magic used by the poets of Saraykeht. Not wizards, mind; the poets themselves have no magic apart from the gift of being able to capture an abstract concept in words and thus transform it into a sentient being, an andat. These beautiful, djinn-like beings are enslaved to their poet-masters, and have the power to perform any magic that can be encompassed by the concept they embody. Thus the andat in this book, Seedless, is used to instantly remove the seeds from the cotton harvest, thus giving Saraykeht's textile-workers a huge advantage over other nations who must card their cotton by hand. However this is not the only possible use of his abilities - anything that involves the removal of seed (in its widest biological meaning) can be done with ease by the andat - and the story revolves around a plot to abuse that power.

This brings me around to my one criticism of the book (and the reason I deducted a star), which is that sometimes Abraham is too subtle for his own good. The intrigue hinges around an event which is described so obliquely, with litte explanation either before or after, that the reader is left scratching her head for several chapters, trying to work out what the heck just happened. I did come to some conclusions eventually, but my enjoyment of the book would have been greatly improved by just a little hand-holding from the author.

A Shadow in Summer is beautifully written, complex and subtle, and some may find the languorous pace of the narrative boring, but my experience was one of being drawn slowly but inexorably into a fascinating world that has all the elegance of a tea ceremony with the undercurrent of menace of an ukiyo-e woodcut. This is a seductive novel that I think will bear re-reading; if it's helter-skelter action you want, look elsewhere!

* I was not surprised to discover that he has occasionally collaborated with George R R Martin; whilst their books are very dissimilar in many respects, their politically complex, morally grey fantasy worlds have a lot in common.

Songs of the Earth: The Wild Hunt Book One
Songs of the Earth: The Wild Hunt Book One
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written prose draped over an all-too-familiar plot, 16 Dec. 2011
I like to vary my reading diet a little, and having come across the charming Ms Cooper on Twitter and discovered her to be a fellow aficionado of the blade, I couldn't resist her debut fantasy novel, Songs of the Earth.

Gair has been raised by the Church to be a knight of the Goddess, but when he is discovered to be hiding magical powers, he is sentenced to death as a witch. Fortunately for Gair he has an unknown benefactor amongst the religious leaders; instead of being executed he is branded on the hand and banished, though not without one of the more fanatical churchmen setting a witchfinder on his trail...

Songs of the Earth is very traditional high fantasy, a tale of a young man who is taken under the wing of a kindly (if sometimes overly secretive) old wizard, comes into his magical powers, and helps to save his new wizarding community from an attack by a psychopathic former pupil of his master. So far, so Harry Potter meets Star Wars. What lifts this novel above such simplistic comparisons are the vivid descriptions of the natural world: this is a writer whose love of the wild places of Britain shines through in many a scene (Cooper lives in Northumberland). The clean and cosy island community of gaeden (wizards) reminded me a great deal of Earthsea, and also of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar, and I think fans of those books will find a lot to enjoy.

For me, though, it was a little too black-and-white. The protagonist, Gair, is a naive 21-year-old who comes across more like a teenager than a grown man (understandable, perhaps, given his literally cloistered upbringing), and of course he just happens to be great with a sword as well as the most powerful magical talent his tutors have seen in many years. His nemeses, meanwhile, are blacker than black: an irredeemably twisted mage whose motivation seems to be to destroy the world just because he can, and an equally twisted cleric with a taste for torturing young men. Some of the scenes with the latter show that Cooper can write dark and cynical when she wants to, and I for one would have liked to see more of this side of her work.

As a debut novel, Songs of the Earth shows an impressive talent for writing description and action somewhat hampered by a predictable story, and I hope that having tested her fledgling wings, Cooper will gain the confidence to tackle something more demanding in subsequent books.

Ten Ruby Trick (The Pirates of Estovan)
Ten Ruby Trick (The Pirates of Estovan)

4.0 out of 5 stars Swashes its buckles with the best of them, 30 Aug. 2011
Black into white into blue into grey into black. Order and pattern are the way of Holden's life, buffering his mind from the reality that he is mage-bonded to the Master of the Archipelago, with no choice but to obey his every whim or die in agony. So when the Master commands him to capture the notorious privateer Andor Van Gast, Holden has no qualms about using his former lover Josie to do it. Josie, herself a pirate captain of no mean repute, is well known to be Van Gast's worst enemy, so surely she will be happy to help Holden? In fact Josie and Van Gast are secret lovers, using their famed rivalry to fool their victims into siding with one or the other in elaborate confidence tricks-and Josie intends Holden to be next. This time, though, the stakes are higher than money or treasure. If anything goes wrong, both she and Van Gast could end up dead-or worse.

Ten Ruby Trick is in many ways the perfect swashbuckling romance. Van Gast is the quintessential rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, always ready to do the stupid-but-exciting thing; Josie is cunning as a bag of foxes and stubborn as all hell. There are sea battles, storms, chases (lots of chases!) and a really nasty villain to boo - what's not to like?

This is no bland medieval fantasy world, however. The majority of the inhabitants are dark-skinned, apart from the Viking-like Gan, and gunpowder weapons sit comfortably alongside magic that can quell storms or erect forcefields against cannonades. Most intriguing of all is the magic of the Archipelago, which crystallises on its users' skins, turning them into helpless grotesques, barely able to move and reliant on their slaves for everything. This is nasty, dark magic at its most imaginative.

I began my review with Holden, as does the book, because although Van Gast is undeniably the hero of the story, Holden is the anti-hero. He's the guy we want to fail - and yet whose struggles against the vile magics that hold him in thrall cannot help but engage the reader's sympathy. The theme of this book is freedom, and no character embodies that theme better than Holden.

If you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean or Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar books and don't mind a dash of unsoppy romance with your fantasy, I recommend you give Ten Ruby Trick a whirl!

Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood Book 1)
Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood Book 1)

4.0 out of 5 stars Bloody good!, 7 Aug. 2011
One of my favourite genres outside fantasy is historical crime, so a series that combines both is an irresistible lure to me. I was very glad, therefore, to come across de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood series, set in the pre-Columbian Aztec Empire.

Disclaimer: Aliette and I share both a publisher and an agent. I take this, not so much as bias, as an indication that our tastes are similar and attract a similar audience. It should not surprise anyone, therefore, if I enjoyed this book!

Servant of the Underworld is de Bodard's debut novel and the first in her series about Acatl, High Priest of the Dead in the city of Tenochtitlan. In it, Acatl finds himself embroiled in the case of a missing priestess when his brother, a knight of the prestigious Order of the Jaguar, is found in her room covered in blood. Acatl has always been jealous of his more successful brother, but concern for his sister-in-law and her children, as well as a dogged sense of honour, drive him to pursue the case despite his misgivings.

By choosing to set a novel in the Mexica Empire, de Bodard has a tough task on her hands. Most readers will probably have some basic ideas about the Aztecs, thanks to Indiana Jones and similar sources--cue mental images of step pyramids, crystal skulls, and of course human sacrifice!--but the details of daily life are less familiar and, thanks to a fragmentary archaeological record, incomplete in any case. Writing fiction in such a setting therefore requires a mixture of historical research and fantasy-style world-building, not to mention the ability to present this world in an easy-to-absorb fashion.

Take the matter of names, for starters. The language of the Mexica Empire, Nahuatl, is agglutinative, meaning it produces long polysyllabic words. Add to that a Spanish-derived orthography and you end up with names that are difficult for any English-speaking reader to parse and remember: Ceyaxochitl, Neutemoc, Quiyahuayo. Thankfully de Bodard is careful not to introduce too many characters at once, and her protagonist at least has a short name, but added to the unfamiliar culture it makes this a hard book to get into at first. Unfortunately there's no real way around this unless one resorts to translations of names, and not all names translate into English in any case. I suspect this is one reason why non-Eurocentric real-world fantasy is relatively rare. An Anglophone writer creating a secondary world is free to invent names that are easily comprehensible to an English-speaking audience--Gandalf, Elric, Rincewind--whereas one writing about a real, historical culture has no such option.

The second difficulty de Bodard faces is the reality of the religion of this period, notorious for mass sacrifices (of humans as well as animals) which presents a real barrier to reader sympathy. Characters slit the throats of animals to power their spells, or speak casually of the deaths of men, women and children that are required to placate their gods. De Bodard softens this impact by never dwelling on the gory details--which is appropriate, since to her characters this is all very normal and unremarkable--but it is an ever-present shadow nonetheless.

What holds the story together and keeps the reader turning pages is the steady presence of the amateur detective, Acatl, who is himself a fish out of water: an unambitious parish priest promoted higher than he feels competent to deal with. Acatl's humility and caution also help to balance the fact that he wields powerful magics; powers that could all too easily overwhelm the plot in the hands of a more assertive character (or a less skillful author!). Occasionally I felt that Acatl went a little too far in the direction of humility, and his constant fretting about his relationship with his brother became a little repetitive, but this was a minor detraction from the pleasure of spending time with him.

One advantage of writing a crime story in an unfamiliar setting is that the reader knows too little to be able to guess the ending, and yet the challenge to the writer is that the identity of the killer still has to make sense. I felt this was handled pretty well in Servant of the Underworld, with the escalation from an apparently simple murder to a major conspiracy at the highest levels of the Mexica world presented in digestible chunks. I confess that I'm not a terribly analytical reader, however, so it's quite easy to slip clues past me under cover of an exciting storyline!

The book is not quite as long as its page count would lead one to believe. In true epic fantasy tradition there are several appendices, including a dramatis personae, an Aztec glossary, and an essay about the background to writing the book. This latter gives some interesting insights into de Bodard's writing process, as well as explaining how much fact vs fiction has gone into the novel. The one thing I felt was lacking was a pronunciation guide for the names; I was driven to search the web for guides to Nahuatl, but finding a reliable one that adequately covered the names used in the book proved a difficult task.

Overall I enjoyed this book a great deal, and will definitely be reading the second volume, which is already waiting on my iPad!

(Note - I read this in the ePub edition, but I assume the Kindle version has all the same content)

Shadow's Return (Nightrunner)
Shadow's Return (Nightrunner)
by Lynn Flewelling
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.56

4.0 out of 5 stars The best so far?, 4 July 2011
I first came across the Nightrunner series some years ago, after the US paperback edition of Luck in the Shadows found its way across the Atlantic, and was immediately taken by the protagonists, gentleman-thief "Lord" Seregil of Rhiminee and his young protégé Alec. They were one of the first realistic gay couples I had encountered in fantasy, their slow-burning romance grounding but never overwhelming the stories of intrigue and magic. I was therefore slightly disappointed when Flewelling put aside her rogueish heroes to concentrate on her other trilogy (good as it is) set in the same world, and it's taken me a while to get around to reading this fourth installment. It doesn't help that I read some reviews beforehand that were less than favourable. Caveat lector!

Shadows Return picks up the story some months after the end of Traitor's Moon, and finds Seregil and Alec back in Rhiminee and up to their old tricks again. However the past few years' unhappy experiences have left Seregil a more sombre man who can no longer take delight in midnight adventures across the roofs of the city. When the opportunity arises to travel to his homeland and escort Princess Klia back to Rhiminee, therefore, he is more than happy to abandon his life of crime. However the past is never far away, and soon the two men find themselves facing old enemies - and new ones.

I can understand why some readers might find this book a little unsatisfying. After the opening scene involving a "nightrunner" mission from which Seregil and Alec barely escape with their skins - and reputations - intact, the story does rather slow down, focusing on the political machinations within Rhiminee. The writing is also a bit clumsy in places, with repetitive sentences and maybe a few too many attempts to remind readers of events in previous books. The latter is always a problem with series, however, and no solution is ever going to please all readers. In my opinion it's worth pressing on to the meat of the story, where Flewelling racks up the tension with gradual - and sometimes shocking - revelations about who the bad guys are and what they're up to.

Another minor frustration is that, like Luck in the Shadows, this book is more of a setup for its sequel than a standalone novel. My impression is that Flewelling prefers writing long, long novels which then get cut into two volumes by her publisher. Unlike The Bone Doll's Twin, however, this one doesn't end on a frustrating cliffhanger, for which I was heartily grateful! On the other hand it does end somewhat abruptly, with a brief tie-up of the main plot and an even briefer epilogue that hints strongly at what the next book will be about.

In some respects, Shadows Return is a retread of Stalking Darkness; once again Alec is the helpless victim of a Plenimaran sorceror, humiliated and tortured for arcane purposes whilst his friends desperately seek to rescue him. However this time the familiar story is interwoven with a more powerful one about revenge, jealousy and forgiveness that pulls the previous three books neatly together before leading towards what promises to be a thrilling fifth installment. Far from being the "filler" episode that some reviews had led me to expect, I enjoyed Shadows Return much more than the rather slow-paced Traitor's Moon, as evidenced by the fact that I read the entire book in a weekend, despite pauses to work on my own manuscript.

If you enjoy cloak-and-dagger fantasy with a dash of gay romance and haven't read the three previous books - go and do so now, then come back for this one. I won't say that they're the best books you'll ever read, but the central characters are engaging and as the series progresses Flewelling balances light and dark moods with increasing assurance. Having spent a very enjoyable weekend in the company of Alec and Seregil, I can't wait to read Book 5, The White Road; expect a review of that here very soon!

Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero
Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero
by Dan Abnett
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars I have a cunning plan..., 14 Jun. 2011
Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero is a humorous alternate history fantasy set in the modern day - except that the discovery of real magic in the 16th century has halted technological progress in Europe, whilst other parts of the world have advanced with indecent haste. On the surface a utopian era for an England ruled over by Elizabeth XXX, in fact there are dark forces at work plotting the queen's death. Plus ça change...

Her Majesty's one hope is the hapless Sir Rupert Triumff, a former sea-captain recruited by the secret service to uncover said plot. Triumff is an excellent swordsman (when his James-Bond-esque magical weapon can be persuaded to produce a rapier blade) but also a hardened carouser who turns up to duels badly hungover and seems to win more by blind luck than skill.

With its historical flavour, satirical anachronisms and cast of colourful characters, Triumff reminded me a lot of early Pratchett. Abnett may lack Sir Terry's skill at writing eccentric elderly witches (Mother Grundy seems heavily inspired by Granny Weatherwax), but he compensates with great action sequences and an even more groan-worthy line in bad puns. There are also plenty of gems for the astute reader, like the play on J B S Haldane's famous quotation, and some wonderfully over-the-top descriptions of the urban landscape.

On the other hand, the hardcore alternate historian in me was a little irked by the world-building, which sometimes felt like a patchwork of fun ideas that didn't quite hang together. Despite the Anglo-Spanish coalition, there's little indication of what happened to America, and the high-tech culture of Beach seems to exist purely in order for Abnett to throw in references to mpIII players, VisageBook and so on. Also, the omniscient point of view makes it difficult to get attached to any of the characters, a situation not helped when Triumff disappears undercover during the latter part of the book, with secondary characters getting the lion's share of the action in the lead-up to the finale.

Flaws aside, though, Triumff is an entertaining bedtime read, and if I wasn't tied up writing my own 16th-century fantasy series for the next two years, I'd probably be looking out for the promised sequel, The Double Falsehood.

On Stranger Tides
On Stranger Tides
by Tim Powers
Edition: Paperback

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic swashbuckler long overdue for a reprint, 14 Jun. 2011
This review is from: On Stranger Tides (Paperback)
On Stranger Tides was first published in 1987, and is the third (and most American-based) of Powers' historical fantasies. It is set in the Caribbean in the early eighteenth century, where magic still survives on the remote fringes of civilisation. Penniless puppeteer John Chandagnac sets out from Europe to reclaim the family estate in Haiti from his usurping uncle, but en route the ship is boarded by pirates and John is forced to join their crew. Dubbed "Jack Shandy" by his new shipmates, he harbours dreams of completing his quest (and rescuing his fellow passenger, the lovely Beth Hurwood, who was taken captive in the raid), but he runs afoul of Blackbeard, who is searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth, the key to immortality. In true swashbuckling pirate fashion, Shandy learns to fight and sail a ship, kills the bad guys and gets the girl, facing European sorcerors, voodoo bocors, zombies and even Baron Samedi himself along the way - no wonder Disney wanted to steal the best bits!

In fact this book's plot has so much in common with the very first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, that the inspiration is clear. The protagonist's pirate name is awfully close to that of Jack Sparrow, his quest to rescue (Eliza)beth from a sorcerous pirate captain mirrors that of Will Turner, and like Sparrow, Shandy does indeed become captain of his own small ship and spend a couple of long spells getting blind drunk on rum (or red wine if he can get it) on beaches. There's even a character who could have stepped out of the original movie, a black pirate called Mr Bird who periodically shouts "I am not a dog!" for no apparent reason.

In some respects this is a very old-fashioned book: there is no strong language (beyond an occasional "damn" or "bloody"), with any actual swearing being referred to obliquely, and any feminist readers are likely to be disappointed by the passivity of the female characters. Beth Hurwood exists purely to be threatened by the bad guys and rescued by the hero, and the one potentially interesting young woman (a teenage Ann Bonny) makes only a couple of brief appearances. However all this is very true to the genre's swashbuckling, "Boy's Own" roots and detracted very little from this reader's enjoyment, perhaps because the hero himself is a complex, well-rounded character: likeably naive to begin with, gradually coming to enjoy his new adventurous life but with a moral core that prevents him from descending into the savagery displayed by the other pirates.

Overall, I can heartily recommend this book to anyone who loves a good adventure story. It's darker than the movies, but comedy is much harder to pull off on the page than on-screen, and Powers' rich imagination more than compensates.
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