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Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom)

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The Ship
The Ship
by Antonia Honeywell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written dystopia, 17 April 2015
This review is from: The Ship (Hardcover)
In the near future, Britain is on the very edge of collapse. Waters have risen, the environment is sated, no longer able to support the population - the young have no memory of apples or oranges. Everything that was worth living for now belongs in museum cases. The Nazareth Act was an attempt to cut the population. Everyone without an identity card is dispossessed, living in camps, old public buildings, with no hope at all. And then one day the Government crosses the line - camps are blown up, the public buildings gassed. For 16-year-old Lalage Paul and her family, it is time to leave London and Britain. They are the lucky ones - privileged and influential, Lalage's father Michael has bought a large yacht. It can carry them and a few hundred of those in desperate need, selected by Lalage's philanthropic mother, to safety and a future.

Life aboard the ship is difficult for Lalage. The appalling news from the mainland just gets worse until the passengers of the ship decide to cut their connection with Britain and with the past. The antennae is cut down. No longer can they receive transmissions from what was once home. And on the encouragement of Michael, their strong, determined and paternal leader, they decide to cut away the past entirely, throwing their memories overboard, determined to forget their grief, misery and the loved ones left behind. It's time for a new start. But Lalage cannot forget a past she never knew. She wants to go back and fight. Lalage is the rebel aboard the ship.

After a few chapters of worldbuilding, focusing on the streets and buildings of central London, The Ship tells the story of Lalage's shipboard rebellion. Despite the fact that the `captain' is her own father, Lalage can no longer feel the same connection to him that the other youngsters aboard can. Events have cut her adrift not only from the land but also from her family. She is driven to return to London and, despite finding romance aboard the ship, nothing is strong enough to keep her eyes seaward.

The Ship is Lalage's story, narrated by Lalage, and so the reader's response to the novel very much depends on their response to Lalage herself. I suspect that she will be loved by many. She is brave and strong, yet vulnerable and afraid, but she is determined to stand for what she believes even if it means she stands alone. Lalage is a teenage heroine, fighting the rules of society, adults, even her family. It is indeed true that adults on the ship, notably Lalage's father, are hardly steering a true course. Michael Paul is as driven as his daughter and some of his ideas are totally objectionable. There is never any doubt, though, that he loves his daughter.

However, throughout, Lalage is unable to see the other point of view. She is not old enough nor experienced enough to have witnessed the true cruelty and barbarism of the society they are leaving behind - the taste she's had has been enough to fire her blood but the others aboard are traumatised by the misery and grief they have had to endure for years. Nor can Lalage remember the earth when it was fertile and productive, when floods hadn't destroyed the cities, and countryside wasn't barren or grey. There are refugees aboard the ship who have no reason on earth to want to turn back. The behaviour of many of the adults on board is odd, almost cultish, but my sympathies are entirely with them. There's an especially touching moment when some of the adults huddle together in secrecy to remember London, attempting to rebuild it in flour and water. But their quiet moment of memory is destroyed by Lalage's exuberant call to arms.

The Ship is a well-written dystopia which mostly takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the vessel, the walls of which this young, lost heroine strains against. The theme of remembrance is dealt with especially sympathetically, adding a depth and sincerity to the novel which is really quite powerful. While The Ship wasn't entirely for me - I think I may have read several too many young adult dystopias - I think younger readers will love it. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Wolf Winter
Wolf Winter
by Cecilia Ekbäck
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful yet bleak novel set on a Lapland mountain during the war torn early 18th century, 17 April 2015
This review is from: Wolf Winter (Hardcover)
It is 1717 and Maija, Paavo and their daughters Frederika and Dorotea journey from Finland to make a new life for themselves as farmers and shepherds on the slopes of Blackåsen mountain in the remote Swedish Lapland. Few families live on the mountain, their few houses lying scattered and distant. The nearest town is deserted for most of the year, with only the priest and the last priest's widow to keep an eye on its empty buildings. In the winter, though, this place changes into something unrecognisable as the snow and ice seal it within a deadly iron grip. Most of the settlers move into the town for a few short weeks while the indigenous Lapps come down from the highest reaches of the mountain to camp at its base.

Towards the end of summer Frederika and Dorotea come across the body of a dead man on the mountain side, his torso split from end to end. While some see in this the work of a wolf or bear, Maija recognises it for what it is - murder by human hand. She's not alone. The priest, too, another outsider, suspects the worst. Maija and the priest are strangers on Blackåsen mountain, unaware of the complicated relationships that exist among the scattered settlers on the mountain. Maija and the priest begin to dig, egged on by the local bishop. But life on the mountain is precarious. The weather turns and early frosts destroy the harvest. The mountain has secrets as does almost everyone else who lives on its slopes but this worst of dark winters - a wolf winter - will seek them out.

Wolf Winter is a chilly tale, bleak in its coldness, the characters adrift in the snow, enduring winter starvation, isolation, suspicion and now deadly violence. With so few people on the mountain, relationships can be too close, but it is only when strangers arrive that the true nature of all that is wrong fights to the surface. The narrative moves among the settlers, spending time in turn with Maija, the priest and Frederika. Through each of them we are introduced to other characters, most memorably the murdered man's widow, the Lapps and the noble couple that has chosen to live the remotest of exiles. Frederika's perspective is especially powerful due to the added isolation caused by her youth.

It's not just the mountain that's dangerous. The outside world threatens with its calls to war. There is a strong sense that nowhere is safe and no future is certain.

The mystery is almost secondary to the wilderness and its inhabitants. Cecilia Ekbäck has created a harshly beautiful vision of an environment that is cold enough to chill the pages as much as the bones. The language is gorgeous. The characters are exquisitely drawn, especially the children Frederika and Dorotea. There is a particularly dramatic incident that has a grave impact on Dorotea and her family and this is brilliantly, painfully described. The enormous effort that is required just to survive is immense and Cecilia Ekbäck makes us feel every bit of it. But in this environment anything can happen and we are surrounded by its threat. The drama of survival goes hand in hand with the murder mystery, while in the shadows we have the spectre of war, the scar of which has traumatised more than one soul on the mountain. This is a bleak world. The secrets almost compete in their effort to shock. As the novel proceeds, they tumble after each other, one after another.

Wolf Winter takes a little while to pull the reader in - this is a strangely unfamiliar world - but once the winter falls, its haunting power and beauty mesmerises. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Those Above: The Empty Throne Book 1
Those Above: The Empty Throne Book 1
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Sensational beginning to a new epic fantasy series with brilliant worldbuilding, 17 April 2015
Superhuman, beautiful and near immortal beings - the Others or Those Above - conquered mankind three thousand years ago. Humanity now lives dispersed among several kingdoms or republics, a brittle peace maintained between them thanks to the scrutiny of these four-fingered, vain and pampered Others. Many humans, though, live within the Roost, an enormous mountain of life divided into a pyramid of five rungs. Within the Fifth Rung, the Barrow, live the poorest of the poor among sweatshops, slums, bars and prostitutes, all controlled by gangs, where a dreary short life is lived to the slurping sound of the pipes and pumps that shift the water from the neighbouring sea and lakes into the canals that flow upwards to the higher reaches of the Roost. At the top, within the First Rung, are the beautiful castles, gardens, aviaries and canals of the Others. There they live a glorious life, perched high above the rest of the world, as if they were the most gorgeous of birds. Around them live their human slaves, many of whom can no longer see beyond the paradise that surrounds them. And yet to the Others, humans are less than nothing. They are insects and their lives are insignificant, their deaths even more so.

It is time to stir it up. It is thirty years since the last great battle between humans and the Others. At that time a human soldier, Bas, fought and killed with his own hands one of Those Above, an extraordinary feat, still remembered. At the same battle, the husband of Eudokia, now the chief priestess and venerated mother of the nation of Aelerians, lost his life. The years since have been long but now Eudokia is in a position powerful enough to seek vengeance. Nobody else has the power or ability to tempt down Those Above from their perch. Bas, her General, might be just the man to help. Meanwhile, in the First Rung, high above this human plotting, Calla lives a privileged if subservient life as Seneschal to the Aubade, the Lord of the Red Keep. Through Calla, the mysteries and foibles of Those Above are revealed, at least a little. In the Fifth Rung, there is Thistle, a young boy making a name for himself in the only way possible in the Barrow - spying, thieving, even killing for one of the gang leaders. But even down here in the depths of society, something is stirring. A movement is spreading, the movement of the five fingered against the four, and someone like Thistle is more than ready to listen.

Those Above is an extraordinary novel. It opens a new epic fantasy series in spectacular fashion, gripping the reader from the very beginning through its brilliant worldbuilding, setting the stage for what is to come in the most satisfying and yet tantalising manner. These four individuals are our guides to this strange and yet oddly familiar world - Thistle, Calla, Bas and Eudokia. Each of these four has a unique voice, their experiences are enormously different but each is full. The novel divides itself equally between the four, moving from one to another after almost every chapter. It's difficult to choose a favourite but I think I was most intrigued by Eudokia and Calla. Eudokia's plotting is first-rate while Calla provides a viewpoint into the world of the Aubade and I was captivated by it. All of the narratives introduce a whole range of characters and while this is slightly overwhelming at the beginning it soon becomes one of the novel's richest rewards.

The novel itself is beautifully written. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the paradise world at the top of the Roost, but I also liked the clever use of bird imagery that runs through the novel. The book is punchy in pace, the dialogue is excellent (especially Eudokia's) and the characters are fabulously varied. I'm not a big reader of epic fantasy but there was something about the idea of this book that appealed from the first time I heard of it - it feels like a future Earth, ruled over by alien beings in a society that seems ancient in origins. The birdlike imagery is matched by the classical and medieval ideas - the armour, costumes, the rulers and their slaves, the court politics, the almost Roman or medieval squalour of the Barrow, the duels and the full-blown battles. It all seems fantastic but also strangely real and appealing.

Throughout Those Above I wanted to know more about this world, its past and what is to come. It's an opening novel in a series and so there is a lot of preparation and worldbuilding but, perhaps because of the novel's fluid movement across all areas of the world, it is done in a wonderfully effective way, providing more and more - both beautiful and ugly - to marvel at. Those Above succeeds enormously in its aim to get the reader hooked on the series. It is a fabulously realised and satisfactory novel in its own right but its climax points us like an arrow to the second novel and I cannot wait to read it. I'm grateful for the review copy.

The Girl in the Red Coat
The Girl in the Red Coat
by Kate Hamer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and harrowing tale, 17 April 2015
All it takes is just a moment for every parent's worst nightmare to come true. Beth, a single mother, takes her eight-year-old daughter Carmel to a local children's festival - a magical place where children are entertained by storytellers, their imaginations encouraged to soar. Beth only takes her eye off Carmel for an instant, her daughter wriggling her hand free to assert her independence, but that's enough. Carmel is taken. While Beth runs around the festival in a desperate search, trying to comfort herself that at any moment she'll see her girl in the bright red coat, Carmel is in a car being driven through many dark miles through the night by a man who claims to be her grandfather. Her mother is badly injured, he tells her, her father is too wrapped up in his new family to care, Carmel is better off with him and his wife, somewhere far, far away, leaving her mother to recover in peace.

The Girl in the Red Coat is an emotional and at times desperately sad tale of a child's disappearance, told in the first person by both the mother and the child. We watch the agony and displacement of both as the days tick by, never forgetting the other, while having to cope with an unwantable future.

Any concerns that this might venture into the grim territory of sexual predation, somewhere I wouldn't want to follow, is soon dissipated. Although The Girl in the Red Coat is indeed grim in places - how could it not be with a child as its victim - this is a very different kind of story. At its heart is the strong, clever, brave Carmel. This little girl is lovely to spend time with. Her predicament and her courage are heartbreaking to read. She describes everything she endures in her own words, as well as her trust in this `grandfather', but reading her own words of having to sleep in the dark, with no electricity, no comfort, tears the heart. At the same time we have the mystery of the grandfather and his wife - what do they want with Carmel? What does she mean to them?

Kate Hamer does a wonderful job of putting us into the shoes of this lost, frightened little girl, not just at the beginning but also as time goes by and Carmel has to re-evaluate everything about herself. She is an extraordinary young girl but it's only as the days pass that we learn in how many ways she is different. There's another side to the story, though. That is the dark place occupied by Carmel's mother, Beth. Beth becomes a searcher, a woman whose eyes never stop watching for traces of red coat. The world is closed around her as she withdraws into her pain. But, again, Kate Hamer skilfully shows us, through Beth's own thoughts, that space expanding as the days drag by. Other people are drawn into Beth's world, just as others join Carmel.

Reading The Girl in the Red Coat is very sad at times but it's not without its moments of lightness. Carmel is a fantastic observer of people and situations and she finds the humour, as well as the absurd, in both. There is also always hope.

The Girl in the Red Coat is an immersive novel to read. It's extremely atmospheric and very hard to put down once picked up. I would argue that it's best read in one or two sittings. It's as its best with the outside world kept at bay. In that way Carmel can work her magic. I'm grateful for the review copy.

Blood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines Series
Blood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines Series
by James Rollins
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that I have truly loved, 17 April 2015
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With Blood Infernal, the tour de force that is the Order of the Sanguines trilogy comes to a powerful and fitting conclusion. What began with The Blood Gospel and continued with Innocent Blood ends here. If you were to pick up Blood Infernal without having first read the two preceding novels then we would have to have words - not a page of this finale would make sense without having followed The Woman of Learning (Erin), The Warrior of Man (Jordan) and The Knight of Christ (Rhun) through their earlier trials and torments. Spoilers for the first two books are inevitable below.

Blood Infernal follows hot on the heels of Innocent Blood. The stage is set for the return of Lucifer, the way prepared by Legion, a demon that combines within his stolen form the darkness of 666 damned souls. Erin, Jordan and Rhun must chase the clues left by alchemists and kings hundreds of years before to discover the location of Lucifer's return and defeat him. This journey takes them from the belly of Rome and Venice to the medieval centre of Prague, the forests and mountains of the Pyrenees, and much further. All the time the power of the evil strigoi builds while more and more Sanguinists are destroyed. Very little time is left. Countess Elizabeth, one of the most infamous of all the strigoi and one of the most entertaining characters within these pages, chooses to help our army of three - perhaps because for once in her interminable life she has her eye set on saving the life of an innocent. Not that this makes her much safer to have around. But by this stage of the struggle it is possible that the angels themselves have begun to take notice.

I am no lover of vampire tales, on the contrary, but I am a huge fan of the storytelling genius of thriller master James Rollins. I approached the Order of the Sanguines trilogy with some trepidation only to discover that Rollins, along with his co-writer Rebecca Cantrell, had brought out all of his thriller writing weaponry, putting it to use from the very first page, hooking me instantly. All of the ingredients I love from the Rollins Sigma stories are here - historical twists and mysteries, strong and believable characters, adrenalin-pumping action, fabulous and exotic locations, cataclysmic and even apocalyptic threats, and, holding it all together, superb dramatic writing. With all that in play, I'm prepared to put up with vampires and demons, especially when they prowl beneath such a well-visualised Rome or hide within ancient European forests.

Blood Infernal is the conclusion. By now we are deeply invested in the story of Jordan and Erin as well as Elizabeth and Rhun, not to mention young Tommy who has endured so much. We are caught up in the fate of the brave and strong Sanguinists, plus the connivance and plotting of their papal masters. By this stage, the reader needs it all to end well. And it does. The ending was both touching and powerful, completely satisfactory, if a little emotional. It's not easy letting these people go.

Arguably, Blood Infernal doesn't achieve the heights of its predecessors. I think that's because this is a book about bringing everything to a close, leading characters and plot to a state in which we can leave them. Legion is no match for the presence of Judas in the previous novel and Tommy plays a much more minor role here than before - I missed him. Likewise, Rhun has seen about as much character development as he's going to, but that didn't make his world any less fascinating. In fact, in Blood Infernal, we see much more of the Sanguinists in their preferred state and there are some very powerful moments, not least when they sing to disguise the heartbeat of Erin within their most sacred enclave. We also learn more about the nature of the Sanguinist curse - there is more to their existence than the rule of the church. There is hope despite this bleakest of curses.

Blood Infernal is a page-turning ride from start to finish. Exhilarating and thrilling, it achieves all that I expected and wanted. Inevitably, when it finished, I was left sad. This is it - over! But that is a mark of how much I have enjoyed this trilogy, even buying in hardbacks from the US so that I can read them sooner. The writing of Rollins and Cantrell together is seamless - a great achievement - and I hope that this is not the last we see of their collaborative efforts.

Rome's Lost Son: Vespasian VI
Rome's Lost Son: Vespasian VI
by Robert Fabbri
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific addition to a fantastic series, 17 April 2015
It is AD 51 and Vespasian is more powerful than ever. Now consul of Rome, Vespasian is riding the wave of success that followed his capture of infamous British warrior and rebel Caratacus. It would appear to all that the new consul could rise little higher in the favour of Claudius, emperor and conqueror of Britannia. But this is imperial Rome, a political and moral quagmire, and Vespasian is learning that he may be safer subduing the tribes of Britannia than attempting to understand the machinations of Claudius's latest wife, Agrippina, or enduring the battle for supremacy between Claudius's two freedmen, Narcissus and Pallas. Indeed, it's soon clear that Vespasian's consulship is little more than an empty gesture while, rather intriguingly, Caratacus's fortunes in his adopted city soar. Difficult times. It's just as well, then, when Vespasian gets a little push out of Rome.

Vespasian is despatched eastwards to Armenia, to sort out an irritating problem of succession, a situation which has also caught the attention of the Parthians. Rumours circulate that Agrippina is trying to stir up the East, aided by the rise of a troublesome new Jewish cult. Vespasian's brother Sabinus, Governor of Moesia, Macedonia and Thracia, has mucked up his plan to thwart Parthian ambitions. It's now up to Vespasian to to fix his family honour, to sort out the East, and satisfy at once all of the political powers of Rome.

Rome's Lost Son is the sixth novel in Robert Fabbri's outstanding depiction of the life, career and times of one of Rome's most successful (depending on how you judge success) emperors. Despite the fact that the novel is a sequel to those that went before, continuing the stories of some of Rome's most fascinating leading figures, Rome's Lost Son could be easily read as a stand alone novel. But if you have read them one after another then you will have the added benefit of watching Vespasian's character develop.

Vespasian is much older now and he has spent a great deal of time in the company of some of Rome's most corrupt. We've encountered Tiberius, Caligula and Messalina in their full and shocking colour in previous novels and in Rome's Lost Son it becomes clear that Agrippina and her terrifyingly self-aware son Nero may take that corruption to new depths. A man cannot serve this Rome for decades and not be touched by it and there are signs now that Vespasian has been changed. For the first time he is looking ahead. He knows the prophecies surrounding his destiny and he's begun to believe them. This alters his behaviour and makes Rome's Lost Son a thoroughly absorbing portrait of the effects of evil on a man who is, or was or could have been fundamentally good.

Hand in hand with this character portrayal goes an action-packed plot that is completely absorbing. We see Vespasian as never before. In the East he must endure experiences that are overwhelmingly powerful and disturbing to read. Vespasian does indeed become lost. There are scenes here that are beautifully written, made all the more so because we have grown to know the man. But it's not just Vespasian. We learn about the men around him, his relationship to his men and to his slaves. It's a wonderful mix of grand politics on one hand and simple human relationships on the other.

There are some scenes in Rome's Lost Son that would be hard to forget, several of them involving the imperial family. There is deep tragedy. It's a truly terrifying portrait and the colour that it adds to this novel is intense, just as previous novels were lit by their portrayals of earlier mad emperors and their kin.

Robert Fabbri is achieving great things with this series. He manages to surprise me with each novel, always finding an unusual perspective or taking me down a totally unexpected path. The character of Vespasian builds in each book and the fact that we know he will finally become emperor adds to the marvel of how he survived these extraordinary years. This is a wonderful series and Rome's Lost Son is one of its best with a conclusion that is outstanding. I can't recommend it enough. I'm grataeful for the review copy.

Natural Causes: Inspector McLean 1
Natural Causes: Inspector McLean 1
by James Oswald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable police procedural with a little bit of a twist featuring great characters and gruesome murders, 17 April 2015
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In Natural Causes, James Oswald introduces us to Tony McLean, a recently promoted Detective Inspector in the Edinburgh police force. Rivalries within the force are intense and when a leading local figure is found in his home brutally gutted with his throat slashed the case is judged too high profile for such a new inspector. But then work at a building site uncovers the remains of a young girl, horrifically and ritually slaughtered. She is mummified, her murder having taken place perhaps sixty years ago or more. McLean becomes obsessed with identifying the victim and tracking down at least one of her killers while they still live. And while McLean digs, more and more men and women die, either in terrible violence or as a victim of their own hand. McLean begins to realise that however illogical and fanciful it might seem the young girl who lay forgotten for all these decades might after all hold a key to some of the mysteries that have shaken the city.

Natural Causes is the first in a series and so it's vital that Tony McLean hooks us. He does just that. McLean is an interesting character, a single man with a past and some intriguing friends who come and go, often sleeping on his sofa after a night out in Edinburgh's pubs. McLean's parents were killed when he was just a child and he was raised by his grandmother who, as Natural Causes begins, is gravely ill in hospital, approaching the end of her long life. McLean doesn't work on his own. In this book, McLean is building his team, from old colleagues (who now have to call him `sir') and from new. The boss keeps an eye on him, caring and stern. The pathologist Andy Cadwaller is quite a character, which is just as well considering how many bodies he has to work on through Natural Causes. But it's best to avoid DCI Duguid.

I thoroughly enjoyed the mysteries at the heart of Natural Causes. I did guess whodunnit a little earlier than I'd hoped but this didn't spoil my fun. Gore and horror are liberally splattered through the book but never too much, even for my delicately squeamish nature. The plot is intricate, deliciously twisty and, to make this a little bit different, there is a hint of the supernatural. This might not be to everyone's taste - and it wasn't entirely to mine - but it was kept to a low level and it did fit quite well with the mood of the novel and its investigations. Edinburgh is a great backdrop, both menacing and enticing. The mood of the novel is likewise both dark and humorous, warmed by some of its key characters. I was left wanting much more.

You can tell how much I liked Natural Causes - I bought the other four books in the series that same day.

Lady of the Eternal City
Lady of the Eternal City
by Kate Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.48

4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful, rich and luxurious read, 17 April 2015
Hadrian is about to enter Rome for the first time as Emperor. His Empress Sabina, accompanied by Vercingterix the Red (Vix), a Praetorian Guard tribune, stands ready to welcome him along with the the people of Rome, the loudness of their cheers in direct proportion to the promises of largesse they have been given by a fearful Senate. The Senate is right to be fearful. Executions are likely, not least for the five poor souls imprisoned for months in a dungeon within Caesar's palace who also have been waiting for Hadrian's arrival, but for the worst of reasons. One of the condemned men is Hadrian's brother-in-law and close friend of both Sabina and Vix. The hours to come will be extraordinarily tense and dangerous.

Lady of the Eternal City brings together the stories of the individuals whose lives revolve around the powerful force that is Hadrian. The novel flows between them, encompassing the first person account of Vix, a man whose life appears to be shaped by the women he has loved and lost, and the third person narratives of Sabina, her spirited niece Annia and Antinous, Vix's adopted son, whose beauty captivates the heart of Hadrian and shapes his life and, most remarkably of all, his character.

At the heart of the novel, though, stands Hadrian. Kate Quinn is to be congratulated on her wondrous portrait of a man who is more than a man in so many ways. Hadrian is larger than life, he has become Emperor in more ways than one, he is powerful both physically and imperially, and he is a man who lives behind masks, lashing out unexpectedly, his moods as fickle as the winds, his cruelty scarcely controlled. But Lady of the Eternal City covers the length of Hadrian's reign and this means that time is spent on him. We observe his many sides and, even more intriguingly, Hadrian's own efforts to understand himself. This is a man of infinite contradictions - a man who can put out a young slave's eye but who can also leap between a lion and his beloved, to strike one down and save the other, at enormous risk to himself. A man who calmly pronounces the most terrible threats but also dreams of glorifying his empire, encasing it behind secure boundaries, erecting its finest buildings and consolidating its armies. Hadrian shines in this novel as much as he terrifies - he is remarkable.

But Hadrian is also the product of the people around him, whether he likes it or not. Lady of the Eternal City shows us the efforts of Sabina and Vix to temper his cruelty. We have glimpses of the friendship that once existed between Hadrian and his wife but now we marvel at her courage in continuing to encourage him to show goodness. Vix despises Hadrian and when Hadrian falls in love with his son Antinous his rage knows no bounds, but Vix at this stage is unaware of the true potential of Antinous. This young man is Hadrian's star, and that is exactly what he is. Antinous lights up the pages of this book just as he lightens Hadrian's soul. His story is tragic, beautiful and golden.

Hadrian was a great traveller and this novel takes us with him. We journey across the empire, witnessing its strange cults, religions and customs, hearing rumours of revolts, watching how this, too, changes Hadrian, Vix and Sabina. In a parallel story we have Annia and her young friendships and enmities. These are destined to shape the future of the empire. This is a book with a grand vision.

Reading Lady of the Eternal City was, for me, like eating at a rich feast. It is dark, velvety, fragrant and deliciously decadent. It truly does provide food for all the senses. It is heady with love, hatred, sex and ambition. Its colours are imperial purples, sea blues, stone whites, desert yellows and the red of spilt blood. It is an intoxicating read and, as such, it might be best to read it in small greedy bites. I was overpowered at times, finding it a little rich for my tastes, its passions too strong, but I was addicted to it and happy to read deeply into it, while mixing it with other reads.

Lady of the Eternal City is such a powerful, potent read which will stay in my mind for a long time, largely because of its portrait of Hadrian, revealing a complex and disturbed man, driven by both dreams and demons. Never again will I think of this emperor in the same way. I'm grateful for the review copy.

No Place to Die (DI Mike Lockyer Series)
No Place to Die (DI Mike Lockyer Series)
by Clare Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Claustrophobic, tense and dramatic. Excellent!, 17 April 2015
DS Jane Bennett has taken over the South London Lewisham murder squad following the breakdown of her boss DI Mike Lockyear. But when their retired colleague Mark Leech is reported missing and then a young girl is found dead, buried alive within a purpose-built earthen tomb, Lockyear has little choice but to wake up. More disappearances are to follow, Jane and Mike struggling to keep up with a killer who is intent on playing some sort of intellectual game with his pursuers.

The mystery is strong from the very beginning of No Place to Die. It feeds off the reader's claustrophobic fears. Scattered throughout the narrative are moments from the terrifying experiences of the entombed, of their building thirst, their encroaching numbness and the absolute blackness of the ceaseless dark. It's very frightening indeed.

For much of the time, Jane Bennett is an isolated figure. She cannot rely on Mike Lockyear, however much she wants to, and her family life is not straightforward. Jane is a single mother who needs her own mother to help her care for her autistic son. This is especially difficult now that she has embarked on a case that will eat into all her spare time. It's easy to like Jane and likewise easy to worry for her. There seems reason for it. As the novel builds, however, and the number of victims rises, we're also able to care for Mike as he returns to his former self. Everyone, though, is concerned about missing retired detective Mark Leech and that adds to the fear and the dread of this moody novel.

The author offers a few candidates for murderer, taking us into the competitive world of psychological academia. The clues are there, ready for us to interpret as, at the same time, we sympathise with Jane Bennett's awkward situation, juggling her own private life with a demanding murder case as well as coping with the problems caused by a psychologically absent boss and a physically absent former colleague.

No Place to Die is an extremely atmospheric and page-turning read. It drags us into the pits of despair, actually inhabited by the victims of these despicable crimes, while fascinating us with the nitty gritty of the police procedural. I really liked Jane Bennett. She combines the roles of mother, detective and caring, confused human being very well indeed. Likewise, Mike Lockyear is also intriguing. The two together, though, provide the novel's light relief through the easiness of their relationship.

I haven't read the previous novel Never Look Back but I will correct that very soon indeed. I'm grateful for the review copy.

by Emma Kavanagh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly compelling and beautifully intricate psychological thriller, 17 April 2015
This review is from: Falling (Paperback)
One cold winter's day, a community in Wales is badly shaken by two terrible events. A plane falls from the sky with only a lucky thirteen surviving to live another day. But surviving is only part of their battle as they struggle to come to terms with living while others didn't, especially their loved ones. Cecilia was an air hostess and by sitting in a seat she shouldn't have been sitting in she survived while her friends and colleagues died. This guilt feeds off Cecilia's older guilt - she was leaving her husband and child. But the crash returns her to them, pulling tight the strings that she can't quite cut. But this isn't all. Libby, a police support officer, is murdered, an act that tears apart her family, including the heart of Jim, Libby's retired police officer father.

Falling tells the story of four people, switching between them chapter by chapter. Cecilia is our plane survivor, trying to come to terms with her experiences and facing her past while helping to console the few who were also pulled from the wreckage. Tom is Cecilia's husband and father of their young son. As if he doesn't have enough on his plate, he is also a police officer tasked with trying to discover the reason for Libby's murder. Jim is Libby's father and he is driven to avenge his daughter. Finally, we have Freya, the daughter of the plane's dead pilot, the one who has to face questions best not answered while grieving for her loss.

All of these stories are intertwined, the shadow of the falling plane holding them together while the murder of Libby rips them apart. It is an extremely emotional and powerful read. The stories are heartfelt, the victims of murder and plane crash never allowed to stray far from our minds.

The central figure is arguably the one who is hardest to care for - Cecilia. This is a woman intent on abandoning her young son as well as husband. But as the novel goes on we learn more about her background and at last the sympathy comes. This is aided enormously by the compassion that Cecilia feels for her fellow plane survivors and for the comfort she brings them. Much of the story, though, is a compelling murder mystery with more than enough twists and surprises to entertain the reader. Tom's investigations provide an intriguing parallel to the story of his wife.

Falling is Emma Kavanagh's debut novel and it is extremely well done. It completely satisfies as a psychological thriller but it has so many layers to it. It is powerful and dramatic, exciting and puzzling. It is also extremely touching in places. It is never easy to put down. Emma Kavanagh spent years as a police and military psychologist and this insight is evident throughout. Falling is very dark and traumatic in places but it is beautifully written and compelling throughout, the characters are fascinating to know, each unique and distinct, and the outcome is spot on. I cannot wait to read Hidden which is published in April this year. After Falling I expect great things. No pressure!

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