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Mieneke van der Salm "A Fantastical Librarian"

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Premonitions (Arcane Underworld Novel)
Premonitions (Arcane Underworld Novel)
by Jamie Schultz
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining heist story, 10 Dec. 2014
I love me a good heist story and Premonitions offers just that with the added bonus of a supernatural twist. Jamie Schultz takes us to an alternate LA where monsters are real, and they're as often human as not, and deals with a devil are more common than you'd expect. Premonitions was a ridiculous amount of fun due to its twisty story with double and even triple dealing, a crew of miscreants that have great chemistry together and some genuinely bad guys gone worse.

What kind of supernatural elements has Schultz dropped into his version of LA? Thus far I've encountered no vampires, werewolves and other more traditional urban fantasy creatures. Instead Schultz's supernatural is based in various forms of magic practice, among which are dealing with demons, blood magic, and enchanted objects. The other major supernatural power on display is precognition, which in this universe is more of a curse than a gift. I liked how Schultz envisioned this power and the way that it debilitated Karyn's ability to function normally and made her dependent on medicine to cope. It felt like an interesting parallel to having a medical condition that can be managed through drugs, such as epilepsy or diabetes, or perhaps more closely to something like schizophrenia. It's interesting that during my reading of the book this never consciously occurred to me, it's only now that I'm writing my review and thinking about it that this parallel jumped out at me.

At the heart of the story is Karyn's crew, which is more like her family and consists of the entry specialist Anna, the ammunitions expert Nail, and the self-taught magic user Tommy. They each have their role in their jobs, but also in their group, with Karyn being the nominal leader, Anna as her enforcer, Nail as the loyal, brute-force silent guy, and Tommy seemingly the somewhat goofy younger brother. I liked the dynamics of the crew and how they gelled together. When Schultz brings in a fifth crew member in the form of Genevieve her arrival palpably affects the way the group functions and they all need to settle back in, which was interesting to observe. Genevieve's presence especially strains the close bond between Karyn and Anna, who are the core of the crew, since Anna feels pulled between taking care of Karyn and exploring whatever is developing between her and Genevieve.

Premonitions has a busy plot between the crew getting drafted by Sobell, an arcane crime lord, their becoming enemy number one for the Brotherhood, a sinister cult whose greatest relic they steal, and Karyn's precognition spiralling out of control. While at times it felt a bit too frantic, Schultz manages to juggle all of the many elements he introduces and while he has many named characters, he manages to keep them all distinct, never once leaving me to wonder where this or that character popped up from suddenly.

The one big downside to Premonitions? It's hard to imagine a way back from where the story ends. The crew is in a deep hole, the bottom of which is a sucking quagmire and it'll take a lot of hard work, canny operating, and dumb luck to create a way out. Yet I've no doubt they'll pull it off eventually and Schultz will make their quest entertaining as all get out. So I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book Splintered come July. If heist stories are your thing and you enjoy urban fantasy then Premonitions is definitely a book you should read.

This book was provided for review by the author.

The Good Shabti
The Good Shabti
by Robert Sharp
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool and unexpected mix of mummies, fantasy, and SF, 5 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Good Shabti (Hardcover)
I only discovered an appreciation for a good mummy tale with last year's Jurassic London anthology The Book of the Dead. I still think it is their best anthology to date and I absolutely adored it. So when I received this novella by Robert Sharp for review, I was immediately enthused, because yay more Jurassic mummies, which is less anachronistic than it sounds. The Good Shabti also featured a cool and unexpected mix of historic fantasy and SF. Unexpected because I hadn't expected to find SF mixed in with traditional Egyptian mummies.

This mixture is achieved by dint of a dual narrative, one strand set in the time of Pharaoh Mentuhotep and telling the story of the titular good shabti and the other in an unspecified present or near-future time, where scientists believe they've discovered how to raise the dead and are working to revive millennia old mummies. They feel quite distinct from each other, but both have heavy overtones of horror to them, even if for very different reasons. In the Mentuhotop the horror comes from the desperate position Bax, our protagonist of that strand is put in: he's a body slave, forced by the dying Pharaoh to make a promise which will put him in opposition to all the powers of the court. In the modern-day tale, the horror element is created through the anticipation or, perhaps more accurately, dread of the results of the scientists' experiment with the mummy. Ruth, the protagonist of the contemporary strand, isn't all that sure whether this is going to end well.

Beyond the genre elements in both narrative strands, they are also united in their tackling of questions about life after death. The Pharaoh is starting to doubt whether he can be restored when traditionally mummified and his priests are convinced that he won't be able to enter the afterlife without the proper rites. They all want to assure that Mentuhotep reaches the afterlife. The modern-day scientists on the other hand want to discover immortality and thus avoiding the afterlife entirely. However, Ruth also ponders of what happens after death, whether her subjects are suspended, caught in a continuous remembrance of their last thought, or whether they experience something else.

The alternating narrative strands are written in distinct styles and can be read separately from each other and still make sense. Yet when read interwoven as the author presents them they pack an extra punch and crank up the tension even further by bouncing off each other. I really enjoyed this novella by Robert Sharp. If you enjoy a good mummy read or are looking for something spooky to entertain you through the long December night, The Good Shabti will certain fill that desire.

This novella was provided for review by the publisher.

The Witch's Boy
The Witch's Boy
by Kelly Barnhill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.70

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written, lyrical, and subversive fairytale, 4 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Witch's Boy (Hardcover)
First of all before I start talking about this book, I just want to say: That cover, you guys! I really love that cover and if anything, it was that cover that first drew me to give Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy a closer look. I loved the play with the big shadows and those tiny little figures, and the sense that they were at the edge of the world. It is very fitting to the setting of the book and the villagers' belief that there is nothing beyond the forest-clad mountains. But mostly it just made for an arresting visual. And all this was even before I read the blurb. When I opened the book and started reading I was sold, as Kelly Barnhill managed to break my heart twice in the span of two chapters, which meant I was in for a treat.

The story revolves around Ned and Áine, with several other points of view woven through their stories. Of these further points of views I especially loved that of Ned's mother and that of the Speaking Stones. I really loved Ned and Áine. The way Barnhill developed their characters and the growing bond between them was wonderful. I loved the way they were juxtaposed, with Ned trusting Áine and the young wolf relatively quickly and Áine's only grudgingly won trust. Ned was so sweet and earnest, and his silence was wonderfully portrayed. The question is whether his keeping mum is a physical consequence of his near-drowning of is a result of psychological trauma. In either case, his stuttering was treated so convincingly, such as the fact that it was often self-reinforcing; the harder it is for Ned to speak, the more stressed he becomes, the harder it becomes to speak. Áine is brilliant. Resourceful, tough, capable, and clever, I loved how hard she tried to save those she loves. And she's also clearly described as a person of colour, with black hair and eyes and dark skin. As such, I'd count this book as one to add to the diverse books column.

Of the adults, my favourite was Sister Witch. Oh Sister Witch, how much I loved her. Her actions, which set in motion much of the story and are somewhat an explanation for the wrong boy having survived, where so convincing and I could so completely empathise. Her dilemma in the second chapter of the book was just heart-breaking. I love the strength she displayed in the latter half of the book when she travels to the capital to petition the queen. Her magic is fascinating too. The idea of the magic as something that needed to be contained and tamed, as something that needed to be both treated with respect and coerced, was fascinating and I loved its history within Ned's family. Its origins and nature and its links to the Speaking Stones was awesome and I loved the manifestation of its power in Ned when he takes the magic into himself to keep it safe. The fact that it showed up as writing on his skin and that it talked to him - and with an attitude as well - was very well conceived.

The driving force at the core of the narrative is love. Love is what causes Sister Witch to save Ned by any means necessary, love is what motivates Áine to try and save her father even when he is beyond redemption, and in a way even The Bandit King was driven by love. Or perhaps more accurately the loss of the person he loved so fiercely that her death broke him. Ned's dad just broke my heart. So much of his actions and behaviour are caused by grief, love and guilt. He can't forgive himself for not being able to save both his boys and loving Ned is double-edged for him, because every day looking at Ned means remembering he failed the boy that looked so much like him.

I loved Kelly Barnhill's latest. The Witch's Boy is a middle grade novel, but it's certainly one that can be enjoyed by older readers as well. It's also a book that I can't wait to share with my girls when they are a bit older and understand English more fully than just the occasional word (or if the book is translated to Dutch). A beautifully written, lyrical, and subversive fairytale, The Witch's Boy is a story about love, grief, letting go and forgiveness. And it's one that will almost certainly feature on one of my `favourites for 2014'-lists.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Of Scars and Stardust
Of Scars and Stardust
by Andrea Hannah
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Tense, chilling, and scary, 1 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Of Scars and Stardust (Paperback)
Andrea Hannah's Of Scars and Stardust was a compelling read, but also one that is hard to review. Saying too much might spoil Hannah's careful build-up of the narrative and the story's suspense, but at the same time it's hard to talk about it without touching upon anything that might give hints about how the story ends. So, be warned, I'll try to review the story without spoilers, but there might be some.
The narrator of the story and its heart is Claire. I loved her voice, but she is a completely unreliable narrator. Yet Hannah had me fooled for the entire story. She posited several options for the riddle of the wolves: that they were real, that they were a metaphor for the truth Claire didn't want to acknowledge, or that they were figments of her imagination, and I hadn't guessed the correct option until quite late in the story, even if I doubted all three options at some point. This uncertainty is enhanced by, and perhaps even the cause of, the paranoia, mistrust, and fear that suffuse the novel's atmosphere.

The setting of Amble, Ohio, with its small town mentality only reinforces this feeling of being watched as everyone knows everyone and everything. It also makes anything out of the ordinary taboo and Claire with her history and her mental health issues, which we learn about early on in the novel, is very much a `persona non grata' to the townsfolk of Amble. The only person to move past this is Grant, Claire's former best friend's little brother and childhood infatuation. When Claire returns a chance encounter sparks fly between them rekindling all the attraction they felt in the past. Grant was easy to like and his calm and caring demeanour not just for Claire, but for his sister Rae as well, was lovely. His unconditional support for Claire was wonderful, yet also one of the things that made me doubt everything that the evidence pointed to the truth.

I did have one big problem with Of Scars and Stardust. What bugged me to no end, was the way that the adults kept the truth from Claire. The truth of what happened to Ella, of why she's in New York and why exactly she needs to visit Dr Barges every week. While I can understand not wanting a traumatised teen to receive further shocks, one would also expect that knowing the truth would be a large part of her treatment. But more importantly, I don't understand why Claire's parents would never visit her in New York. How can you not see your child for two years? Regardless of having to care for Ella in her recovery and money and time considerations, how can they just not visit at all? And not explain to Claire why? I just couldn't wrap my head around that.

Despite that bugbear, I enjoyed the time I spent with Of Scars and Stardust. Tense, chilling, and scary, its mystery made me keep reading, because I really wanted to discover what had actually happened with Claire, Ella, and Grant. While the mystery is resolved and we discover what happened that night two years ago, the ending is rather ambiguous and quite fitting for the story.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Solaris Rising 3
Solaris Rising 3
by Aliette de Bodard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong line-up of stories, 27 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Solaris Rising 3 (Paperback)
Solaris Rising 3 is officially the fourth instalment in the reboot of the New Solaris Book of Science Fiction. This anthology series is one of my favourites. Whates finds a nice balance between easily accessible stories and the somewhat harder to parse, making the Solaris Rising series interesting to both relative new readers of SF and those more veteran readers. It is also the series that first made me realise that I might really like SF and short fiction after all, so I admittedly have a soft spot for it.

And this latest instalment doesn't disappoint, though there were a couple of stories that didn't work for me. Most notably Ian Watson's Faith Without Teeth, which as a story was fine and I enjoyed its visuals and the locations and era it invoked with its wall dividing a city, but after finishing the story and putting the book away to go about my day, I completely stalled on the anthology. It actually took me a couple of weeks to pick the book back up and read the rest of the stories, something that is really rare for me. The other is one that really should have worked for me with its mix of timelines and a love story at its heart is The Howl by Ian R. MacLeod and Martin Sketchley. But for some reason it didn't click with me as I kept expecting it to and in a way it meant the story was brought down by the expectations it raised in me.

Of course there were also some stories that I enjoyed at the time of reading, but which have faded a bit from memory, so while they aren't quite stories that left me "Meh", they weren't really memorable either. Unlike Cat Sparks' Dark Harvest, Rachel Swirsky's Endless, Julie E. Czerneda's A Taste for Murder, and Benjamin Rosenbaum's Fift & Shria, which were all stories I really enjoyed. But in the end they didn't quite make the cut of stories that lingered and which I'll talk about in a bit more detail.

Ken Liu - Homo Floresiensis
An author whose work never fails to entertain, Ken Liu's story here certainly entertained me. It also proved to be a bit of a conundrum, because I had to wonder whether this is an SF story or not? Set in Indonesia in what seems to be the present day, there aren't really any true SFnal elements. Yet for all intents and purposes, this was an Earth-bound first contact story. It is Star Trek's Prime Directive translated to the field of anthropology and shows the ethical conundrum of interfering in a less advanced civilisation. I loved this story, not just for the narrative itself, but also for the way it made me think and consider its merits as an SF story.

Aliette de Bodard - The Frost on Jade Buds
De Bodard's Xuya universe is fascinating and one I've enjoyed visiting on prior occasions. The Dai Viet and Galactic empires are such interesting cultures and the Mindships are just wonderful creations. But on top of the great setting, De Bodard also weaves a wonderfully complex tale of familial love and loyalty and questions whether while avoiding war is the correct thing to strive, but is it also always the right thing?

Gareth L. Powell - Red Lights, and Rain
This story you guys, this story was just plain, unadulterated fun. Yes, there are some deeper themes to it, but what comes to mind most is how fun it is. It's Buffy meets Dexter set in Amsterdam. Enhanced super soldier from the future, a time travelling bounty hunter, and an ending that leaves you considering whether you misread the entire story the first time.

Laura Lam - They Swim Through Sunset Seas
When I saw Lam's name in the line up, I was completely surprised. I know her writing from reading her two gaslight YA fantasy novels, Pantomime and Shadowplay. So to see an SF story from her was a surprise. But a very pleasant one as it turns out. They Swim Through Sunset Seas is a haunting story, one with definite horror overtones and which left me feeling slightly claustrophobic at times. I liked this original spin on a contained environment thriller/scary water monster mashup. Though as scary as the monsters and the situation were, at the same time, I felt empathy for the little Nyxi, the phrase Hungry for free made me feel so sorry for it. And it made me question whether the aggression the Nyxi display towards the humans wasn't completely justified. How would we react if an alien race took one of our children so they could study it? Not much better I'd suspect.

Nina Allan - The Science of Chance
Nina Allen's The Science of Chance was a great story, but I'm having a hard time putting my finger on why I enjoyed it so much, as there are plenty of things that bugged me, especially the rather abrupt ending and the why of the story. By that last I mean, the ending felt so unresolved that I felt lost on how to interpret the narrative: what was its goal? Was it more about the journey the protagonist takes or the mystery of it all? Yet despite this, I loved the story and was gripped by it both times I read it. I loved the slow connecting of the puzzle pieces and the way she put together a theory, implausible as it seems, it's also the only one that fits all the clues.And the hints of time travel were so tantalising. Lastly, the little girl in the red coat waiting for her mum was such a strong visual and I kept picturing her standing there amidst the bustle of the busy station.

Once again Ian Whates has created a strong line up of stories in Solaris Rising 3, which made for an overall enjoyable read. There is something there for all SF fans and I think the series still makes a good stepping stone for those interested in getting into reading SF. Hopefully, Whates will be back with a Solaris Rising 4 next year.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Last Dragon: Twilight of the Celts Book I
The Last Dragon: Twilight of the Celts Book I
by M. K. Hume
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting spin on the Arthur legend, 24 Nov. 2014
King Arthur. How many ways can his story be retold and the myths surrounding him be re-invented? Apparently endlessly, as The Last Dragon is yet another Arthur retelling with a twist. Admittedly, M.K. Hume's version of the story is an Interesting one, with the myth retold in a novel way. In fact, the Arthur who becomes known as the Last Dragon is the mythical Arthur's illegitimate son and the series Twilight of the Celts, of which this novel is the first instalment, is set after King Arthur's demise. The series is a continuation of two prior trilogies covering the lives of Merlin and King Arthur. I've not read these previous series and while I don't know how the Matter of Britain has been covered there, familiarity with the original stories and their themes allowed me to find my way in this somewhat uncannily familiar-yet-different version of Arthur's world.

What becomes clear from reading The Last Dragon is the affection in which Hume holds the Arthurian mythos and how well she knows it. She structures her version of Arthur's story in a triad of Arthurs, echoing a traditional Welsh telling of the tale which features three Gweneveres. Here we have three Arthurs: Artor or Artorex, Ector, and Arthur. The regular mythos has been broken up among them. Artorex is the version of Arthur that has the most traditional elements attached, but is also based on the more `historical' view of Arthur as a Romano-Briton Dux Bellorum against the Anglo-Saxons, while Ector is the more politically savvy, yet kind-hearted version, and Arthur, our current hero, is the one raised in obscurity and ignorant of his heritage, yet he has inherited this sword. I thought this structuring a nice shift and it was interesting to see how Hume moulded the Matter to her tale. My biggest problem with The Last Dragon was its rather slow start, as the first two chapters are mostly build up to set up the story and very different in tone to the rest of the book. If found these chapters tough going and it was only when we finally switch to Arthur that the narrative smooths out.

Hume's Arthur is interesting, though he does suffer a bit from being too good to be true and being The Chosen One. He is swept along in events and tries to hold to the morals he was raised with, using them as a guide to choose his path. But it only feels as if he's making his own choices in the second half of the novel. I did very much enjoy the younger generation of new companions, such as Eamonn, Gareth, Lorcan, Germanus, and the three - again three - sons of Merlin, Taliesin, Glynn, and Rhys. They feel familiar yet new and I liked the way they interacted. There are also some captivating female characters with those I found most interesting being Anna, Elayne, Maeve, and Blaise. Anna was just such a powerful player in the story and I thought Elayne's dignity and utter peace with what her life had been was fascinating. Here is a woman who bore a king's bastard while married to his greatest captain and she has no regrets and isn't shamed over it in anyway by her husband. And the two teenagers Maeve and Blaise were quite promising and seem to play a larger part in the next novel, which raises expectations.

In addition to great heroes, we are also presented with some cool adversaries, whose motivations are muddied and thus quite compelling. My favourite of these was Bran, as he's so terribly complicated and I rather felt for his predicament, knowing he's a lesser ruler than his predecessor and a less gifted leader of men than both his son and Arthur. He is however a ruthless and great strategist and I just really liked his story. The one villain I just really disliked and whose motivations felt a little cliché was Mareddyd. I understood why he was there, I just really didn't like his character or his plot arc.

The Last Dragon is very much the narrative of the hero in training and we leave the story on a cliffhanger, though at a natural break in the story. After I got past the first two chapters and settled into Arthur's narrative, I really enjoyed myself with this original take on the Arthur legend. If you like Arthurian tales, but would like to see them do something new, then The Last Dragon offers the first part of a trilogy that seems to promise to do just that.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Informant
The Informant
by Susan Wilkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your regular crime mystery, 20 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Informant (Paperback)
The Informant is not your regular crime mystery. Yes, if you look for it in the store it'll probably be shelved under crime, but trust me, this is not your regular crime mystery. Because everyone knows who the bad guys are. No one doubts they did it--whatever particular it you had in mind, as with Joey Phelps and company you can pretty much count on them having commited that particular kind of crime. What makes The Informant compelling then, isn't the presumed whodunnit, but the psychological development of its lead characters and that of Kaz in particular.

Kaz is fantastic. Hardened by an awful youth and a stay in jail, she is still surprisingly vulnerable and innocent in some respect. Her almost willfully blind belief in her brother's better nature and her hope of redeeming him are both touching and frustrating, especially that to the reader it's clear that Joey is a complete and utter psychopath who thrives on violence. His ability to manipulate Kaz is masterful and at times you could almost say he has a dual personality, but that isn't actually true and even Kaz has to face up to the fact that she has made herself see the warning signs in a more flattering light so she could deny the truth. But Kaz isn't the only one who pretends Joey is not all bad; Kaz's mother and sister are also blind to his faults. Then again, all three Phelps women have been trained to ignore the comings and goings of their menfolk for decades. The only reasons Kaz has her eyes opened has been her time away in prison and the influence of her lawyer, Helen. Her bond with Helen was interesting, but Helen pissed me off. Iunderstand there was an undeniable attraction between these two, but I felt she led Kaz on and created complications Kaz didn't need, both in terms of rehabilitation in society and in maintaining her sobriety.

But Helen isn't the only tarnished character on the side of the angels, as those upholding the law aren't all pristine either. We learn quickly that the Met is compromised and some of its officers are more concerned with serving themselves, rather than justice. The shenanigans of the upper brass are revealed both directly in their own viewpoints and through the viewpoints of two of the really good guys. In DS Nicci Armstrong DC Mal Bradley Wilkins created two very sympathetic characters, who it was easy to root for, while their boss Turnbull was utterly vile in more ways than one. I liked how Wilkins humanised both Nicci and Mal by showing them off the clock, Nicci with her daughter and Mal as he silences his woes by drowning them in alcohol. His struggle with overcoming the prejudices his pretty-boy appearance and his half-Iranian descent occasion was interesting and gave his character an interesting slant.

The pacing and the plot of the novel are fantastic. The story is utterly character-driven, yet the action is very well written and nail-bitingly tense. Wilkins included some heart-breaking events - one in particular made me want to sob - and it is a sign of how invested I was in the characters that I felt so much on their behalf. The road to going straight is a bumpy one for Kaz and the detours Wilkins leads her on are interesting and painful. Kaz's journey is about betrayal and loyalty in many guises, but the most important lesson Kaz learns is that the most important loyalties she has, are those to herself and to doing what is right, even if that means going against family and the instincts that have been ingrained in her from childhood.

The Informant was a fantastic read and all I can say is I want more--more Kaz, more Nicci and more of Susan Wilkins' writing. Luckily for me, the next book The Mourner will be out next spring. In the meantime, if you're looking for a good crime read, I recommend you pick up The Informant.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

The Broken Road
The Broken Road

4.0 out of 5 stars Deft, dark, and complex, 19 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Broken Road (Kindle Edition)
Teresa Frohock is one of the authors whose work I've been aware of for years, who I chat with on Twitter regularly, whose debut novel Miserere is on my TBR pile even, but whose work I've never gotten around to reading. However, she's often referred to as one of the criminally under-read authors of the past few years and many people whose opinion I rate highly love her work. Thus, when offered her novella The Broken Road for review, I said yes without hesitation. And Frohock's writing is everything it was reported to be. It's deft, it's dark, it's complex, and most importantly it's highly entertaining. I found Travys' tale fascinating and my biggest issue with the story was its length; it was just too short, I wanted to spend more time with the characters and their story.

The story is set in a well-built universe. I liked the concept of two connected worlds separated by a sort of magical force field kept in repair by the Chanteuse magicians. Such magical fields aren't unheard of in fantasy of course, but if done well I always find them a great plot device. The Chanteuse are an interesting caste of magic users, especially as they've developed into the caste in power, a combination of noble and priestly caste who instead of serving the people in their care, lord it over them in a feudal system. There is a true sense of separation between the lowborn and highborn, something accentuated by the luscious and decadent nature of the court presided over by Travys' mother. Of necessity, the plot is fast-paced and Frohock accomplishes much in this limited number of pages. Her writing is concise, yet there is a lot of implied background; it feels as if, had she allowed herself the word count, she could have expounded on many elements of her world in great detail. The novella contains several haunting passages, such as the opening scenes at the crossroads, where Travys and his companion Marc discover evidence of a disturbing ritual, and the time Travys spends with the Saalka, ghoulish mermaid-like creatures. They're deeply atmospheric and rather creepy. Also the wasps? Not fun, not fun at all.

Despite the interesting world building, The Broken Road is very much a character-driven narrative. Its protagonist is the second-born brother of a set of twins and one who has a disability too. In a land ruled by those in a voice-driven magic system, the fact that Travys is mute makes his position in court and society precarious. Yet despite his muteness, Travys has found a way to command his magic and has gained the respect of the court. His relationship with his brother Josué seems to be good, yet it is here that Travys' naiveté is exposed: Travys believes in the good of people, often in the face of disputing evidence. Travys' lover Gabriel is one of the people warning him about Josué and it is seemingly the one thing that really puts pressure on their relationship from within. I really enjoyed this pairing and I would have loved to have seen more of these two together, because they were fab and it also felt as if the relationship was given short shrift. Gabriel deserved more screen time and consideration in my opinion and his story felt cut short. A character who did have a great narrative arc was Marc, Travys' best friend and companion. I loved how Frohock positioned him in society and how she developed his story, which was both unexpected and very fitting.

The Broken Road is a wonderful novella, which went by far too fast. Travys is a compelling protagonist and I look forward to discovering how he will settle into his new position and what will happen next in the conflict between Lehbet and Heled. If you like your fantasy dark and character-driven, The Broken Road is a story you really ought to check out.

This book was provided for review by the author.

Girl on a Wire
Girl on a Wire
by Gwenda Bond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Romeo and Juliet visit the circus, 12 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Girl on a Wire (Paperback)
One of the two inaugural authors for Strange Chemistry back in the day and one of my favourites from their list is Gwenda Bond. I've read and enjoyed both her previous novels, Blackwood and The Woken Gods, and thought her newest offering, Girl on a Wire sounded very intriguing. Thus, when the author approached me about reviewing it, I didn't hesitate to say yes. And it has to be said, that with Girl on a Wire Bond remains on form. It was a delightful story with some very dark twists and genuine heartbreak.

In essence, Girl on a Wire is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in the modern-day circus. Yet it's not solely focused on the love affair between Jules and Remy, but also on the reason their families are feuding in the first place. Consequently, there are several mysteries in the book. The first and most pressing one is the identity of the person who is trying to sabotage the Maroni's, the second one is the cause of the long-standing feud that's fuelling the sabotage. These two questions are closely intertwined and I enjoyed the various sleights of hand Bond displays in revealing the answers, she wrong-footed me a few times.

The circus is a place that has always had a sense of magic and mystique about it and probably always will. The circus has always been a place where people, often outsiders, ran away too and circus folk are often portrayed as a close knit community and not always of the most respected kind. In Girl on a Wire the community is indeed close knit, but as the book is told from within the circus, there is no sense of the exotic about the magic and mystique of the circus; there is the love and passion for their art and craft, but none of the romanticism--Jules and her family and the other members of the circus work very, very hard at what they do and this is clearly shown. I loved the details Bond added in on wire work and the references she included. In fact when Nik Wallenda was in the news for his latest daredevil act I immediately had to think of Jules and Girl in a Wire. In fact, I even tweeted the author about how Jules did it first.

Jules is a fabulous main character. She's head strong, ambitious, snarky when she needs to be, and she is Maroni to the core. Family is what is most important to Jules, almost as integral to her life as is the wire. Her relationship with her dad was one of my favourite things about this story. Jules and Emil are very close and Emil is Jules' biggest idol. While she's obviously close to both her parents, it's clear that her dad is her hero. The other Maroni's, Jules' grandmother Nan and her cousin Sam, are wonderful too and the four of them form a close family group. I love position Nan has as Mater Familias and the way they all look to her for sage advice and approval. Jules' inevitable Romeo is Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia family who drove Nan and Emil out of the main circus circuit years ago. I liked Remy, he isn't afraid to speak his mind, whether he's dealing with his family or with Jules', even if he isn't ready to openly defy them over Jules. However, my favourite Garcia had to be Remy's little sister Dita. Dita has a tremendous sense of self, even if she's still figuring out her identity. She's genderqueer and as such is looked at a bit askance by her mother and eldest brother, but she's very close to Remy and I loved how her own love story developed. The reader mostly glimpses it from afar, but she and her paramour are so lovely and sweet together, that the way their story played out completely broke my heart.

In fact, Girl on a Wire was a heartbreaking story overall. The events described and their roots in the past encompass so much love, hurt and grief. Yet despite the heartbreak, there is also a lot of laughter and I really enjoyed the lighter scenes between Jules and Remy and Jules and Sam. Our Jules has witty repartee aplenty. The book ends on hope and a new beginning and left me with a smile. I loved Girl on a Wire and with her third novel Gwenda Bond has firmly landed on my must-read author list. If you enjoy fast-paced, fun YA with a dash of mystery and romance then do pick up Girl on a Wire, as it offers this in spades. And that's not even mentioning its gorgeous cover.

This book was provided for review by the author.

Your Servants and Your People: The Walkin' Book 2 (The Walkin' Trilogy)
Your Servants and Your People: The Walkin' Book 2 (The Walkin' Trilogy)
by David Towsey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Very different from the first book, but just as good., 7 Nov. 2014
Anyone remotely familiar with A Fantastical Librarian will be aware of my general aversion to zombies. They are the one monster that will give me nightmares every single time and an author had better disguise them or reinterpret them in a very interesting way for me to chance my already limited amount of sleeping time I have (hello 2yo night crawler) to nightmares. Yet when I read the synopsis for Towsey's debut Your Brother's Blood last year I was intrigued by it and when I read it, he certainly blew any fear of nightmares out of the water. Towsey managed to make his Walkin' different interesting enough that I rather forgot they were essentially zombies and just lost myself in the story. Thus I was really looking forward to reading the book's sequel Your Servants and Your People and I wasn't disappointed. Your Servants and Your People is a different beast than Your Brother's Blood, but it is just as good.

What makes the book so different? First of all, there is a seven year gap between the narratives of the books, which means that the McDermotts are all very different people from those we left at the end of Your Brother's Blood. The story is also set in a completely different part of the country, away from Barkley, so the tension derived from the religious aspect and danger to Thomas has lessened, even if he is still persecuted by society in general. Lastly, there is an additional storyline with a viewpoint separate from that of the McDermotts centred on a group of soldiers sent to garrison a frontier fort. All of this results in a book set in a world that feels familiar, but feels quite different from that in the previous book.

The themes Towsey tackles in Your Servants and Your People have shifted as well. Where the first novel is mostly about Thomas getting to grips with his transformation to a Walkin', getting back to his family, and getting them safe out of Barkley, this second outing focusses more on the McDermotts as a family and how they cope with Thomas' situation. The answer is without spoiling anything: not well. The family has moved around quite a bit and Mary has changed from a loving, bright young girl into a disillusioned and hard young woman. Thomas desperately wants to give his wife and daughter a safe home and Sarah just wants her family together and happy. Mary wants out of the situation, but where she does want to be isn't really clear either to the reader or Mary herself. Yet once they arrive at Fort Wilson and Thomas starts building their home, it seems as if things might be looking up, until a young man turns up who helps him in exchange for shelter and food. On the one hand, Callum seems a wonderful addition to the family, on the other there is just something off about him. His presence and the situation in general evoked a pervasive sense of dread, especially given his and Mary's interactions. I wanted Thomas, Sarah, and Mary to have a happy ever after, yet it's clear this just isn't in the cards and I kept waiting for the axe to drop.

Although the McDermott arc was interesting and Towsey did a great job with their development, my favourite storyline and character in this book was Bryn. He's a sensitive soul and has a good heart. Having escaped into the army to create a better life for himself and his sweetheart, he just wants to make lieutenant and take good care of his men and emulate his own lieutenant. It's through his viewpoint that we learn what life must have been like for Thomas before he was killed. We discover what is it like to be a soldier and live with the constant fear of becoming Walkin' yourself. We see very different reactions to the Walkin', the war, and life from all of Bryn's companions. Silas and John are vile, while Travis and the lieutenant are seemingly decent men. The only one that seems straightforwardly kind is George. There is an interesting dynamic in the group, one put under pressure by the mystery they uncover when they occupy the fort and the events that follow. At the end of the book this arc left me with one big question: what is Bryn's function in the rest of the trilogy? As interesting as his storyline is, what is its function in a larger scope? I look forward to finding out where Towsey is taking him in the next book.

Both the situation in the fort and some of the happenings in the McDermott storyline allow the reader to see the differing societal reactions to the Walkin'; from shoot on sight - as you shall not suffer the wicked to live - to treating them as second class citizens. This Othering of a growing minority references both historical and contemporary treatment of real-world minorities. In addition to this commentary, Towsey once again considers religion as well, because you can take people out of Barkley, you can't take Barkley out its people. Where Sarah and Thomas still cling to their religion and find comfort in prayer and the Good Book, Mary has turned away from their faith. The tension this creates not just between Mary and her parents - who respect their daughter's choice, but also wish she'd return to the faith - but within Mary's inner emotional life as well, is interesting and lent further depth to an already hard situation.

With Your Servants and Your People Towsey shows us more of his world and its scope, yet he also leaves plenty of questions to be answered in the last volume, Your Resting Place, and I look forward to discovering where Towsey is heading with the McDermotts. Your Servants and Your People was just as gripping and compelling as Your Brother's Blood even if it was less action-driven and had more of a horror vibe due to the pervasive dread and threat. Despite the seven-year jump ahead and different setting, the book doesn't really standalone. One could pick up the series here, but the reader would lose much of the story's depth and intricacies. If you haven't yet read Your Brother's Blood, I highly recommend you pick up both of these books and give them a read, because they're very much worth your time.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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