The A-Z of me: Part 1

Inspired by Splodz and The Urban Wanderer, I thought I’d put together a little A-Z of me as a bit of a change to the usual OMG THIS BOOK IS TOTES AMAZE YOU SHOULD READ IT.[1]

[1]It is *def* totes amaze, and you should *def* read it, ok?

Ahem.

A is for astrophysics

So yeah. I studied astrophysics at university. It was fun, hard work, and sounds great.
I wasn’t very good at it. Should have done maths. 🙂

B is for books and blogging

As you’ve probably guessed, espresso coco is pretty much entirely a book blog. I read a lot of books, but not as many as some of my #bookblogger chums, who seem to churn through a book a day, and are constantly putting out fantastic reviews. I’m aiming for 60 books this year, which will be a new record for me.

C is for coffee and cycling


I love coffee. Start the day with an espresso, and spend entirely too much time and money in Leeds’ many and varied indie coffee shops.

I also love cycling, and have written a couple of cycling adventure posts, on turning left and getting off the beaten track. I’ve got several bikes – four (and a half) of them – and love nothing more than going for a cycle through the woods.

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D is for dakegra

It’s pronounced ‘dah-keh-gra’. Not dake-gra, dah-kee-gra or anything else. Though I do love Cody Wanner’s attempt here (skip to about 2.42)

(Cody is a great vlogger, you should check him out)

E is for espresso coco

[insert YOU ARE HERE graphic]
Yup, this is my blog, my little chunk of the internet. Welcome! Come in, pull up a chair and let’s talk books. Or
movies, or stuff. Brew?

F is for Firefly

Huge fan of Firefly. HUGE.

G is for gaming and Guiness
Apart from reading, I love playing games on my XBox or Nintendo Switch. I’m fairly terrible at games though, but it doesn’t put me off. I’ve also tinkered with writing about games – see The Fallout Diaries. I also loved playing Skyrim and lost months of my life to it. I could tell you such tales, like the time I got married to Farkas – lovely wedding, all our friends came then he went mysteriously missing for three weeks of game time because the beautiful idiot decided to walk home ACROSS THE ENTIRE MAP. Then kept rearranging my troll skull collection, and was often found with the Captain of the Guard in our house. Maybe it was him who messed up my troll skulls. Or the time a horse fell on me up at the top of a mountain, or when a dragon fight ended up with a dead dragon skeleton on my front lawn…

Ed and I thought of setting up a YouTube gaming channel where I’d play games whilst he mocked me for being RUBBISH and unable to hit anything with pretty much any kind of weapon ever. We’d have been a smash hit.

I’m also partial to a nice pint of Guinness.

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H is for Harry Potter and Howler

Two of my favourite books. I’ve read the Harry Potter books multiple times, and listened to the audiobook on car journeys more times than I care to count. I got Harry Potter trivial pursuit for christmas, but had to stop playing in the end because I kept winning. I’ve also written a couple of posts about how death eaters got their name and how wizards get their wands.

Howler refers to the Red Rising trilogy, by Pierce Brown. Stunningly good, I highly recommend that you read them. Though I’ve probably recommended them to you before. Have you read them yet? Also Pierce is a thoroughly nice chap. Met him at the Howler Party that Hodder threw for the launch of book 3, Morning Star.

I is for ice cream

Vanilla, or mint choc chip. Never chocolate. It’s weird – I like chocolate, or chocolate cake. But not chocolate ice cream.

J is for juggling


I’ve been juggling since I was at university *cough* years ago and I find it enormously relaxing. There’s something hypnotic about juggling. It forces you to be in the moment. All other worries fade to one side as you get into the rhythm of throw, catch, throw, catch. It’s all very zen (and there’s an excellent book called The Zen of Juggling by Dave Finnigan).

I’ve taught quite a few people to juggle over the years too – and you’d be surprised at how many of them started with “oh, I couldn’t possibly/I’m too clumsy/I’ve got no co-ordination”

I’ve also talked about juggling on the blog. It wasn’t always just about books!

Can you juggle?

K is for kids

I’ve got two – Ed and Lil. Both are awesome.

L is for Leeds and librarians

I moved down to Leeds to go to university nearly 30 years ago and never quite left. I got a job working in the university library washing shelves and moving books around, then ended up there for a year before doing a postgrad course in librarianship, which turned into a job for three weeks at a law firm in their library, which turned into a job at a different law firm’s library for a few years. Now, five career moves later, I’m still here. Well, just down the road in Wakefield, but I work in Leeds and love my adopted city. I also love taking photos of Leeds.

M is for Monty and maps

I’ve been calling myself a writer for some years now, and always feel slightly guilty about it. I’ve written more than a few scenes or short pieces featuring Monty, gentleman thief and drinker of coffee. They’re great fun to write, and I really should try and do some more. Whether it’s him making prank calls, not being drunk, encountering a minefield or making a getaway, I love coming up with new adventures.

I also love maps. There’s something glorious about them, translating the physical space into two dimensions. I’ve also written about maps elsewhere on the blog: Maps. What’s up?

So that’s part 1 of the A-Z of me. Watch out for Part 2, coming soon…

Bait, Grist and Security – Mike Hodges

Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.

More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.

Summer is hell here.

Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.

Like tonight.

The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.

The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.

Twice.

An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.

A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.

He works fast, skilfully.

Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!

A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.

*

A solitary light snaps on.

It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’

The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.

Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.

Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.

And quickly.

He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.

Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.

Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’

These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.

Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.

Light out.

*

In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.

~~~~~~

Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.

In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
America.
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
murder.
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.

All Systems Red – Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

Winner: 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella
Winner: 2018 Alex Award
Winner: 2018 Locus Award
One of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017
A New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

So, All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff. And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.

I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.

You see, Murderbot doesn’t really like people. It just wants to be left alone to get on with watching the long-running Sanctuary Moon. I can empathise a lot with Murderbot.

All Systems Red is the first of four (at time of writing) in the Murderbot Diaries, and I’m greatly looking forward to following their adventures.

You can get All Systems Red here (affiliate link)

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is published by Tor. You can find Martha Wells on twitter @marthawells1 or on her website marthawells.com

Athena’s Champion – David Hair & Cath Mayo

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Athena’s Champion by David Hair and Cath Mayo, published by Canelo on 8th November 2018. More about the book later, but first I’ve got an extract for you.

~~~~~~

The preparations are brief, and simple. Doripanes takes me to a small chamber where a copper bowl has been filled with water from the nearest, most sacred spring. I strip and wash to cleanse myself before being presented to the Goddess, then pull on a borrowed knee-length tunic. After that I’m made to kneel before an altar crowned with a rough statue of the Goddess that’s old, darkened by ash and smooth from decades of hands. An open chalice of scented lamp oil burns slowly, filling the air with fragrant smoke.

Then a hissing voice whispers. ‘Odysseus… Odysseus,’ it says. ‘Man of fire…

I startle, and Doripanes looks at me. ‘Prince?’

‘Did you hear that?’ I begin, but it’s clear he’s heard nothing.

He touches my shoulder. ‘Come, the Pythia awaits.’

My rational mind has never quite believed this coming ceremony isn’t mere formality, more elaboration than truth. False seers plague Achaea, the kingdoms of the Greeks, and I’ve heard Father and others often talk of this experience as being solemn, but not in any way uncanny. To believe in distant gods, whose lives barely touch a man’s except in such huge incidents as storms, earthquakes and plagues, is quite different to believing they are watching me, and examining all the strands of my future. Despite the ominous pressure I’ve felt all day, it’s solid and tangible things I usually fear – war, piracy, assassination – not the mystical.

I set my jaw and concentrate on bearing myself with dignity, rejoining my family but not looking at them as I follow Doripanes down curved stairs into a deep chamber, a circular subterranean vault around twenty feet in diameter. In the middle, oil lamps have been placed around the great central cleft in the rock, from which a vapour rises, drifting around the Pythia as she sits on a large bronze tripod. The rest of the vault lies in semi-darkness.

The old woman before me in her purple and white robe is no longer my grandmother Amphithea: she’s entirely the Pythia, voice of the Goddess, heir of a tradition of prophecy to whom even kings bow. Every few moments she lifts her veil to catch the steam, inhaling it deeply and moaning as she does. Behind her, in the shadows, a half-dozen shaven-haired priests are arrayed: thin, insubstantial figures, like ghosts haunting the chamber.

Doripanes takes me to stand before the Pythia. ‘Remain standing,’ he whispers. ‘I’ll do the talking.’

I nod, and glance back at my family: Mother and Ctimene are huddled together, with Laertes slightly apart, next to Eurybates, watching gravely. Eury gives me a reassuring nod, but my nerves only tighten.

That slithering voice whispers again: ‘Odysseus… Fire…

The walls of the chamber change, mottling like snakeskin and moving, contracting around us. The air thins and I’m sure there’s something poised behind me, its breath cold and stale and rotting. I flinch, wanting to spin round to confront it, but afraid to shift even my gaze. The Pythia coughs as she inhales more of the noxious vapours.

‘Great Goddess! Hera Parthenos, Hera Basileia, Hera Khere!’ Doripanes calls loudly, invoking the Virgin, the Queen and the Widowed Aspects of Hera. ‘We come before you, seekers of truth and wisdom! We bow before you! We worship you and thank you!’

The Pythia takes yet another deep inhalation of the vapours that swirl around her before parting her veil to reveal her face, the wrinkles deep-etched in the lamplight, her eyes rolling back in her skull. ‘Who comes?’ she rasps, her voice a full octave lower than her speaking voice, a low rattle filled with menace.

‘Odysseus, Prince of Ithaca, as a supplicant to your Holiness!’ Doripanes announces. ‘He comes before you humbly, purified and desirous of knowledge. His family await your judgement! Upon his line rests the peace and prosperity of his homeland! Will the kingdom of Ithaca pass into worthy hands? His parents have given consent, for he is their legacy, their heir! Will you walk the Viper’s Path with him, and measure his worth?’

The Viper’s Path? The phrase shocks me, alarmed already as I am by the slithering voice, and that monstrous serpentine presence I sense. The walls of the chamber seem to throb.

The Pythia’s orbs turn a glowing white and pierce me through. My muscles clench, as if to prevent me from being blasted backwards by that empty, harrowing gaze, the air crushed from my lungs by the twin weights of tension and fear. Part of my brain, the emotive part, the boy inside the man, is struck dumb; but the rational part is even here trying to guess how this might be contrived… The vapours, strong and heavy, what are they?

Then the Pythia speaks, obliterating all thought. Her voice is at times shrill, at others a low growl, her face staring into a void, looking past me, looking through me.

Purified? Where is the purity? He came to be purged yet he has been touched by another! Another? Nay, by two! Spawned in fire, born of lust, the renegade, the trickster, eternal traitor, eagle’s prey! Who dares! This is my place! Mine!

There is a collective gasp at each raving ejaculation. The Pythia is no longer seated but standing, her feet straddling the steaming fissure, her eyes still blind but her face enraged. And when she looks at me with those blind eyes, her whole face is overlaid with some kind of serpentine visage, with massive fangs and hooded eyes. The fingers she jabs at me are virulently accusing.

Wit before wisdom! Concealed hands and hearts! Faithful yet false! Loved and loathed! Touched, more than touched: claimed, by another! I see you, False Daughter, the owl that swoops! But this one is not for you! Tainted chalice! Envenomed blade! Honourless, perilous! Lost wanderer! Twin-finder! And dangerous: yes, most dangerous! Wall breaker! Lock picker! True-hearted deceiver!

I stare, petrified, as the Seeress sways towards me, holding her hands high as if admonishing the heavens, then twisting to hurl imprecations at the enclosing shadows. My mind is roiling: is this normal? Is it genuine, or some kind of performance?

Then she spins to leer into my face.

I see you, cuckoo’s egg! Seed of the cursed! Rotted fruit of the tainted seed! I see you: son of Sisyphus!

The chamber is utterly quiet, the stillness broken by an awful sound – the startled sob of the woman I love most in the world: my mother, Anticleia. But I can’t look away from the hooded, pupil-less eyes of the prophetess, her bared teeth a hand’s breadth from my own, as the true horror of her words sinks in. Then I reel as the old woman gives an ear-splitting shriek and collapses to the ground.

The priests, led by an ashen-faced Doripanes, hurry to the Pythia’s aid as I stare at her prone form, momentarily paralysed. Anticleia has fallen to her knees, staring open-mouthed at the crumpled figure of her mother, and Ctimene has dropped to hold her, her face upturned to see the reaction of Laertes, her mouth moving but no words coming out.

Cuckoo’s egg… Seed of the cursed… Son of Sisyphus…

‘Mother?’ I croak.

The wretched look on her face tells me the rest. She’d resisted coming here because she’d feared this very moment. Her final words before we entered the shrine take on new resonance: ‘We all have secrets…

My father… No, not my father… King Laertes is staring at me as if Hades himself has risen to claim him. His normally stolid face is torn open with anguish and rage.

Mother slept with another man… and the two of them, clasped in adultery, conceived me…

Anticleia crawls to her husband, tries to seize his knees. He bends and catches her arms, lifts her, and for a moment I hope for some kind of understanding.

Then Laertes’s right hand cracks across Mother’s face and she’s sent flying, sprawling on her back, her head striking the stone floor. I rush to her side.

Her cheek is split, she’s been struck senseless, but she still breathes. ‘Mother, wake up,’ I cry, ‘Please, I beg you! Wake!’ Then I look up. ‘Father?’ I plead.

‘I’m not your father,’ Laertes croaks. The King rocks on his heels, almost falling before he regains his balance. Then he turns and strides to the stairs, taking them at a run, and vanishes.

 

Athena’s Champion, by David Hair and Cath Mayo is published by Canelo on 8th November 2018.

The first in a thrilling new historical fantasy series; Odysseus must embrace his secret heritage and outwit the vengeful Gods who would control or destroy him…

Prince Odysseus of Ithaca is about to have his world torn apart. He’s travelled to the oracle at Pytho to be anointed as heir to his island kingdom; but instead the Pythia reveals a terrible secret, one that tears down every pillar of his life, and marks him out for death.

Outcast by his family, hunted by the vengeful gods, Odysseus is offered sanctuary by Athena, goddess of wisdom, and thrust into the secret war between the Olympians for domination and survival. Only his wits, and his skill as a warrior, can keep him ahead of their power games – and alive.

When one of Athena’s schemes goes drastically wrong, and the young Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, Odysseus must journey past the gates of Hades to save her. Falling in love with a Trojan princess, a bewitching woman who poses a deadly threat to both his homeland and Athena, won’t make his task any easier…

Drawing from classic Greek mythology, Athena’s Champion, first in the epic Olympus series, is perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and David Gemmell.

David Hair is an award-winning New Zealand YA and Adult fantasy writer, and the author of sixteen novels.  He’s joined his considerable skill and expertise with Cath Mayo to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods.
@DHairauthor

Cath Mayo is a New Zealand YA, Children and Adult fiction author. Her two published YA historical novels are both set in Ancient Greece and her first novel received a Storylines Notable Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014. She’s joined her considerable skill and expertise with David Hair to create the Olympus Series, an adult historical fantasy drawing on ancient Greek Mythology, following the adventures of Odysseus as he navigates the dangerous world of the Greek Gods. @cathmayoauthor

 

 

The Lingering – SJI Holliday

Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy
Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient spiritual commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

The Lingering is a deliciously creepy gothic tale of strange goings-on in a mysterious former psychiatric institution populated by some slightly odd characters.

What more do you need to know?

Oh, fine. Right, it’s also part psychological thriller, part domestic intrigue, part ghost story, and entirely brilliant. It’s got a lovely slow-burn build up where the characters and setting are introduced and you think that things might be a *bit* odd but then the tension starts ratcheting up, notch by inevitable notch. Given that the story is set in an abandoned asylum, you know that the characters aren’t in for a nice little summer holiday.

You’ll never look at a bathtub in quite the same way ever again, I can assure you.

There’s a creeping sense of unease as the story progresses and we find out more about Ali and Jack Gardiner, and what brought them to the self-contained commune in the Fens. It’s clear pretty much from the off that they’re hiding secrets, both from the commune and from each other, and it’s fascinating watching that play out over the course of the story. I loved Smeaton Dunsmore, head of the cult-like community lead by The Book of Light, and fellow commune-member Angela Fairley’s hunt for the paranormal in the halls of the former hospital.

And Rosalind House plays such a central role in the story, with its myths and legends about what might have happened there. It’s a fabulously creepy setting, and coupled with the what-are-they-really-up-to semi-religious commune, you’ve got the perfect mix.

If you like your psychological thrillers with a dash of paranormal, or your mysteries with a hint of Halloween chill, The Lingering will be right up your street.  Perfect for a cosy night wrapped up on the sofa. Just make sure you’ve got all the lights on…

Huge kudos to Mark Swan (@kidethic) for another stunning cover. It captures the mood of the book perfectly.

The Lingering by SJI Holliday is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda for the review copy.

Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri

Published by Orbit Books, November 2018
Source: review copy

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Empire of Sand is a lushly realised world filled with gods and mystics, spirits and empire, and some quite beautiful writing. It’s an epic fantasy, but not what you might expect, set in a world with analogies to the Mughal era of medieval India.

Mehr is a young woman who has inherited her mother’s ability to wield magic in the form of ritual dance, with blood rites and demons ever present.  She comes to the attention of the Maha, the Empire’s religious leader, and is summoned to his palace to placate the awakening gods. But can she and her husband Amun break the bonds of their vows to the Emperor?

It’s a book of love and loss, control and breaking bonds, with a truly original heroine in Mehr. I’ve been on a bit of a quest to read more diverse fiction from diverse authors, and Empire of Sands delivers on every level.

The setting is wonderful, you can almost feel the heat from the sands and the mile upon mile of unending desert punctuated by the settlements and the grand palace of the Maha. I loved the idea of the daiva too, the shadowy demons which Mehr and Amun must dance to keep in check.

It’s a slow burn at the start as we’re immersed in Mehr’s world, and it does take a little while for the story to get going, but when things do kick off, they do so in a grand style. Still, the book has a gentle pace, punctuated with some glorious action, and it’s clear that this is laying some considerable groundwork for the later books to come. 

It’s beautifully written, with some wonderful, strong female characters, and I shall be looking forward to the next books with great anticipation.

 

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri is published by Orbit Books in November 2018. Thanks to Nazia for the review copy.
You can find Tasha Suri on twitter @tashadrinkstea.

Changeling – Matt Wesolowski

On Christmas Eve in 1988, seven-year-old Alfie Marsden vanished in the Wentshire Forest Pass, when a burst tyre forced his father, Sorrel, to stop the car. Leaving the car to summon the emergency services, Sorrel returned to find his son gone. No trace of the child, nor his remains, have ever been found. Alfie Marsden was declared officially dead in 1995.
Elusive online journalist, Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the disappearance, interviewing six witnesses, including Sorrel, his son and his ex-partner, to try to find out what really happened that fateful night. He takes a journey through the trees of the Wentshire Forest – a place synonymous with strange sightings, and tales of hidden folk who dwell there. He talks to a company that tried and failed to build a development in the forest, and a psychic who claims to know where Alfie is…

Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories was one of my books of 2017. In Hydra we met Scott King with another of his Six Stories podcasts, this time much darker and much, much spookier. If Nana Wrack gave you nightmares the first time round, the black-eyed children in Hydra might just keep you awake all night.

Changeling is another beast, and easily Matt Wesolowski’s best yet. And that, my friends, is a pretty damn high bar.

Scott King is back with another of his ‘Six Stories’ podcasts. Six people, six sides to a tale, six viewpoints on the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of little Alfie Marsden, thirty years ago.

I dipped my finger into the Alfie Marsden case and something reached up and took hold.

I *raced* through Changeling. Having read and loved Matt’s first two books, I thought I knew what I was letting myself in for, thought I had a feel for the pattern of the story. After reading the first episode of six, thought I knew where it was going.

Oh how very wrong I was. The thing I love about his writing is the way that he puts you in the head of these distinct characters. You’re hearing their voices, hearing their side of the story. But just as two people can see the same thing and tell you different versions of what happened, so imagine what six people can do. The plotting is ingenious, and the way those six stories mesh together is played to perfection.

Changeling deals with some pretty dark subjects – a missing child is never an easy read, but it’s so much more, and so much more that I can’t say without giving away too much. Trust me in this, it’s massively relevant, incredibly intense and just so, so good.

And can we talk for a minute about Wentshire Forest. I am *so* glad that I’m not going camping in the woods any time soon. Scarclaw Fell in the first book was pretty spooky, but that’s got *nothing* on Wentshire Forest.

Is that a tapping at the window I can hear…?

You can find Matt Wesolowski on Twitter @concretekraken. Mark Swan (@Kidethic) delivers yet another stunning cover. One day I’m going to have to do a post on my favourite of his covers – Changeling will definitely be on the list.

Many thanks to @OrendaBooks for the advance copy of Changeling