Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…
It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun. But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.
Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Claire North’s books, from the mind-bending 84K to the remarkable The Sudden Appearance of Hope. So it was with some excitement that I received a copy of The Gameshouse – originally published as three digital-only novellas The Serpent, The Thief, and The Master, now all three are collected together.
In the world of the Gameshouse, players come to make their fortunes through any and every game. The House itself can be anywhere, a door in London, New York, here today and gone tomorrow, for it exists out of time.
We start the tale with The Serpent, set in 17th century Venice, where a young woman is invited to play beyond the silver door into the higher league, a game of kings and pawns, where Thene the player moves her pieces around the city, real people with real stakes and very real consequences.
In The Thief we move to 1930s Thailand where we’re introduced to Remy Burke, who wakes up with a hangover having been tricked into a game of hide and seek. Except the field of play is Thailand, and the stakes are very high – twenty years of life if he wins, and the loss of his memories if he loses. And Remy is very hungover, very tall and very white. Not the ideal start to a game where you’ve got twenty minutes head start…
We finish up with The Master. Set in the present day, it ties the previous two stories together into a whole. Whereas the first game took place in a city, and the second in a country, the final game is truly global.
Just brilliant. Each game gets bigger in scope, with higher stakes, and each builds on the other, delivering a complex, layered narrative where little inconsequential things become vital pieces in the endgame. North’s writing is, as ever, just glorious to experience. She has a style which at times can take a little getting used to, but like all good things, worth the effort. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and the world of the Gameshouse is fascinating and thought-provoking.
The Gameshouse by Claire North is published by Orbit Books. Thanks as ever to Nazia Khatun for the review copy.
Waiting On Wednesday was a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Each Wednesday you highlight a book that you’re really looking forward to. Unfortunately, the original creator is no longer able to host the meme and it has now linked up with Can’t Wait Wednesday over at Wishful Endings.
I’m going to choose Tom Pollock’s Heartstream. Due out in July from Walker Books.
Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.
Huge fan of Tom’s books – his Skyscraper Throne trilogy is just brilliant, and if you’ve not read White Rabbit Red Wolf, then you’re missing out. Go!
Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists. Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.
I must confess that after the first dozen or so pages of Worst Case Scenario I wondered if this was really the book for me. I wasn’t sure if I could cope with Mary’s in-your-face approach to life and work. Borderline alcoholic, menopausal, obsessed with her awful clients, she’s quite the character.
I pressed on and was rewarded with a deliciously dark, delightfully un-PC, often downright hilarious tale of a Glaswegian probation officer’s last days in the job. Mary Shields grew on me with every page, and I found myself watching events unravel with a horrified cover-your-eyes what-will-happen-next sense of anticipation.
She’s just brilliant, flawed and fiercely protective of her own. The scenes with John Paul were particularly poignant and touching (and heartbreakingly funny).
It’s Mary’s job to deal with some of the worst in society, and she’s dealt a rogue’s gallery of offenders, be they paedophiles or murderers, to deal with. They’re uniquely horrible people, making the book hard to read at times, but Fitzgerald’s skill is portraying a grim reality to their situations, with only Mary to look out for them.
Interspersed with excerpts from men’s rights activist Liam Macdowall’s awful book of letters to his dead wife, the story spirals towards a thoroughly unforgettable climax.
Short, sharp and not at all sweet, Worst Case Scenario is a book that’ll live with you for quite some time. Recommended.
Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen for the advance copy of Helen’s book to review.
Every year, on the same night in July, a woman is taken from the streets of London; snatched by a killer who moves through the city like a ghost.
Just stunningly good. A serial killer story with a twist, told from the point of view of Addie, a young girl caught up in a swirl of events. I’ve deliberately cut part of the blurb from Goodreads as I think this is one of those books that you want to go into knowing as little as possible, and find out for yourself what makes Addie’s story so unforgettable.
I polished off The July Girls in a couple of hours. Impossible to put down, with a truly different spin on the psychological crime thriller.
Easily one of my books of the year so far. Seek this one out folks, you will not be disappointed. Hugely recommended.
The July Girls by Phoebe Locke is published by Wildfire in July 2019. You can find Phoebe Locke on twitter @phoebe_locke. Many thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley copy of The July Girls to review.
This month’s First Monday Crime is a little different. Five brilliant authors come along to tell everyone about their books and which one YOU should sneak into your suitcase to take away on holiday!
Yes, it’s First Monday’s Summer Blind Book Date! It’s the last First Monday before their well-deserved summer break, so not to be missed.
When and where? 6:30 pm, 3rd June 2019 College Building, Room A130, City University, London
Earlier this week Emma Welton introduced the panel over at damppebbles.com, and yesterday Victoria Goldman (Off-the-Shelf Books) introduced the first two authors, Steph Broadribb and Elodie Harper, along with the compere Marnie Riches.
Now it’s my turn to present the other three authors. Who will win?
Amer Anwar (@AmerAnwar) is the author of Brothers in Blood, winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award
The dodgy looking geezer in the photo is me. I grew up in West London. After leaving college I had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. I eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. I have an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and am a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. For everything else, I’ve got an alibi. It wasn’t me. I was never there.
Howard Linskey (@HowardLinskey) is the author of The Chosen Ones, the fourth in a series of books set in the north east of England, featuring journalists Tom Carney & Helen Norton with detective Ian Bradshaw, who also appear in ‘The Search’, ‘Behind Dead Eyes’ and ‘No Name Lane‘.
Prior to becoming a full-time author, I led a number of different lives featuring a wide variety of jobs, including barman, journalist, catering manager and marketing manager for a celebrity chef, as well as in a variety of sales and account management roles. I can confirm that writing books definitely beats working for a living.
I’m originally from Ferryhill in County Durham but, like most of the people I grew up with, I left the north east in search of work and never quite made it back. I am now settled in Hertfordshire with my lovely wife Alison and wonderful daughter Erin. I’m still a long-suffering Newcastle United fan and can only assume that Mike Ashley is a punishment inflicted upon us for all of the crimes we committed in our past lives.
Tom Wood (@TheTomWood) is the author of The Final Hour, the seventh of his Victor novels, a “nice chap who kills people for money.”
Tom Wood is a full-time writer born in Burton-on-Trent, and who now lives in London. After a stint as freelance editor and film-maker, his first novel, The Hunter, was an instant bestseller and introduced readers to a genuine antihero, Victor, an assassin with a purely logical view on life and whose morals are deeply questionable. Tom is passionate about physical sport, being both a huge boxing fan and practising Krav Maga, which has seen him sustain a number of injuries. He has not, however, ever killed anyone.
Well, I’m quite sure I couldn’t choose between them! Good luck Marnie…
My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.
My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.
Then the thief came.
There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.
Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?
Well now. This is quite some book. I love a good post-apocalyptic dystopia as much as the next guy. And A Boy and His Dog is a great one.
A hundred years or so ago, babies stopped being born, mostly. Humanity is reduced to a few stragglers scattered around. The world is largely empty. Here we meet Griz, living on a remote Scottish island with his small family and of course, his dogs. It’s the theft of one of these dogs that drives the story, and what we have is a quest through the remnants of a society long gone.
I mean, who wouldn’t go looking for their dog?
The world that Fletcher presents is beautifully broken, empty landscape seen through a fresh pair of eyes from someone unfamiliar with our world. Indeed the story is presented as just that – a story which Griz is telling to an imaginary, imagined friend, but to say more would be to rob you of the joy of finding out.
And it’s this finding out what happens along with Griz that makes this story so special – Griz understands the old world through reading our books, but has many questions along the way. It’s a wonderfully small story, with a wonderfully large scope. Very different from a lot of the other post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read, and one which I highly recommend you check out.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting me on the tour, and to Nazia Khatun from Orbit for the advance review copy.
Today I’m delighted to be joining the blog tour for Jen Williams’ The Poison Song, the conclusion to her Winnowing Flame trilogy. I’m listening to the first book, The Ninth Rain on audiobook at the moment and it’s wonderful. I’ve got book 2, The Bitter Twins lined up (and signed when I met Jen at Edge-Lit last summer).
Today though I’ve got an extract from the start of book 3 for you.
Chapter One Ink. And paper. In this tower built with the silence of women, I have been given back my voice. The room is still a cell, in a way. The walls are still black stone and my window is still barred, but when the door – of old, blackened wood – is closed, I cannot be seen. There is a bed, a place to wash myself, and a small wooden desk, with ink and paper and pen. They will not know what they have given me. Winnowry agents are expected to write reports on their missions, and this is what the desk and its contents are for, but in it I see an extraordinary thing. The curse of the Winnowry is silence and forgetfulness. So many women have entered these black towers, passing out of their lives and out of Sarn, into nothingness. Their lives end here, unremarked, and they are buried deep in the cold sand. Of them and their lives, their stories, nothing is known. I have lived in that, have felt the slow creeping terror that I am forgotten by the world. Have watched women with pasts as colourful and as unique as tapestries turn to slow and silent stone as their humanity was leeched from them. Are you really speaking if no one can hear you? But, ink and paper are now mine. In a small way these women’s stories will be recorded, and I will give them voices – even if they must be secret ones. Extract from the private records of Agent Chenlo
‘Put that flame away! Unless you want to go back to your cell?’ The girl looked up at her, startled, and Agent Chenlo smiled to lessen the harshness of her words. These girls, she reminded herself, were not yet used to the licence they’d been given, limited as it was, and even less used to the idea that a misstep wouldn’t automatically earn them a freezing bath or a beating. The tiny lick of green flame that had been curling in the girl’s palm immediately vanished.
‘Put your gloves back on, Fell-Lisbet, and here, look.’ Agent Chenlo gently turned the girls to look back at the Winnowry. The small jetty they stood on was chilly and damp, and the little boat docked there smelled overpoweringly of shellfish, but the Winnowry remained its black, imposing self, looming over the fell-witches like a threat. You see those windows there, that go all the way up the chirot tower? And those in Mother Cressin’s territory? A sister or a father may look out of those windows at any time, or even the Drowned One herself,’ she ignored the mutter at her use of this forbidden phrase, and they could see us, huddled down here on this grey day. And winnowfire, even the tiniest flicker, will draw their gaze like that.’ She snapped her fingers for emphasis. She did not wear gloves herself today. “It is so bright, it is like a beacon to them. And do you think that if you are caught using your abilities without permission they will allow you to become agents yourselves?’
The girls shuffled and muttered as one, picking at their scarves and casting shy glances at the towers. They liked Agent Chenlo because she gave warnings before punishments, and because she called the winnowfire an ability and not an abomination – at least when she was out of earshot of the other agents.
‘Come on, let’s get those barrels on board, or we’ll be late. Quickly now’
The girls returned to the task at hand. Today was the beginning of their introduction to the business of the Winnowry, the daily and weekly tasks that kept the order going. They would load the barrels of akaris up onto the little boat, and make the quick crossing to Mushenska, where they would be unloaded again. They would then accompany Agent Chenlo to the trading house, where much of the akaris would be sold in bulk to the highest bidders. A unique drug that could only be crafted within the intense heat of winnowfire, akaris gave its user a deep, dreamless sleep – unless it was cut with a variety of stimulants, in which case the effects were rather more lively. Officially, only the Winnowry could supply the drug, and thanks to this little monopoly, they could happily charge through the nose for it. Once the akaris had been changed into useful coin, Agent Chenlo and the novice agents would return across the channel of grey water, and that would be that. Small steps, but important ones: learning how to conduct themselves out in the world, showing that they could be trusted. If any one of the four girls stepped out of line, it would be up to Agent Chenlo to admonish them, which could mean anything from a severe dressing-down to having their life energy removed to the point where they passed out. She was authorised to kill them, if she had to, and she carried the silver-topped cudgel, normally worn by the sisters, at her belt, but Agent Chenlo had never had to use it.
She watched them for a moment, rolling the barrels up the gangplank, observed by the wiry captain and a spotty cabin boy. The barrels were heavy and sometimes the fell-witches found the work too difficult, weakened as they were by years spent in damp cells eating gruel, but this group were making the best of it. Satisfied that they’d be able to manage, Agent Chenlo turned away to look across the sea to Mushenska, and all of the familiar ordinariness of the day was chased away by the sight of an impossible shape in the skies over the city; a nightmare coming into focus. She made an odd noise, somewhere between a yelp and a gasp, and heard the captain shout something. One of the girls let out a little shriek.
A dragon was flying over the sea towards them. It was a magnificent thing, covered in pearly white scales, its wings bristling with white feathers. It wore a harness of brown leather and silver, and there was a young woman sitting on its back, her black hair flapping wildly in the wind and a furious expression on her face. Agent Chenlo turned back and shouted at the girls.
‘Go! Get on the boat now. You,’ she gestured at the captain, ‘get them to the city. Cast off immediately.
The man opened his mouth to argue, and she raised her hands in a clear threat. ‘Do it, captain, or I will sink your miserable boat myself.’
The novice agents were all either staring at the dragon – it was so close now, so close – or staring at her, their eyes wide. Agent Chenlo clapped her hands together once, sharply, and the spell broke. As one, the young women ran up the gangplank, and as they disappeared below decks, she felt a surge of relief. From the towers, bells were ringing as various people sounded the alarm all at once.
Chenlo hesitated on the jetty, uncertain what to do next. Knowledge of a number of recent events jostled for her attention, but one fact was clearer than anything else: as unlikely as it seemed, the dragon had to be a legendary war-beast from distant Ebora, and the young woman riding on its back had every reason to be furious with the Winnowry.
The Poison Song by Jen Williams is published by Headline and is out on 16th May 2019. You can find Jen on Twitter @sennydreadful. Many thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour.
Ebora was once a glorious city, defended by legendary warriors and celebrated in song. Now refugees from every corner of Sarn seek shelter within its crumbling walls and the enemy that has poisoned their land won’t lie dormant for long.
The deep-rooted connection that Tormalin, Noon and the scholar Vintage share with their Eboran war-beasts has kept them alive so far. But with Tor distracted, and his sister Hestillion hell-bent on bringing ruthless order to the next Jure’lia attack, the people of Sarn need all the help they can get.
Noon is no stranger to playing with fire and knows just where to recruit a new – and powerful – army. But even she understimates the epic quest that is to come. It is a journey wrought with pain and sacrifice – a reckoning that will change the face of Sarn forever.