The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

Well now. At face value The Raven Tower checks all the regular classic fantasy boxes. A son returns home from afar to take up his father’s post as ruler, only to find that his position has already been filled by his scheming uncle. A kingdom under threat. Mysterious machinations at court. Gods making alliances with mortals.

You know, standard fantasy stuff.

But Ann Leckie takes those standards and twists and pulls them into something new, something different, something quite unique.

It took me a little while to settle into the style of The Raven Tower, as large parts of it are told by a mysterious other, who appears to be talking to Eolo, warrior aide to the true heir to the Raven’s Lease, Mawat. You are doing this, it says. You are thinking that. You go here and see things.

It takes a little getting used to. For this mysterious narrator (don’t worry, all does become clear but you know, spoilers) knows an awful lot about a lot of things, and appears to be almost relating the tale to Eolo from after the fact, pausing only to drift off into stories of what once was, setting the scene for present day tensions against the tapestry of long ago.

And there is a lot of this tapestry of history to read, making the scope of The Raven Tower utterly vast, from the dawn of this land up to present, all told through the eyes of this almost omniscient narrator. The characters are fascinating and well written – I was particularly interested in the power structures in play here, from the enigmatic Raven god, to its Lease and the assembled that made up the court.

So yes, it’s a story of gods and power and what people will do to gain the latter and the price they’re willing to pay to do so. But Ann Leckie does this with such a deft hand that you’re left marvelling at how it’s all constructed. The way she plays with character and language and structure reminded me not a little of the skillful hand of Claire North, and whilst they tell very different stories, they both show a similar joy at playing with expectations.

It’s really hard to say more without spoiling the experience, and I can only urge you to discover the secrets of The Raven Tower for yourself.

Highly recommended.

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie is published by Orbit Books and is out now in hardback and ebook.

Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the review copy.

Tangle’s Game cover launch

Delighted to be taking part in the cover launch for Stewart Hotston’s new book, Tangle’s Game.

Nowhere to run.

Nowhere to hide.

Yesterday, Amanda Back’s life was flawless: the perfect social credit score, the perfect job, the perfect home. Today, Amanda is a target, an enemy of the system holding information dangerous enough to disrupt the world’s all-consuming tech – a fugitive on the run. But in a world where an un-hackable blockchain links everyone and everything, there is nowhere to run…

Sounds good, eh?

Tangle’s Game is published by Rebellion Publishing (@rebellionpub) in May 2019.

Stewart Hotston lives in Reading, UK. He loves pretty much all fiction. Stewart spends his days working in high finance and, in a completely unrelated subject, he read for a PhD in Theoretical Physics, taking great interest in philosophy, theology and economics (some of those even involving additional academic qualifications). He has previously been published across more than a dozen different publishers of short stories and his first two novels were published by Alternative Realities. When Stewart is not writing or working he’s also a world ranked swordsman in both Rapier and Sidesword – for his troubles, he’s a senior instructor at The School of the Sword.

The Outcast Hours

We live our lives in the daylight. Our stories take place under the sun: bright, clear, unafraid.
This is not a book of those stories.
These are the stories of people who live at night; under neon and starlight, and never the light of day.
These are the stories of poets and police; writers and waiters; gamers and goddesses; tourists and traders; the hidden and the forbidden; the lonely and the lovers.
These are their lives. These are their stories. And this is their time:
The Outcast Hours.

Ah, welcome traveller. You’ve come a long way and the night is drawing in. Can I offer you a little something to ease you through the night? For these are the Outcast Hours, filled with stories from the darkness.

We have a veritable smörgåsbord on offer for you. Perhaps we can tempt you with the tale of a book that will come when you need it, but be verycareful what you wish for.

Or a babysitter with a certain unique set of skills. A secret show that you’ll never find on your own, but if you buy the right girl a coffee and a slice of pie, maybe she’ll take you there. A man delivering a case containing something, and heaven help you if you try to get in his way.

Or there’s Berezov the chemist, and what happens when a rival comes to set up in the same town. A ghost story about wallpaper. A collector of toys. A dog sitter with her puppers on the night shift. A rogue tooth fairy. A hike through the mountains at night. Just whatever you do, don’t look back.

All interspersed with microfiction from China Miéville, king of the new weird.

The Outcast Hours reminded me of just how good a short story can be, how it can get under your skin and leave you thinking about it days later. How, with an almost effortless turn of phrase, perceptions are given a nudge, revealing a new viewpoint on what you’ve just read.

The Outcast Hours is a fantastic, diverse collection of fantastically diverse short fiction. There are some authors I recognise and love – the fabulous Lauren Beukes and China Miéville are two writers whose books I adore. But there’s a huge host of other talent on display here which stands shoulder to shoulder with them, and which I’ll be keeping a very close eye on in future.

The Outcast Hours, edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin is published by Solaris. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and to Remy Njambi from Rebellion Publishing for the review copy of the book.

The Outcast Hours features stories by Marina Warner, China Miéville, Frances Hardinge, Will Hill, Sally Partridge, Jesse Bullington, Jeffrey Alan Love, Kuzhali Manickavel, Amira Salah-Ahmed, Cecilia Ekbäck, Celeste Baker, Karen Onojaife, Daniel Polansky, Genevieve Valentine, Indrapramit Das, Leah Moore, Sam Beckbessinger, Sami Shah, Lauren Beukes, Dale Halvorsen, Yukimi Ogawa, Lavie Tidhar, Silvia Moreno Garcia, Genevieve Valentine, Maha Khan Phillips, William Boyle, S.L. Grey, M. Suddain, and Omar Robert Hamilton.

Blood Orange – Harriet Tyce

Blood Orange, by Harriet Tyce
Published by Wildfire, February 2019
Source: review copy

Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems . . .
Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.
I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.
But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything . . .

Blood Orange is one of those books which, if your social media is anything like mine, has been EVERYWHERE for what seems like months. On the face of it we’ve got a psychological thriller – a woman is found by the body of her dead husband, covered in his blood and refusing to deny that she’s guilty.

But dig a little deeper and you’ve got so much more. Something is amiss, and it’s up to Alison to get to the bottom of it. Except Alison has her own problems. She drinks too much and is having an affair with a colleague, leaving her family to fend for themselves.

There are a lot of unpleasant characters in Blood Orange, and at times it’s hard to feel sympathy for anyone other than Alison’s daughter. Her husband and her lover both run to extremes of hot and cold, at one moment ignoring her and the next playing the lovey-dovey partner that she so desperately craves.

Given the cast of unlikeables, Harriet Tyce pulls off a neat trick of making you care about these people, leaving you wanting to know more about their story and the why and why not of the goings-on. If anything, the murder almost takes second stage to the complex relationship dynamics at play, and the case forms more of a textured background to the love triangle. There are, as you might expect, a number of twists along the way and whilst I guessed at one of the main ones fairly early on, I was hooked until the very end.

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce is published by Wildfire on 21st February 2019. Many thanks to Wildfire and Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance copy of the book for review.

You can find Harriet Tyce on Twitter @harriet_tyce

Harriet Tyce grew up in Edinburgh and studied English at Oxford University before doing a law conversion course at City University. She practised as a criminal barrister in London for nearly a decade. She is currently doing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.

She lives in north London. Blood Orange is her debut novel.

The A-Z of me: part 2

Inspired by Splodz and The Urban Wanderer, I thought I’d put together a little A-Z of me. Part 1 covered A-M, so let’s crack on with N-Z!

Firstly though, I don’t think I introduced myself properly in part 1. Hi. This is me. I’m not as black and white in real life, and honestly, I’m more cheerful than I look. 🙂

N is for noodles and notebooks

love noodles. The best place for noodles in Leeds is probably Fuji Hiro, a lovely little Japanese place tucked away at the side of the Merrion Centre which has been there for twenty years and serves fabulous noodles. And dumplings. Mmm, dumplings.

I also love notebooks, and have entirely too many. Half-filled with scribbles of ideas for blog posts and stories, or just plain lists. I do love a good list. My latest notebook is a Midori Traveler’s Notebook which is ace. And I had a go at making some notebooks – great fun!

My latest notebook, a Midori Traveler’s Notebook in Olive. It’s very lovely
Yes, I made these. Might make some more inserts for the Traveler’s Notebook at some point…

O is for outdoors

Love the great outdoors. I help run a local Scout troop and we’ve had some great adventures over the years camping. Nothing better than to get the kettle on, campfire lit and a nice cup of tea going.

Challenge 17 camp at Bramham Park last year. Hundreds of Scouts, Cubs and Beavers having a great time whilst the leaders drank vast quantities of tea.

P is for photography

My twitter bio reads “Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.”

I like taking photos, of all sorts of things. The little things that people might miss, the big landscapes (more outdoorsy things). You can find some of my photos over on Flickr or Instagram. Come along and say hi.

One of my favourite quotes on photography is this:

Three step guide to photography: 01: be interesting. 02: find interesting people. 03: find interesting places. Nothing about cameras.

Clayton Cubitt

It’s really not about the camera. It’s about the person behind the lens (or, increasingly, the smartphone). You can give someone a £5,000 camera and they can take terrible photos. Or you can take something like this with a £40 point and shoot (and be in the right place at the right time)

Sunset over Leeds Town Hall, February 2013

I’ve also written more than a couple of blog posts about photography.

Q is for quiet

Ah, peace and quiet. An essential part of the day, and I get grouchy if I don’t get at least some time by myself during the day to recharge. And sometimes you get out in the woods on the bike and there’s no-one there but you, the trees and the wildlife and a nice flask of coffee. Bliss.

R is for running

I’ve recently taken up running again after a dozen years off. Inspired by friends who were doing Parkrun, I went along to the local one at Nostell Priory with my sister-in-law in August and ran/walked my way around the 5km course. Apparently this ‘couch to 5k’ programme isn’t ‘get off the couch and run 5k’. Note to self: do more research.

Finding a friend to run with has been a massive boost. My running buddy is also our former Scout Leader and we’ve known each other since the kids were tiny. We’re about the same age and run at roughly the same pace, and our midweek runs turn into a bit of a therapy session where we put the world to rights.

We’ve just entered a half marathon in April. Gulp. I’ve done some half marathons before, but I was considerably younger (and lighter!) Wish us luck…

S is for spoons

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed the ‘spoon carver’ bit in my twitter bio which I mentioned in P, above.  A couple of years ago I spent a lovely day in the company of Dan, who taught me how to carve spoons.

Mmm, facets

T is for tea

Whilst I do love coffee, I probably drink at least twice as much tea. First rule of Scout Camp: if you see a leader without a cup of tea in their hand, they are clearly in need of tea.

Tea is brilliant.  But a nice hot mug of tea in the great outdoors which, and this is the important bit, someone else has made for you, is at least 25% more brilliant. True fact.

U is for UX

After many years and many careers, I’m currently employed as a UX Designer. What’s UX, I hear you cry? It stands for User Experience, and it’s our job to make sure that the things we make work well and meet the needs of the user.

One should be careful not to mix it up with UI (user interface). Whilst the UI is important, it is not the same as UX. We get quite cross about that.

V is for volunteering

Kind of covered under O for Outdoors, I volunteer with a local Scout troop. I started about 7 years ago as an adult helper, but eventually ended up with a uniform as assistant section leader and then ran the troop for a term or two. Back to being assistant, which suits me just fine!

W is for wild swimming

A fairly recent thing, but there’s nothing quite like finding a nice spot for a swim, be it in the sea at Whitley Bay (about 10 degrees, brrr) or in Llyn Padarn near Llanberis where the water was just *so* warm over the summer, or in a pool by a waterfall halfway up Snowdon.

Yes, I was in there. The water was beautifully clear and well worth the hike up the mountain!

X is for x-ray

Never had one. Never broken anything that I’m aware of!

Y is for YouTube

I love YouTube and spend entirely too long watching it. I love that you can learn how to do pretty much anything on there. Latest favourite is Brandon Farris.

Z is for Zardoz

From the very first moment I decided to do an A-Z of movies, I knew what my Z film would be.

Z is for Zardoz. 1974, and a mere 5.8 stars on IMDb.  John Boorman’s next movie from the utterly brilliant Deliverance.

I had no intention of reviewing this film. None whatsoever. Instead, I shall present you with a photo.

One which, once seen, cannot be unseen.

You have been warned.

Still reading?

I present Sean Connery as Zed. Burt Reynolds was first in line for the role, but he was ill. Apparently. Either that, or he didn’t fancy the nappy and the ponytail…

Any day in which you can show *that* photo to someone who hasn’t seen it is a good day in my book. 🙂

So that’s part 2 of the A-Z of me. Don’t forget to check out part 1!

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him…. 

The Silent Patient starts with the shocking murder of Gabriel Berenson, tied to a chair and shot in the face five times by his wife, Alicia. The police find her covered in blood, having tried to cut her own wrists. A clear-cut case, it seems. Alicia is taken into custody and ends up in a secure psychiatric unit where she doesn’t speak a single word for the next six years.

Enter Theo Faber, a psychotherapist who has worked hard to get the chance to work with Alicia. He’s convinced that he can make her talk and uncover the truth of what happened on that hot summer night, six years ago.

The Silent Patient is a splendid psychological thriller with some fantastically complex characters and a neat ability to make you think ‘aha! got it!’, only for you to realise a dozen pages later that no, you haven’t. I thought I had it figured out a few times and got kind of close, ish. But the ending is one of those neatly satisfying ones which make you want to flick back and see exactly how it was done.

I really liked the structure of the book too, jumping from Alicia’s diaries to Theo’s perspective, each throwing new light on the events of that fateful night. It was one of those books which you find yourself having to read in one go. Make sure you’ve got plenty of biscuits and a really big mug of tea!

Huge thanks to Poppy Stimpson and Orion for the advance copy of The Silent Patient to review.

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

Published by Little, Brown, February 2019
Source: NetGalley review copy

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

I was (and still am) a huge fan of Jane Harper’s first book, The Dry, one of my books of the year when it was published back in 2017. Her follow-up was Force of Nature, in which we moved from the drought-ravaged tight-knit farming community of Kiewarra to an outward bounds retreat in the rain-drenched forests of the Giralang Range.

The Lost Man is a lovely slow burn of a mystery, leaving you with the dust of the Outback under your nails. Jane Harper has a wonderful ability to evoke the essence of a place and here she really shows off that skill to magnificent effect. You really feel the atmosphere here, the dust-soaked landscape, the incessant sun, the constant knife-edge balance between life and death.

And the death here is one of those properly splendid whodunnits. A man is found next to a remote grave, a circle etched into the sand as he’s struggled to follow the meagre shade whilst slowly dying of exposure and thirst.

Why is he here? Why is a seasoned, experienced farmer, who knows the Outback like the back of his hand, miles from the safety of his car? What has brought him to this place with none of the essential survival equipment that everyone carries by default in this unforgiving environment?

The writing here is wonderfully atmospheric and the characters are beautifully realised and nuanced. The Lost Man of the title initially suggests the dead brother Cameron, lost in the wilderness, but as the story progresses you realise that it applies equally well, if not moreso to the other brothers, Nathan in particular. He’s the point around which the story circles, with flashbacks to earlier times giving glimpses into what drove him to his current lonely existence.

It’s a real character piece which doesn’t feel the need to rush and is all the better for it. The pace does pick up in the second half of the book, and I found myself engrossed, wanting to read just one more chapter as the layers fall away to reveal one of the most satisfying endings to a book that I’ve read for a long time.

The Lost Man is a standalone book which hints at links to the first two Aaron Falk stories, but is an entirely different beast and cements Jane Harper’s place on my list of authors whose books I’ll look forward to, and who I’ll nag you about reading. You have been warned.

Highly recommended. Just don’t forget to pack plenty of water. It’s hot out there.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is published by Little, Brown and is out now. Many thanks to Caolinn Douglas(@caolinndouglas), Grace Vincent (@GraceEVincent), and Little Brown (@LittleBrownUK) for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance copy of the book.

You can find Jane Harper on twitter @JaneHarperAutho or at her website