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.
6:30 pm, 7th May 2019
College Building, Room A130
City University, London
Mark Billingham – Their Little Secret
She says she’s an ordinary mother. He knows a liar when he sees one. Sarah thinks of herself as a normal single mum. It’s what she wants others to think of her. But the truth is, she needs something new, something thrilling. Meanwhile, DI Tom Thorne is investigating a woman’s suicide, convinced she was driven to do it by a man who preys on vulnerable women. A man who is about to change Sarah’s life.
Chris Carter – Hunting Evil
As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia.
Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered. Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free. And he’s angry.
Deborah O’Connor – The Dangerous Kind
We all know them. Those who exist just on the fringes of society. Who send prickles up the back of our neck. The charmers. The liars. The manipulators. Those who have the potential to go that one step too far. And then take another step. Jessamine Gooch makes a living from these people. Each week she broadcasts a radio show looking into the past lives of convicted killers; asking if there was more that could have been done to prevent their terrible crimes. Then one day she is approached by a woman desperate to find her missing friend, Cassie, fearing her abusive husband may have taken that final deadly step. But as Jessamine delves into the months prior to Cassie’s disappearance she fails to realise there is a dark figure closer to home, one that threatens the safety of her own family . . .
Vanda Symon – The Ringmaster
Death is stalking the southern South Island of New Zealand…Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…
Having recently done an A-Z of me which seemed to go quite well, I thought I’d turn my attention to bookblogging, and pull off the same trick twice (well, three times as the A-Z came in two bits…)
Are you sitting comfortably? Got a nice cup of tea/coffee/beverage of your choice? Here we go!
A is for ARCs
ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy, and is the holy grail of #bookblogging. If you’re new to the book blogging community you may feel a twinge of jealousy at photos of all the lovely ARCs that lucky bloggers show off. That feeling never goes away – I’m incredibly lucky to get fairly regular #bookpost from lovely publishers, but still get all green-eyed when a fellow blogger tweets about a book from a favourite author.
How do you get hold of an ARC? Luckily ace bookblogger Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek has a handy guide.
Oh, and selling ARCs is very naughty. VERY. I’ve got a SUPER rare ‘two birds’ copy of Jay Kristoff’s awesome Nevernight, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. ANYTHING. Not even more books.
B is for books
Need I say more? A bookblogger without a book is just a blogger. Go buy a book, quick!
B is also for buying books. It’s not all about the freebies. Every bookblogger worth their salt will have a pile of bought books that are jostling for space on the TBR pile.
And B is for blog tours. A blog tour is where a publisher or publicist organises a group of bloggers to post about a book around the same time. Some blog tours last a week, with one blog for each day, but the bigger tours can last a month, with several bloggers posting each day. They can be a mix of reviews, extracts, giveaways and other content, all with the aim of creating a buzz around the launch of a book.
C is for conventions
I’ve been to a few fabulous bookish events, and they’re a brilliant place to go listen to authors talk about books, talk to other people about books, talk to authors about their books, and maybe even get your lovely books signed. And maybe buy a book or three just in case you ever run out of books. IT COULD HAPPEN.
Anyway, don’t be shy, go and introduce yourself to your favourite author, tell them how much you love their books.
D is for diversity in fiction
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I realised that I spent a lot of time reading books by old white guys and was really missing out. I’ve been making more of a conscious effort to read more books by women, by people of colour, by people who don’t fit into my default. And my reading is so much the better for it. By reading and shouting about more diverse books, publishers will see the demand for more diverse books and we’ll get more diverse books. Which can only be a good thing.
E is for extracts
Sometimes on a blog tour you might not have time to read and review a book before it’s published, so you often see bloggers posting an extract from a book. Often just a short snippet from near the start of the book to give readers a flavour for what the book is about.
F is for fantasy and science fiction
Two of my very favourite genres. Though I’m also partial to a spot of crime fiction, and especially some Nordic Noir.
The book blogging community is enormously helpful – we’ll shout about new books that we love, but we’ll also shout about other bloggers reviewing books, new authors that we’ve found and any other bookish things. Take that post from Liz – being helpful setting up a blog week for John Connolly to help promote his new book. We’re a helpful bunch. Just feed us books.
I is for immersing yourself in a story
Nothing better than losing yourself in a good book. Apart from maybe losing yourself in a good book with a large cup of tea. And maybe a biscuit. Or a slice of cake.
J is for jealousy
Another blogger gets a book that you *really* want to read. A super advance copy of your favourite author’s new book. One can’t help but be a tiny bit jealous as you wander off to your local bookshop to put in a pre-order.
K is for kindle
I love my kindle. I can carry a ton of books around and have a huge virtual TBR pile on there. There’s an age-old debate about which is better – ebook or hard copy. I love both – there’s nothing quite like the feel of a dead tree book, but the sheer convenience of kindle is hard to beat.
L is for love of books
Need I say more? Bookbloggers love books, we love talking about books, we love recommending books. Just don’t ask us what our favourite book is, unless you’ve got plenty of spare time, a notebook and pen, and a large cup of tea.
M is for meeting authors
I’ve met a few, and taken a few selfies. Felt slightly awkward at the time, but they were all good sports!
N is for non-fiction
It’s not all fiction round here you know. I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction, but there’s the occasional one which sneaks in. Currently reading Matt Gaw’s The Pull of the River, which is wonderful and has made me investigate getting a canoe.
I am not getting a canoe.
O is for Orenda and Orbit
Two of my favourite publishers. Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books is a veritable force of nature when it comes to promoting brilliant books, and has assembled a phenomenal team of authors, but also a huge team of bloggers. Proud to be part of #TeamOrenda.
And Orbit Books keep me well-stocked in awesome fantasy and science fiction. Good job they’re two of my favourite genres, eh?
P is for publishers and publicists
Where would we be without all the brilliant publishers and awesome publicists who shout about their brilliant books? Looking at empty shelves, sobbing quietly.
Q is for Q&As
So, a book blog could feature an extract or a guest post, but I do like a good Q&A, such as this one with Leeds author RJ Tomlin.
R is for reviews
Extracts, features, guest posts. They’re all well and good, but the humble review is the core of a good book blog. I’ve written a fair few (obviously), sometimes they just seem to write themselves, and other times you find yourself hunched over the keyboard trying to put into words just how much you loved a book.
There’s a regular debate in the bookblogging community over negative reviews – some bloggers will review every book that comes in, good or bad, and others will only shout about the books they love. Each point of view is absolutely fine – I tend to mostly post positive reviews because I like talking about great books. If I’ve not enjoyed it, I’ll probably not have finished the book anyway. That said, I *have* written a couple of negative reviews. It’s up to you if you want to go looking…
S is for shocking twists you didn’t see coming
Can we just stop with this? At least stop plastering it all over the cover. I read a lot of books, and 90% of the time I *will* see it coming.
That said, I read one book where I spotted the twist by about page 20, but enjoyed the book enormously (The Fourth Monkey, by J.D. Barker – hugely entertaining). But all too often you get to the end and go, yeah, I spotted that.
T is for Twitter, TBR and Tsundoku
Twitter is where the #bookbloggers live, where we moan about the size of our TBR piles (TBR: To Be Read). A TBR can also be known as a Tsundoku.
U is for updating the blog
How often should you update your #bookblog? Some bloggers post daily, or multiple times a day. Some weekly, some less often. I tend to go through flurries of posts where I get in the zone and knock out a few reviews at once, or get a bunch of blog tours which all land at the same time. Update as often as you feel comfortable with. There are no rules.
V is for views
Blogging is all about the views – how many views did my latest post get? What’s my most popular post? What time should I schedule a post to get the most views? How often should I update twitter to make sure I get more views? Should I cross-post to Facebook groups?
Stop chasing the views. Blog because you want to talk about the books. I see bloggers who get a ton of retweets and likes, and I’m sure they must get a LOAD of views. But views are just the tip of the iceberg – there’s a lot more to it than that. The conversations that go on about the posts on twitter are often more valuable than the views.
W is for waitingfor new book coming out
Especially when you’ve seen the buzz around the book on Twitter, waiting for the book to actually appear in the bookshop can be torture. Luckily I’ve got a bit of a backlog to keep me going until the new book arrives. Though sometimes you get the lovely new book but it ends up on the shelf while other books take precedence for blog tours. Hey, we’ll read them all eventually, right?
X is for x-factor
No, not the TV series. Who has time to watch telly when you’ve got so many lovely books to read? We’re looking for the book that makes you go whoa. The one with that elusive x-factor, the one which you finish and just know that you’ll pester EVERYONE that you know to read. Books like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle or The Fifth Season. Books that have that certain… something that makes it jump out at you.
Y is for you, this is why we wrote the reviews
Without you, dear reader, we’re just shouting into the void. Admittedly, some days it feels like that’s exactly what we’re doing when a post goes live and there’s little reaction, but we do it anyway. We’re #bookbloggers, and proud.
Z is for sleep
Pfft. Sleep is for wimps. We’ve got books to read, books that demand to be read, books that insist you read one more chapter. Books like Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker, which saw me turn the final page at twenty to three in the morning. Books which you just cannot put down.
Has a book ever kept you awake? I’d love to hear about it.
Phew! Well done for making it this far. That’s my A-Z of #bookblogging. Love to know what you think!
Adam Brandt is a forensic psychologist, well used to dealing with the most damaged members of society. But he’s never met anyone like Kassie. The teenager claims to have a terrible gift – with one look into your eyes, she can see when and how you will die. Obviously, Adam knows Kassie must be insane. But then a serial killer hits the city. And only Kassie seems to know where he’ll strike next. Against all his intuition, Adam starts to believe her. He just doesn’t realise how deadly his faith might prove…
A Gift for Dying is the first book by M.J. Arlidge that I’ve read, and it definitely won’t be the last. Intriguing premise, great characters and snappy pacing make for a great read.
Teenager Kassandra Wojcek has a gift (if you can call it that) – she can see how and when a person will die, just by looking in their eyes. And some of those people will be meeting a very sticky end. A serial killer is on the loose, and she is the key to stopping him. She’s a wonderful character, troubled and alone, but with a deeper, hidden strength that she eventually comes to realise she has.
Forensic psychologist Adam Brandt is faced with a tricky dilemma – Kassie can’t be telling the truth. Or can she? She knows too much about what’s been going on. Is she somehow involved in the murders? Or can she actually do what she claims to be able to?
Arlidge’s writing style tends towards the short and snappy, with chapters coming thick and fast, giving you the excuse to just read one (or ten) more. A Gift For Dying was very hard to put down, and races towards the ending at breakneck pace.
Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
A Gift For Dying by M.J. Arlidge is published by Penguin and is out now. You can find M.J. Arlidge on twitter at @mjarlidge
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.
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.
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…
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.