Delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Alison Baillie’s A Fractured Winter, freshly published by Bloodhound Books. More about the book later! I’ve got a guest post for you first:
The lure of the sea
I love the sea – it is in my blood. My father was from
Aberdeen, from an old fishing family, and my mother was from Portobello, the
seaside suburb of Edinburgh, and grew up in a house a few yards from the beach.
I live in Switzerland, and could hardly be further from the sea, and perhaps
because of this, seaside places always feature in my books.
Part of A Fractured Winter is set in Scarborough, a seaside
town in Yorkshire, and features Marie, a lonely, bookish eight-year-old girl, with
an over-protective mother and a cruel, mentally-abusive father. Her parents are
Scottish, but she has never been to Scotland or seen any of her relatives, and
can only escape from the cold atmosphere at home and the bullying at school by
reading books from the library.
My life is very different from Marie’s, but I used some of
my childhood memories when I was writing her story. Like her, I was born in
Scarborough of Scottish parents. We moved away when I was only three years old but
we often went back to visit and through stories and photos I feel as if I can
remember that time.
When I was researching A Fractured Winter, I went back to Scarborough and photographed some of the scenes I’ve used in the book. I visited the beautiful North Bay, a long beach divided from the more commercial South Bay by the castle. Not far from the sea is the flat where we lived, above the chemist’s shop where my father worked, in a row of shops opposite Peasholm Park. It is now a bookie’s, and Marie lives in this flat.
Another character in A Fractured Winter, Lucy, goes to
university in St Andrews, to study German. I also went to university there,
although I studied English, but like Lucy I chose it solely from pictures,
because of the sea and the historic buildings. I’ve used some of my memories for the
description of Lucy’s experiences, although once again my story is, fortunately
very different from hers.
Like me, Lucy then goes to Edinburgh for her teacher
training. She then, gets a job in Portobello, as I did, although she is
different from me in that she teaches German and has a young son (and our
experiences in the school are very different!) But we both love the beautiful
Portobello Beach. This beach played a large role in my first book, Sewing the
Shadows Together, and also features in my third book which I am working on at
the moment. It is one of my favourite places in the world, and whenever I go back
to Scotland, as I do frequently, I always walk along the wonderful promenade,
smelling the salt air and watching the colours change on the waves.
My books are fiction, but I always base them in places I know, and love to walk the streets, and beaches, with my characters, reliving memories.
When someone is out to get you, is there anywhere you can hide From the outside, Olivia seems to lead an idyllic existence with her husband and children. But when she starts receiving notes, she knows her perfect life is under threat. She thought she’d managed to put the past behind her, but someone seems determined to reveal her secret. Meanwhile girls are vanishing in the area and Olivia fears for her family’s safety. Has someone discovered the real reason she left Scotland all those years ago? And does her secret have links to the recent disappearances? When someone is out to get you, is there anywhere you can hide?
Alison Baillie was born in Scarborough of Scottish parents and lived in County Durham, Somerset and the Yorkshire Dales before going to university in Scotland. She then taught English in several Edinburgh secondary schools before moving to Switzerland where she still lives now. She’s taught English as a Foreign Language in Finland and Switzerland.
When she stopped teaching full-time, she fulfilled a life-time ambition and wrote Sewing the Shadows Together, a psychological suspense novel inspired in part by events when she was teaching in Scotland. She is fascinated by the way we are influenced by the events of our past and has now written a second novel, A Fractured Winter, set in Switzerland, Scotland and Yorkshire.
She has two sons and three grandchildren and is proud of their international roots, having a mixture of Scottish, Swiss, Polish and Finnish heritage. As well as spending time with them, she loves travelling, walking in the mountains and by the sea, reading and writing.
TWO BODIES One suicide. One cold-blooded murder. Are they connected? And who’s really pulling the strings in the small Swedish town of Gavrik? TWO COINS Black Grimberg liquorice coins cover the murdered man’s eyes. The hashtag #Ferryman starts to trend as local people stock up on ammunition. TWO WEEKS Tuva Moodyson, deaf reporter at the local paper, has a fortnight to investigate the deaths before she starts her new job in the south. A blizzard moves in. Residents, already terrified, feel increasingly cut-off. Tuva must go deep inside the Grimberg factory to stop the killer before she leaves town for good. But who’s to say the Ferryman will let her go?
Regular readers might recall that I loved Will Dean’s first book, Dark Pines, the first book I read in 2018. I said at the time that it was splendid Noir, beautifully written and unsettling. Will Dean had come up with a brilliant character in Tuva Moodyson, and I said that I’d love to see her again.
So here we are in 2019, and Red Snow was one of the first books I read this year. Welcome back Tuva Moodyson. It’s great to see you again.
Tuva is coming to the end of her time in the little town of Gavrik when she witnesses the suicide of one of the Grimberg family, owners of the liquorice factory which provides employment for most of the town. Except not everything is quite as it seems. Another body turns up in fairly short order, could it be the work of the mysterious Ferryman?
Dark Pines was firmly rooted in the creepy Utgard forest, with its host of slightly odd inhabitants. Red Snow takes place in and around the equally odd Grimberg Liquorice factory, which looms over the town and is as much a character in this tale as any of the human residents of Gavrik. The residents of the forest community might not like outsiders, but that’s nothing compared to the reclusive, highly superstitious Grimbergs.
Will Dean proved that he has a real knack for character in the first book, and he’s on fine form here. It’s great to see Tuva back again, torn between her move down south to (slightly) warmer climes and her investigations in the Ferryman murders. It feels bittersweet in a way – she’s looking forward to getting out the small town, but having to say goodbye to friends plays heavily on her and the pressures of that coupled with creeping sense of dread from the murders mean that the cracks start to show.
I loved this book. Tuva is a wonderfully complex, interesting and flawed young woman dealing with an awful lot of things in this book. I’m hoping that her move south will give her at least a little rest, but I’m sure Will has some devious plans for her in book 3, which can’t come soon enough.
Red Snow by Will Dean is published by Point Blank in January 2019. You can find Will on twitter @willrdean. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Point Blank for inviting me onto the blog tour.
WILL DEAN grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying at the LSE and working in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing at the centre of a vast elk forest, and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.
Let the dead stay dead. Clara Marsh is an undertaker. She spends her solitary life among the dead and bids them farewell with a bouquet from her own garden. But Clara’s carefully structured life shifts when she discovers a neglected little girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral parlour, desperate for a friend. It changes even more when Detective Mike Sullivan starts questioning her again about a body she prepared three years ago, an unidentified girl found murdered in a nearby strip of woods. Unclaimed by family, the community christened her Precious Doe. When Clara and Mike learn that Trecie may be involved with the same people who killed Precious Doe, Clara must choose between her solitary but steadfast existence and the perils of binding one’s life to another. Clara’s search for the girl pulls her into a spiralling series of events that threaten to endanger the few people Clara has grown to love – and finally brings her own tragic and long-buried past to the surface.
Delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Amy MacKinnon’s superb The Unforgotten.
It’s a slow burn, this story, with some wonderfully realised characters and an intriguing, if dark plot. Undertaker Clara looks after the dead, preparing them for their burials at the funeral parlour. She’s an interesting character is our Clara, a loner who spends most of her time with her work or her flower garden. She leads us through the story with the same care and precision that she attends to her work. We also meet Trecie, a young girl who plays in the funeral home, but who may be linked to the death of another girl, named Precious Doe, three years earlier.
It’s not an easy read in places, and deals with some very dark themes as the book progresses. But Clara is there to guide us through, taking our hand to lead the way, as she does with her charges in the mortuary under the funeral home.
The storytelling is lush with atmosphere, and I really warmed to Clara after a somewhat chilly start. It’s a book to savour, though I got through it in the course of a day, absorbed in the story.
The Unforgotten by Amy MacKinnon is published by Trapeze and is out now. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for organising the blog tour and inviting me to take part. The tour continues tomorrow with Liz from Liz Loves Books
Right. We’ve seen the sci-fi books of the year, and the fantasy books. Now it’s time for the gritty crime and thrillers!
Again, in no particular order, can I respectfully present my favourite 13 crime/thriller books.
Attend – West Camel (Orenda Books, November 2018)
Ok, so Attend isn’t really a crime book, though it does feature a criminal and doesn’t really fit into either of the other two lists and it HAD to go somewhere, so it’s going here.
Look, it’s my blog, I’ll put it where I want, ok?
Attend is a book which doesn’t quite fit, yet fits perfectly.
It’s a wonderfully weird web of stories, deftly interwoven across time. It’s the story of Sam, a young gay man in Deptford. It’s the story of Derek, small-town gangster (see, I told you it fit in the crime section!). It’s the story of Anne, middle-aged ex-junkie. Each thread of the story is held by the enigmatic, mysterious Deborah, always present, always overlooked.
The characters are all fascinating in their own way, but it’s Deborah who demands the most attention, despite all but disappearing in the real world. It feels that she’s embedded into the very fabric of Deptford, in a house that’s almost as invisible as she is.
West Camel has given us a gorgeous, multi-faceted novel, a book to curl up with and lose yourself in. One of those where you don’t know what to expect, but know that you don’t want to end.
Hunted – G.X. Todd (Headline, May 2018)
Sequel to the utterly brilliant Defender (one of my books of the year for 2017) , we have Hunted.
And boy, what a hunt it is. It’s going to be hard to talk about this book without spoiling anything, but trust me on this. If you read and loved Defender, you *need* to read this. Pick up a copy, set aside a day, stockpile the biscuits, take the phone off the hook and strap yourself in for the chase.
Hunted takes the beautifully realised world of Defender, with it’s panoply of fantastic (albeit unpleasant in some cases) characters and expands the mythos. Those voices grow louder, the dystopia grows even more widescreen cinematic in scope, and the ending? Holy moly.
You are not ready for that ending. It’s a proper Empire Strikes Back kind of moment. Bereft, yet with a glimmer of hope that some things might just come right in the end.
The tension ratchets throughout the book, but it’s a slow burn, taking its time to catch light, but when the fire starts to burn, you need to stand back. The plotting is intricately woven through multiple viewpoints, multiple strands and the characters, oh the characters we meet. They’re complex, layered, always fascinating, often frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, but so utterly believable, facing down challenge after challenge, and when you think they can’t possibly take any more…
The Anomaly – Michael Rutger (Bonnier Zaffre, June 2018)
The Anomaly is a huge amount of fun. A film crew head off to the Grand Canyon to investigate a mysterious cavern found (and lost) decades earlier, reportedly filled with treasures galore.
Look, this was never going to end well, was it? A bunch of amateur explorers wandering around ancient dark caves? What could *possibly* go wrong?
Lots. Lots of things could go wrong. And boy, do they go wrong.
The Anomaly could easily be written off as yet another summer blockbuster thriller, the kind that Michael Crichton churned out back in the day. But it’s so gleefully done, with some great characters, snappy dialogue and a refreshing lack of people going ‘Oh, I’ll just wander off down this dark tunnel by myself armed only with a flashlight and an unhealthy disregard for horror tropes’.
The Anomaly is head and shoulders ahead of the competition. It zips along, the characters are ace, the dark tunnels sufficiently dark *and* scary, and it bounces along to an entirely satisfying conclusion. Someone said it was like the X-Files meets Indiana Jones, and they’d be entirely correct.
Oh, and Michael Rutger? It’s Michael Marshall Smith, hiding under a pen name. Sneaky.
The Collector – Fiona Cummins (Macmillan, December 2017)
I loved Fiona Cummins’ first book, Rattle. It was splendidly creepy with a fantastic serial killer, full of twists and turns. The Collector sees a return of the Bone Collector, thwarted by Detective Etta Fitzroy, and now looking for revenge. Except this time he’s got help…
Great characters, gripping plot and just a fantastic story. I rattled (sorry) through The Collector in the course of a day. Definitely a page-turner, one more chapter sort of a book, Fiona Cummins has a knack for ratcheting up the tension a notch further than you think possible, until the breathtaking final third, where she just turns the dial all the way up to eleven.
The Collector is one of the more memorable serial killers I’ve read for quite some time, and it’s fascinating to see part of the story from his point of view – it’s disturbing and twisted, but well thought out – he’s not just killing for the sake of it, he has his own, albeit warped, reasoning for doing what he does.
Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books, May 2018)
Fault Lines takes place in an alternate Edinburgh, where a new volcanic island, The Inch, has risen in the Firth of Forth. It’s an interesting premise and makes the setting feel distinctly unique. The Inch looms large over the story as it unfolds and feels like an actual character in the book. And you all know how much I love a good location when it comes to books. Dare I suggest #VolcanicNoir?
It’s a short book, but packs a lot into its 200-odd pages. There’s the suspicious death of Tom, out on The Inch. It’s a classic whodunnit, with a small cast of characters in a relatively confined small-town location, but done so well. Surtsey is a brilliant character, flawed and genuine, not only dealing with the death of her boss and lover, but also her mum’s terminal cancer and her sister’s seeming indifference towards it. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this developed for television and think it would work brilliantly on screen. Should we start the fantasy casting?
It’s a gripping story which rumbles along at pace to a satisfying conclusion.
Good Samaritans – Will Carver (Orenda Books, November 2018)
I sat and glared at a blank page for a good half hour trying to sum up my thoughts about Good Samaritans.
I’ve read a lot of Orenda Books’ output over the past couple of years (and indeed this list has a fair few on there), and you always get something different, something unique, something unlike you’ve come across before.
And that’s definitely the case with Good Samaritans. It’s very dark, very graphic and gripping, and demands that you read just one more chapter.
After all, the chapters are short, so one more can’t hurt, can it?
Narrator: Oh yes it can. They can hurt a lot.
Told from multiple viewpoints, Good Samaritans is a story of crossed lines and crossed fates. Good Samaritans is definitely *not* for the squeamish, featuring some very graphic (and energetic) sex, and some very unpleasant things done with bleach. A phenomenal read.
The Lingering – SJI Holliday (Orenda Books, September 2018)
The Lingering is a deliciously creepy gothic tale of strange goings-on in a mysterious former psychiatric institution populated by some slightly odd characters.
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.
Nightfall Berlin – Jack Grimwood (Michael Joseph, May 2018)
I do love a good Cold War spy thriller and Nightfall Berlin is a superb example of the genre. Less glitzy than Bond, more real than Bourne, it feels utterly authentic of the time and Fox is a complex, believable protagonist. A real sense of time and particularly place too, something which I really like in a book.
Grimwood ratchets up the tension with a relentlessly as Tom Fox finds himself in increasingly perilous straits as he navigates the back streets of East Berlin and beyond. I’ve long been a fan of his books and love his way with language, drawing us into the story, sketching out the political and cultural climate of the time.
(On a side note, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen) are bloody brilliant, and count amongst my favourites – I urge you to give them a try. Or if you prefer something a little more… vampiric and Venetian, The Fallen Blade is also superb. Enjoy!)
Palm Beach Finland – Antti Tuomainen (Orenda Books, October 2018)
Antti Tuomainen’s The Man Who Died made it onto my top five crime books of last year and created a new genre of Mushroom Noir. Palm Beach Finland is another welcome venture into the darkly comic. And darkly comic it is. Billed as ‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, Palm Beach Finland is a splendidly odd romp set in the hottest beach resort in Finland.
If The Man Who Died evoked memories of Fargo, then Palm Beach Finland is a heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off. Antti Tuomainen delivers another beautifully judged dark vein of humour running through the neon and pastels, but lurking behind the colourful facade, there’s a splendid noirish tale of murder.
I loved Palm Beach Finland, another gem from the King of Helsinki Noir. Antti gave us #mushroomnoir, and now #flamingonoir. What will he come up with next?
Slow Horses – Mick Herron (John Murray, June 2010)
I’d heard a lot of good things about Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, so when I saw him on one of the panels at Hull Noir last year, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy and get him to sign it for me.
Slow Horses opens with a scene at King’s Cross station, where we follow River Cartwright in pursuit of a suspect. It’s an incredible opening, with a deft hand for detail and tension. What follows is the story of the ‘slow horses’, sidelined to the nondescript Slough House, each a failure of sorts, put out to pasture where they can cause the least harm.
Slough House is filled with some brilliant characters, not least their leader and chief misfit, the unforgettable Jackson Lamb. I’ve read a fair few thrillers and have never come across his like. Grumpy, sarcastic and almost entirely unpleasant, Lamb is a fabulous character who’ll grow on you over the course of the book, whilst still maintaining his gruff, unkempt and almost entirely unpleasant exterior. But there’s more going on beneath – Lamb is a smart, savvy character who will quite happily eat you for breakfast before breaking wind and sloping off for an actual breakfast.
White Rabbit, Red Wolf – Tom Pollock (Walker Books, May 2018)
Ok. So far the books have been very good. Now is where I start gushing.
Every now and then you come across a book which just grabs you from the very first page and refuses to let you go. White Rabbit, Red Wolfis one of those books.
It’s astonishingly good. I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy (and if you haven’t read that, go and do so with all haste) and so the news that he had a new book out was met with great excitement and regular trips to the bookshop to see if it was in yet.
The first page hits you like an unexpected thunderstorm on a cloudless day. It’s dark and brutal and introduces Peter Blankman in a scene you’re not going to forget in a hurry. Peter is one of the most original, honest characters I’ve read for a long time, and Pollock’s presentation of a young man’s mental health issues holds nothing back.
What follows is an adventure into the mind, maths and murder, with a side order of spies, violence and some genuinely funny moments. Unreliable narrators are ten a penny these days, but here you’ll be questioning everything. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, we’re off down another rabbit hole, wolves snapping at our feet.
Stunning. If you read nothing else on this list, read this one.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Raven Books, February 2018)
It is, to put it simply, one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s fabulously mind-twistingly clever, with a high-concept plot, a host of splendid, characters and a delightfully Christie-esque setting. It’s a book which demands that you pay attention, and rewards you handsomely for doing so. You know who dies from the title itself, but unlike your common or garden whodunnit, you follow the course of a day many times over, from different viewpoints as our protagonist tries to solve the question of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, and more importantly, why.
I’m in awe of the plotting at work here – multiple characters interwoven across a day and the rooms and grounds of Blackheath. It’s been compared to Agatha Christie meets Inception, but it’s so much more than that – throw in a dash of Quantum Leap, and a smidgeon of Cluedo, topped off with a light dusting of Groundhog Day.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Stuart at the fantastic Sledge-Lit in Derby in November, where he wrote very nice things about this little blog in my copy of his book.
Now, go and get your own copy. 🙂
Changeling – Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books, January 2019)
Last year I snuck a book from 2018 onto the ‘best of’ list, and this year I’m following with tradition.
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. 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.
So, there we have my favourites of the year. As with the others, have you read any of these? Any favourites? Any you think I’ve missed?
Having seen my list of favourite science fiction of the year, attention turns to the more fantastical. And it’s been a fantastic year for fantasy books.
Without further ado, and again in no particular order, here are my favourite fantasy books that I’ve read this year. The observant amongst you will note that it’s not a top 10!
Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri (Orbit, November 2018)
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.
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 beautifully written, with some wonderful, strong female characters, and I shall be looking forward to the next books with great anticipation.
Blood of Assassins/King of Assassins – RJ Barker (ORBIT, February/August 2018)
Ah, where to start? (Age of Assassins, probably). I must give a slight caveat here – I’ve met RJ a few times at various things since Age of Assassins came out, and he’s a lovely human. But rather than give him an easy ride with reviews for Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins, I held the books up to deeper scrutiny. Had they been anything less than awesome, I’d have popped them back on the shelf with a rueful tut.
Reader, they’re bloody awesome. Blood of Assassins finds an older, wiser(?) Girton returning after five years away. He turned into a bit of a dick, to be honest. But the story ventures past the castle of Maniyadoc into the world beyond. King of Assassins stretches the canvas wider, is more epic in scope, the characters brilliant and the plot devious.
RJ can write a fight scene like few others – the action has a balletic, bullet-time fluidity as Girton moves, followed only by blood and death and Xus The Unseen in his wake.
This, my friends, is a fitting end to Girton’s tale. Apprentice assassin turned master. Highly recommended.
Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher books, August 2018)
I just loved Foundryside. A heist, with a wonderful magic system, set in an alternative medieval-ish Italy, with Merchant Houses vying for power. Ancient magical artefacts, dead gods, the works.
Then there are the characters. Sancia Grado is a wonderful kick-ass, take no prisoners heroine who naturally harbours a dark and mysterious past. But once she’s retrieved the apparently-innocuous something from the warehouse in the opening scenes, we meet one of the novels truly brilliant characters, and the interplay between the two gives this novel something unique and is just so much fun.
Often when talking about books I get asked ‘so, what else is it like?’ If I had to compare this to any other books, I’d say take a health slug of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, add in the whip-smart dialogue of Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight and sprinkle it with just a dash of China Mieville.
And these are some of my favourite things. But Foundryside is very much its own thing, and Robert Jackson Bennett has given us a cracking adventure.
Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames (orbit, August 2018)
The follow-up to the excellent Kings of the Wyld, Bloody Rose builds on the world in the first book and delivers another cracking tale of high adventure, with yet more beasts, monsters and hijinks.
The music references again come thick and fast, but never at the expense of story. They’re lovely little nods throughout the book – a town called Coverdale, a purple-veined prince, and at one point a namecheck for a character in Final Fantasy VII (the best one of the series, don’t @ me).
The story is so much more than your standard ‘bunch of people go fight some monsters’ that you see so often in fantasy. It’s an exploration of family, both the biological kind and the kind you make yourself. It explores what it means to be a monster, and what they might think when all these shiny-armoured, sword-laden Bands come rampaging for their hides.
The Lost Plot/The Mortal Word – Genevieve Cogman (Pan, DEcember 2017/November 2018)
I’m an enormous fan of this series, and this year I got to read book 4, The Lost Plot, and book 5, The Mortal Word (review incoming!).
Both are cracking adventures for Librarian spy Irene Winters and her dragon assistant Kai. In The Lost Plot we find them in 1930s Chicago and New York, with all the attendant trappings – tommy guns, wiseguys and speakeasy bars. The Mortal Word sees Irene, Vale and to a lesser extent Kai investigate the murder of a dragon at peace talks between the warring dragons and Fae. We’re now in 1890s Paris. It shows of Cogman’s wonderful plotting skills and there’s a real depth to the book.
Roll on book 6! This is a wonderful series, but you need to start from the start – these are very much not standalone adventures!
The Tethered Mage – Melissa Caruso (orbit, OCtober 2017)
Book 1 of the Swords & Fire trilogy , The Tethered Mage was nominated for the Gemmell Morningstar Award this year.
It’s a fantastic fantasy setting, with some quietly splendid worldbuilding which lurks in the background of a brilliantly twisty political magical story. It’s got everything – a fiesty fire warlock and her bonded Falconer, court scheming, snappy dialogue and a cracking plot. I’ve got book 2 on my TBR pile and hope to get to it very soon.
Spellslinger – Sebastien de Castell (Hot Key Books, May 2017)
I blame Nazia from Orbit Books for Spellslinger appearing on my kindle, as she mentioned something called ‘squirrel cats’. I was intrigued, and despite having half a dozen other books on the go, picked it up on Kindle, promptly devoured it over the course of the journeys to and from Edge-Lit in Derby.
Spellslinger has everything – brilliant characters, pacy plot, superb worldbuilding and a new take on magic. Oh, and a feisty, snarky squirrel cat called Reichis who might just remind you a little of Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.
We’ve all read fantasy stories where the young protagonist comes into their powers and go off to fulfill their destiny. This is the story of what happens when those powers don’t turn up as expected, but you’re left to get on with the whole destiny thing. It’s a YA fantasy with a wild west twist, a magic system which is intriguingly different, and some fantastic (and funny) banter between the characters.
Someone Like Me – M.R. Carey (Orbit, November 2018)
Easily one of my books of the year, Someone Like Me is just stunningly good.
As I said in my post about favourite dystopian fiction, The Girl was good, and The Boy was astonishing, but Someone Like Me takes it to another level entirely, and as predicted, easily sits around the top of the Books of 2018 list.
It’s a fantastic, complex book with so many layers and depths to the characters that it just takes your breath away. It’s often said that there are two sides to every story, and that’s literally the case here.
I see the world changing its mind.
But those two sides twist and turn and mesh and fold around each other like a kind of intricate literary origami, where each movement reveals a new facet of the story, bringing into question what you’re reading. Tiny moments have huge repercussions, and seeming throwaway lines come back to haunt you later.
It’s so beautifully done, so skillfully plotted that you just have no option but to put everything else on hold and just immerse yourself in the book.
The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin (ORBIT, august 2015)
A post-apocalyptic fantasy with some glorious worldbuilding, The Fifth Season is the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a book to lose yourself in, told through three viewpoints – Essun, on the hunt for her husband who has kidnapped her daughter after murdering her son. Syenite – fourth ring Orogene on a mission to a coastal city to help with a problem with their harbour. And Damaya, a young girl on the way to the Fulcrum, where she will learn to control her Orogeny, and the very earth itself.
Three brilliant, unforgettable strong female leads, each told in a distinct voice. Initially this took a little getting used to, the swapping of styles between the three. One of which is told in the second person, something you see all too rarely. Persevere though, and if you give it a chance, The Fifth Season will reward you richly. The rest of the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, both in gender, sexuality and race and all equally fascinating, each bringing more facets and layers to the story.
The worldbuilding on display here is absolutely top-notch, and with every chapter Jemisin draws you into this world which at times has shades of our own, but is otherwise completely… different. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle, sections interlocking piece by piece until you slot in the final segment and see the glorious whole.
It’s a phenomenal work, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.
So, there are my favourite fantasy books of 2018. What was your favourite? Have you read any of these?
2018 is drawing to a close, and a bookblogger’s thoughts inevitably turn to the books that have made the biggest impact of the year.
I therefore give you my favourite ten science fiction books of 2018
In no particular order (don’t make me choose…), I give you:
84k, by Claire North (Orbit Books, May 2018)
Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.
Adrift, by Rob Boffard (Orbit Books, June 2018)
Enormous fun. I’ve been a huge fan of Rob Boffard’s books since Tracer first landed on my doorstep, and Adrift does not disappoint. It’s a standalone adventure following the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard a tour ship out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things go awry, and no-one does awry better than Mr Boffard. Cracking read.
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells (TOR, May 2017)
All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff (Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Alex Award, Locus Award, one of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017, as well as being a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller).
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.
Everything About You, by Heather Child (Orbit Books, April 2018)
Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.
I loved this book and rattled through it in a couple of sittings. It’s clever, it’s creepy and it’s just so damn smart. The mystery is neatly plotted and beautifully written, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in.
I also had the pleasure of attending a writing workshop with Heather at the Edge-Lit book festival in Derby over the summer.
Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (Orbit Books, SEptember 2018)
Stunningly good sci-fi. Rosewater is a community which grew up around an alien biodome, where people gather in the hope of its healing powers. But the healing doesn’t always take the form they might wish…
Deliciously weird biopunk with an avalanche of clever ideas and brilliant characters. Just read it.
Void Black Shadow/Static Ruin, by Corey J. White (TOR, March/November 2018)
Books 2 and 3 of Corey J. White’s superb Voidwitch Saga. I adored Killing Gravity and was excited to see book 2, Void Black Shadow, turn up in March. Even more excited to discover that book 3, Static Ruin was out in November.
The action is bloody, brutal and relentless. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet in this book. So much blood. So much mayhem. So much fun.
The writing style is punchy and taut, with no time wasted. These books are short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of their contemporaries, don’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. Gloriously refreshing
The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi (Tor, October 2018)
Another sequel, following Scalzi’s glorious The Collapsing Empire, again this one snuck up on me and I had to zip down to the bookshop to get a copy immediately. I bloody loved book 1, and book 2 continues in the same vein – glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, the works. The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex.
Last, but by no means least, these two books by V.E. Schwab consumed a couple of very late-into-the-night reading sessions. I realised that I’d had book 1, Vicious, on my kindle since FOREVER and finally found a spare evening to read it. A couple of days later I got an email asking if I wanted to read book 2, Vengeful, and I nearly bit the publicists hand off.
The format was challenging at first, with timeline jumps between ‘last night’, ‘ten years ago’, ‘ a week ago’ and so on, but once you settle into the style you start to appreciate the craft on display. The characters are great but awful, but also sympathetic (ish) and you can’t help rooting for them.
Vengeful continues the story, but introduces us to the utterly brilliant and merciless Marcella. It’s a hefty book at 600ish pages, but the chapters are short and punchy and I flew through it.
So, those are my sci-fi books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!, Oc
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