Every book left unfinished by its author is filed away in the Unwritten Wing, a neutral space in Hell presided over by Claire, its head librarian. Along with repairing and organizing books, her job consists of keeping an eye on restless stories whose characters risk materialising and escaping the library.
When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto. But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong, in a chase that threatens to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell… and Earth.
I’m a sucker for a good library book. Or a good book about libraries. And this one is rather good.
In short, there’s a library in Hell, looked after by Claire, the Head Librarian. Her job is look after all the unwritten books. Shouldn’t really be that taxing. Should it?
Except that some of the characters tend to escape from time to time, and it’s Claire’s job, along with her apprentice Brevity (ex-Muse) to keep things in order. And they’re in the underworld, so nothing is ever straightforward.
Then just as they’re chasing a hero (who decides he quite likes being called Hero), a junior demon turns up and is promptly dragged back to Earth to go hunting for Hero and his book.
Oh, and there’s a fallen angel on the hunt for a book which shouldn’t exist.
What glorious fun they have! Hackwith takes the premise and just runs with it, having an absolutely splendid time along the way. The worldbuilding is marvellous, the action sharply written, and the plot fits together as neatly as an expertly shelved set of books. On a bookshelf. In Hell.
I love Claire so very very much.
The mundane tools of a librarian’s trade included notebooks and writing implements, and the less usual; inks that glimmered, stamps that bit, wriggling wax, and twine. All of them went into a bag that Claire slung across her chest. Pen and paper went into the hidden pockets of her muddled, many-tiered skirts. She’d been buried in some frippery that was dour even for her time, all buttons and layers. She’d chopped the skirt at the knee long ago for easy movement, but Claire lived by the firm moral philosophy that one could never have too many pockets, too many books, or too much tea.
Hackwith’s style is hugely enjoyable- echoes of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next adventures spring to mind here, and if you liked those, then I’m sure you’ll love this.
But this is very much its own adventure, and I highly recommend you dive in.
I was also delighted to discover there’s a sequel coming out later this year. Can’t wait to see what Claire and the gang get up to next.
The Library of the Unwritten, by A.J. Hackwith is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Lydia Gittins at Titan Books for the review copy.
Ravaged by environmental disaster, greed and oppression, our planet is in crisis. The future of humanity hangs in the balance – and one woman can tip it over. Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation. It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference. But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi starts to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realises time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared…
Reader, I loved this book. It’s smart, on-the-button near-future sci-fi with a cracking cast, a plot that goes from zero to escape velocity pretty much on page one, and doesn’t let up.
Earth is, not to put too fine a point on it, screwed. Environmental issues and overpopulation have pushed her past the tipping point and humanity has maybe thirty years left. Luckily humans have one last hope – an exploratory ship going out to Cavendish, an exosolar planet in the habitable ‘Goldilocks’ zone around a star ten light-years away.
At the last minute, the all-female crew are replaced by men (rampant misogyny abounds in the future here, all too plausibly, alas), but lead by Valerie Black, the hand-picked crew promptly steal the spaceship and go anyway.
And what hijinks they are. Valerie Black and her crew are up against it all – criminals in the eyes of the men in charge back at home, but a shining beacon of hope for humanity, they must steal the Atalanta out from under the nose of NASA and embark on a perilous voyage, first to Mars, then on into interstellar space.
I loved it. Loved the dynamics between the women on board the Atalanta, loved the meticulously researched science, the climate science, botany, cryonics feel really… real. The blurb compares the book to The Martian in that regard, though Goldilocks‘ Naomi Lovelace is less ‘look how smart I am’ Watney, and hugely more relatable for it.
For all its sci-fi stage dressing (and immaculate dressing it is), Goldilocks is, at heart, hugely character-driven, and ultimately hopeful. It would make a brilliant film. Netflix, if you’re out there, get on it.
Superb. Highly recommended.
Goldilocks by Laura Lam is published by Wildfire on 30th April 2020.
Many thanks to Wildfire Books for the advance NetGalley copy to review, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Laura Lam is the author of several science fiction books, including Radio 2 Book Club selection False Hearts. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty Women, Solaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, Scotland in Space, and more. Originally from California, she now lives in Scotland with her husband, and teaches Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University.
Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will.
Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls.
What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice?
I’m a bit of a fan of Mr Carey’s books. The Girl With All The Gifts was splendid, and The Boy on The Bridge even better. Someone Like Me was astonishing.
And here we have The Book of Koli, the first part of his new Rampart trilogy. And boy, is it good. Koli is a young man on the cusp of adulthood, in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where nature is out to get you. He’s lived in the (relatively) safe haven of Mythen Rood, a small walled settlement in the Calder valley in Yorkshire. Ruled over by the Ramparts, the few select people who can make the old tech respond to their touch, they’re cut off from the world.
I love a good post-apocalyptic dystopia, and Carey is particularly good at them. Koli’s exploration of what it means to become a man in such a world are fascinating, and I loved his unique voice in this story. It’s a slow, gentle start but the action ramps up after the first third and you’re soon rattling along at breakneck pace.
I’m glad that books 2 and 3 of the trilogy are being published this year, as I can’t wait to follow Koli on his adventures in the world, dangerous as they are.
The Book of Koli by M. R. Carey is published by Orbit and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy of the book to review, and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me onto the blog tour.
Fairy tales take a weird twist in this anthology compiling stories from an all-star cast of fantasy writers, including stories from Neil Gaiman, Charlie Jane Anders and Alison Littlewood.
Here in this book you’ll find unique twists on the fairy tale conceit of the curse, from the more traditional to the modern – giving us brand new mythologies as well as new approaches to well-loved fables. Some might shock you, some might make you laugh, but they will all impress you with their originality.
I jumped at this anthology as it had stories from some of my favourite authors – Michael Marshall Smith, Jen Williams, Mike Carey, to name but a few. But also a ton of other authors that I’d heard of, but not read, and some new-to-me names.
There are a lot of really good shorts in Cursed. There are a couple which are exceptional, one which made me go hmm, and only one which really didn’t work for me. Overall, I really enjoyed this selection of twisty takes on the fairy tale.
My favourites from the selection on offer:
At That Age, by Catriona Ward.
Strange Stepford-esque twins appear in a school class, showing off a life of wealth and parties, and quickly ensnare a young lad into their… unusual lifestyle. A dark, unsettling story about consequence, mixing folklore into a distinctly modern setting.
Listen, by Jen Williams.
It’s not often with a short story that you get a scope quite so epic in scale. Erren plays her pipes for anyone who’ll listen, albeit reluctantly. She plays for the villagers, for royalty, but the music reveals things that the listeners would rather left unsaid. You think from the start you know where it’s going, but Williams has you caught up in her own clever tune. It’s just wonderful.
Henry and the Snakewood Box, by M. R. Carey.
Ah, I really enjoyed this one. A demonic box who enjoys toying with his owner is a fun premise, and Carey clearly enjoys seeing how far it can go. Wishes are tricksy things, and you don’t always get what you want, even if it’s exactly what you wished for.
Fairy Werewolf vs. Vampire Zombie, by Charlie Jane Anders. My absolute favourite of the collection. I’ve not read any of Anders’ other books, but will be doing so shortly! A bar where our magical cousins go to knock back a cold one gets a new singer with a rather unusual secret. The writing is fun and zippy and the characters bounce off the page, with some great action scenes. I could happily read more adventures of Rachel, the bar owner.
Those four in my opinion are worth the price of admission alone. That’s not to say the others aren’t good – I also enjoyed Troll Bridge by Neil Gaiman, for example. But it felt like I knew exactly where that one was going, and was a solid Gaiman telling of a story. It was good! Just not as delightfully original as the others.
Of the stories which didn’t quite work, we had Michael Marshall Smith’s Look Inside. I’m a huge fan of his books and short stories (and boy can he tell a short story) but this one had a note which just didn’t quite sit with me – a woman finds out that someone has been in her house, but doesn’t seem particularly concerned. She thinks about calling the police, but doesn’t, shrugging it off as just an intruder. This note felt…wrong, and undermined the otherwise excellent story.
The other one which bothered me was Skin, by James Brodgen. A man makes an unpleasant comment to his date, and ends up being cursed to see his own imperfections, with horrific results. But then lays blame on the woman for his curse (brought on by his own faults). And she agrees that the consequences of his actions are her fault. Did not like, though the writing itself was good, and nicely creepy and atmospheric, the misogyny was jarring.
Overall though, those are just two out of twenty. The other 90% of the stories are very good, and with a collection of short stories you’re never going to like everything.
So, with the caveat about those two, I heartily recommend this anthology.
You’ll need to make your own mind up though!
Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane is published by Titan Books and is out now. Many thanks to Lydia Gittins at Titan Books for the review copy.
You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’
For some people, trouble just finds them . . .
Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.
Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California.
Not everyone is pleased to see him.
Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.
Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother.
But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.
Murder, revenge, retribution.
How far can we run from the past when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?
Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of how much I love Chris Whitaker’s first two books.
Tall Oaks kept me up until nearly 3am to be finished in a single sitting. It’s a beautifully wrought tale of small-town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.
His sophomore novel, All The Wicked Girls was just as good, if not better. Deep and complex, harrowing and heartbreaking, a story of a young girl’s hunt for her missing sister in a small southern bible belt town. Chris Whitaker does small-town America really really well, though he was born in London and lives in Hertfordshire.
So now we come to We Begin At The End. Reader, I was really really looking forward to this book, and I was enormously fortunate to get my hands on an early copy, which I started reading on December 31st, 2019. And finished at 1.30am on January 1st.
Which puts We Begin At The End in the rather unique position of not only being the best book I read in 2019, but also the best I’ve read in 2020.
Reader, it’s just so, so good. Whitaker’s skill at evoking small town Americana, polished and honed over the course of the first two books, absolutely shines here. I loved the characters in the first two books, but here we meet Duchess Day Radley, the outlaw. And she’ll take over your heart. At once older than her years, yet still a vulnerable young girl, she’s strong and fierce, and carries this book on her shoulders magnificently.
Then there’s Walk, the police chief. Vincent King, his friend who went to jail for the murder of Duchess’s aunt Sissy. Star Radley, Duchess’s mother. All brilliantly drawn, flawed, rich characters in their own right.
Whitaker’s ability to create these unforgettable characters, coupled with a story so achingly beautiful and utterly brilliant that you’ll struggle to find better.
We Begin At The End should be on your reading list for this year. And it should be on all the award shortlists. Whitaker is a phenomenal writing talent, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
I’d give this six stars if I could, and it would deserve every one of them and more.
Hugely recommended. I will pester you to read this book.
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker is published by Zaffre in April 2020. Huge thanks to Zaffre for the review copy.
Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death.
Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…
Sister is the 9th of Kjell Ola Dahl’s Olso Detectives books, following on from the events in The Ice Swimmer, which I loved. I’m a big fan of Dahl’s books, and it’s good to see our friend Frank Frølich back in action and taking more of a lead role this time round. Suspended from the force, he’s struck out as a private investigator. Then he meets the mysterious Matilde who might just have a job for him.
The case is, at face value, simple enough. Find a missing woman. So far, so standard. But this woman is the titular sister of an asylum seeker who is about to be deported. And she came to Norway years ago, changed her name, and disappeared into the system.
Coupled with the investigation into the sinking of a ferry some thirty years previous, the two cases appear unconnected. But are they?
Dahl’s plotting is as deft as ever, and whilst the story might not be quite as dark as with The Ice Swimmer, it’s just as good. I do love a good slice of Nordic Noir, and Dahl never fails to deliver. The pace is measured and never rushed, but still the tension is ratcheted up notch by notch as the investigations proceed to their entirely satisfying conclusion.
Translation is once again handled by Don Bartlett, delivering Dahl’s punchy prose. I’ve started getting used to Dahl’s style, with his short, snappy sentences, and was hooked from the off.
Sister, by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books at the end of April. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy, and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
A city in darkness. A building in lockdown. A score that can only be settled in blood… Working off the books for FBI Special Agent Alex Monroe, Florida bounty-hunter Lori Anderson and her partner, JT, head to Chicago. Their mission: to entrap the head of the Cabressa crime family. The bait: a priceless chess set that Cabressa is determined to add to his collection.
An exclusive high-stakes poker game is arranged in the penthouse suite of one of the city’s tallest buildings, with Lori holding the cards in an agreed arrangement to hand over the pieces, one by one. But, as night falls and the game plays out, stakes rise and tempers flare.
When a power failure plunges the city into darkness, the building goes into lockdown. But this isn’t an ordinary blackout, and the men around the poker table aren’t all who they say they are. Hostages are taken, old scores resurface and the players start to die. And that’s just the beginning…
Deep Dark Night is the fourth of Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson books, following on from the events of Deep Dirty Truth.
Here we move away from the usual bounty hunter tracks her prey road trips of the first three books, and switch up locations too – from the hot south of Miami to Chicago. The stakes remain as high as ever for Anderson and JT as their FBI contact, Special Agent Alex Monroe, has a rather special job for them. This time Lori is tasked with entrapping the head of the Cabressa crime family during a high-stakes poker game.
The action comes thick and fast and before you can say ‘raise’, Lori is taking her place at the poker table for another cracking adventure. I must confess to being partial to a game of Texas hold ’em from time to time, and Broadribb’s description of the game had me hankering for a few hands. Though possibly not for the stakes that Lori and the others were playing for!
It’s not all poker though, and a power failure throws everything into chaos, and the action into overdrive as we find ourselves in a classic noir locked room mystery, with deadly consequences.
Hugely enjoyable, but be sure to read the first three books!
Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb is published by Orenda Books and is out now in paperback.
Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Matthew Ward’s Legacy of Ash – it’s a big chonky fantasy book, but more on that later!
First, an extract from the start of the book. Get yourself a brew, settle down and enjoy!
Preparations had taken weeks. Statues had been re-gilded. Familial portraits unveiled from dusty canvas and set in places of honour.
The stained glass of the western window glittered in the afternoon sun-light. Come the hour of Ascension it would blaze like fire and cast an image of divine Lumestra into the hall so that the sun goddess too would stand among the guests.
It would not be so elsewhere. In the houses beneath Branghall’s walls the part of Lumestra would be played by a doll, her limbs carved from firewood and her golden hair woven from last year’s straw. There, her brief reign would not end with the fading of the sun. Instead, hearth-fires would usher her home on tongues of flame.
The chasm between rich and poor, ruler and ruled, was never more evident than at Ascension. Josiri strove to be mindful of that. For all that had befallen his family, he retained comfort and privilege denied to many.
But a prison remained a prison, even if the bars were gilded and the guards polite.
Most of the guards.
“That will have to come down.” Arzro Makrov extended a finger to the portrait above High Table. “She has no place here, or anywhere else in the Tressian Republic.”
Josiri exchanged a glance with Anastacia. The seneschal’s black eyes glimmered a warning, reinforced by a slight shake of her head. Josiri ignored both and stepped closer, footsteps hollow on the hall’s flagstones. “No place?”
Makrov flinched but held his ground. “Katya Trelan was a traitor.” Impotent anger kindled. Fifteen years on, and the wound remained
raw as ever.
“This was my mother’s home,” said Josiri carefully. “She would have celebrated her fifty-fifth year this Ascension. Her body is ash, but she will be present in spirit.”
Makrov drew his corpulent body up to its full, unimpressive height. The setting sun lent his robes the rich warmth of fresh blood. Ironic for a man so pallid. The intricate silver ward-brooch was a poor match for his stolid garb. But without it, he could not have crossed the enchanted manor wall.
Josiri’s throat tightened. He locked gazes with Makrov for a long moment, and then let his eyes fall upon the remaining “guests”. Would any offer support?
Shaisan Yanda didn’t meet his gaze, but that was to be expected. As governor of the Southshires, she was only present to ensure Josiri did nothing rash. Nonetheless, the slight curl to her lip suggested she found Makrov’s behaviour tiresome. She’d fought for the Council at Zanya, and on other battlefields besides, earning both her scars and the extra weight that came with advancing years.
As for Valmir Sark, he paid little attention. His interest lay more with ancestral finery . . . and likely in broaching Branghall’s wine cellars come Ascension. Josiri had heard enough of Sark to know he was present only to spare his family another scandal. The high-collared uniform might as well have been for show. Sark was too young to have fought against Katya’s rebellion. And as for him standing a turn on the Hadari border? The thought was laughable.
That left Anastacia, and her opinion carried no sway.
If only Calenne were there. She’d always had more success in dealing with the Council’s emissaries, and more patience. Where in Lumestra’s name was she? She’d promised.
Josiri swallowed his irritation. He’d enough enemies without adding his sister to the roster.
“The portrait remains,” he said. “This is my house. I’ll thank you to remember that.”
Makrov’s wispy grey eyebrows knotted. “Were it up to me, I’d allow it. Truly I would. But the Council insists. Katya Trelan brought nothing but division and strife. Her shadow should not mar Ascension.”
Only the slightest pause between the words imbued challenge. Josiri’s self-control, so painstakingly fortified before the meeting, slipped a notch. He shook off Anastacia’s restraining hand and took another step.
Yanda’s lips tightened to a thin, bloodless streak. Her hand closed meaningfully about the pommel of her sword. Sark gazed on with parted mouth and the first spark of true interest.
“It is my hope,” said Josiri, “that my mother’s presence will serve as a message of unity.”
Makrov stared up at the portrait. “I applaud your intent. But the law-less are not quelled by gestures, but by strong words, and stronger action.”
“I’ve given what leadership I can.”
“I know,” said Makrov. “I’ve read reports of your speeches. I’d like to hear one for myself. Tomorrow at noon?”
It was an artful twist of the knife. “If you wish.”
“Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Governor Yanda. You’ll ensure his grace isn’t speaking to an empty square? I’m sure Captain Sark will be delighted to assist.”
“Of course, my lord,” said Yanda. “And the portrait?”
Makrov locked gazes with Katya Trelan’s dead stare. “I want it taken down and burned. Her body is ash. Let her spirit join it. I can think of no stronger message of unity.”
“I won’t do it,” Josiri said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, you will.” Makrov sighed. “Your grace. Josiri. I entertained hopes that you’d lead your people out of the past. But the Council’s patience is not infinite. They may decide upon another exodus if there’s anything less than full cooperation.”
Exodus. The word sounded harmless. The reality was punishment meted out for a rebellion fifteen years in the past; families divided, stolen children shipped north to toil as little more than slaves. Makrov sought to douse a fire with tinder.
“Your mother’s memory poisons you. As it poisons your people.” Makrov set his hands on Josiri’s shoulders. “Let her go. I have.”
But he hadn’t. That was why Makrov remained the Council’s chief emissary to the Southshires, despite his advancing years and expanding waistline. His broken heart had never healed, but Katya Trelan lay fifteen years beyond his vengeance. And so he set his bitterness against her people, and against a son who he believed should have been his.
Makrov offered an avuncular smile. “You’ll thank me one day.” Josiri held his tongue, not trusting himself to reply. Makrov strode
away, Sark falling into step behind. Yanda hesitated a moment before following.
“Tomorrow at noon, your grace. I look forward to it.” Makrov spoke without turning, the words echoing along the rafters. Then he was gone.
Josiri glanced up at his mother’s portrait. Completed a year before her death, it captured to perfection the gleam of her eyes and the inscrutable perhaps-mocking, maybe-sympathetic smile. At least, Josiri thought it did. Fifteen years was a long time. He saw little of himself in his mother’s likeness, but then he’d always been more akin to his father. The same unruly blond hair and lantern jaw. The same lingering resentment at forces beyond his control.
He perched on the edge of High Table and swallowed his irritation. He couldn’t afford anger. Dignity was the cornerstone of leadership, or so his mother had preached.
“When I was a boy,” he said, “my father told me that people are scared and stupid more than they are cruel. I thought he’d handed me the key to some great mystery. Now? The longer I spend in Makrov’s company, the more I suspect my father told me what he wished were true.”
Anastacia drew closer. Her outline blurred like vapour, as it always did when her attention wandered. Like her loose tangle of snow-white curls and impish features, the robes of a Trelan seneschal were for show. A concession. Josiri wasn’t sure what Anastacia’s true form actually was. Only black, glossy eyes – long considered the eyes of a witch, or a demon, bereft of iris and sclera – offered any hint.
The Council’s proctors had captured her a year or so after the Battle of Zanya. Branghall, already a prison in all but name, had become her new home shortly after. Anastacia spoke often of what she’d done to deserve Tressian ire. The problem was, no two tales matched.
In one, she’d seduced and murdered a prominent councillor. In another, she’d instead seduced and murdered that same councillor’s husband. A third story involved ransacking a church. And then there was the tale about a choir of serenes, and indecency that left the holy women’s vows of chastity in tatters. After a dozen such stories, ranging from ribald to horrific, Josiri had stopped asking.
But somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. More than friends. If Makrov ever learned how close they were, it wouldn’t be the gallows that awaited Josiri, but the pyre.
Pallid wisps of light curled from Anastacia’s arched eyebrow. “The archimandrite is foolish in the way only clever men are. As for afraid? If he wasn’t, you’d not be his prisoner.”
Josiri snorted. “My mother casts a long shadow. But I’m not her.” “No. Your mother lost her war. You’ll win yours.” “Flatterer.”
The eyebrow twitched a fraction higher. “Isn’t that a courtier’s function?”
Genuine confusion, or another of Anastacia’s little jokes? It was always hard to be sure. “In the rest of the Republic, perhaps. In the Southshires, truth is all we can afford.”
“If you’re going to start moping, I’d like to be excused.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Josiri’s mouth. “If you don’t show your duke a little more respect, he might have you thrown from the manor.” Anastacia sniffed. “He’s welcome to try. But these stones are old, and the Council’s proctors made a thorough job of binding me to them.
You’ll fail before they do.”
“You forget, I’m a Trelan. I’m stubborn.”
“And where did stubbornness get your mother? Or your uncle, for that matter?”
Josiri’s gaze drifted back to his mother’s portrait. “What would she do?” “I doubt she’d put a mere thing, no matter how beautiful, before the lives of her people.” She shrugged. “But she was a Trelan, and some-one once told me – though I can’t remember who – that Trelans are
“And none more than she,” said Josiri. “I don’t want to give up the last of her.”
Anastacia scratched at the back of her scalp – a mannerism she’d picked up off one of the servants in her frequent forays to the kitchens.
Her appetites were voracious – especially where the manor’s wine cellar was concerned.
“Might I offer some advice, as one prisoner to another?” “Of course.”
“Burn the painting. Your mother’s legacy is not in canvas and oils, but in blood.”
The words provoked a fresh spark of irritation. “Calenne doesn’t seem to think so.”
Anastacia offered no reply. Josiri couldn’t blame her for that. This particular field was well-furrowed. And besides, good advice was good advice. Katya Trelan had died to save her family. That was her true legacy.
“I should tell her how things went,” he said. “Do you know where she is?”
“Where do you think?” Anastacia’s tone grew whimsical to match her expression. “For myself, I might rearrange the window shutters on the upper floor. Just in case some helpful soul’s watching? One who might be agreeable to expressing your annoyance at the archimandrite where you cannot?”
Josiri swallowed a snort of laughter. Regardless of what his mother would have done about the painting, this she would approve of. Humiliation repaid in kind.
“That’s a grand idea.”
Anastacia sniffed again. “Of course it is. Shall we say nightfall?” That ran things close, but the timing should work. Makrov was due
to hold celebration in Eskavord’s tiny church at dusk. Afterwards, he’d make the long ride back to the fortress at Cragwatch. It all depended on whether Crovan’s people were keeping watch on the shutters.
Still, inaction gained nothing.
Josiri nodded. “Nightfall it is.”
Each creak of the stairs elicited a fearful wince, and a palm pressed harder against rough stone. Josiri told himself that the tower hadn’t endured generations of enthusiastic winds just to crumble beneath his own meagre weight. He might even have believed it, if not for that almost imperceptible rocking motion. In his great-grandfather’s time, the tower had been an observatory. Now the roof was a nest of fallen beams, and the walls stone teeth in a shattered jaw.
At least the skies were clear. The vistas almost held the terror at bay, fear paling before beauty. The town of Eskavord sprawled across the east-ern valley, smoke dancing as the Ash Wind – so named for the cinders it gusted from the distant Thrakkian border to the south – brushed the slopes of Drannan Tor. Beyond the outermost farms sprawled the eaves of Davenwood. Beyond that, further east, the high town walls of Kreska nestled in the foothills of the Greyridge Mountains. All of it within a day’s idle ride. Close at hand, and yet out of reach.
But it paid not to look too close. You might see the tabarded soldiers patrolling Eskavord’s streets, or the boarded-up houses. The foreboding gibbets on Gallows Hill. Where Josiri’s Uncle Taymor had danced a final jig – where his mother had burned, her ashes scattered so Lumestra could not easily resurrect her come the light of Third Dawn. It was worse in the month of Reaptithe. Endless supply wagons crept along the sunken roadways like columns of ants, bearing the Southshires’ bounty north.
Duke Kevor Trelan had never been more popular with his people than when he called for secession. The Council had been quick to respond. Josiri still recalled the bleak Tzadas-morning the summons had arrived at Branghall, backed by swords enough to make refusal impossible. It was the last memory he had of his father. But the Council had erred. Duke Kevor’s execution made rebellion inevitable.
Another gust assailed the tower. His panicked step clipped a fragment of stone. It ricocheted off the sun-bleached remnant of a wooden beam and clattered out over the edge.
“I suppose your demon told you where I was?”
Calenne, as usual, perched on the remnants of the old balcony – little more than a spur of timber jutting at right angles to a battered wall. Her back to a pile of rubble, she had one foot hooked across her knee. The other dangled out over the courtyard, three storeys and forty feet below. A leather-bound book lay open across her lap, pages fluttering.
“Her name is Anastacia.”
“That’s not her name.” The wind plucked a spill of black hair from behind Calenne’s ear. She tucked it back into place. “That’s what you call her.”
Calenne had disliked Anastacia from the first, though Josiri had never been clear why, and the passage of time had done little to heal the one-sided divide. Anastacia seldom reciprocated the antipathy, though whether that was because she considered herself above such things, or did so simply to irritate Calenne, Josiri wasn’t sure.
“Because that’s her wish. I don’t call you Enna any longer, do I?” Blue eyes met his then returned to the book. “What do you want?” Josiri shook his head. So very much like their mother. No admission
of wrong, just a new topic.
“I thought you’d be with me to greet Makrov.”
She licked a fingertip and turned the page. “I changed my mind.” “We were discussing the arrangements for your wedding. Or do you
no longer intend to marry at Ascension?”
“That’s why I changed my mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
A rare moment of hesitation. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I see.” Steeling himself, Josiri edged closer. “What are you reading?” “This?” Calenne stared down at the book. “A gift from Kasamor. The Turn of Winter, by Iugo Maliev. I’m told it’s all the rage in Tressia.” “Any good?”
“If you admire a heroine who lets herself be blown from place to place like a leaf on the wind. It’s horrendously fascinating. Or fascinatingly horrendous. I haven’t decided yet.” She closed the book and set it on her knee. “How did the meeting go?”
“I’m to make a speech tomorrow, on the topic of unity.” She scowled. “It went that badly?”
“I didn’t have my sister there to charm him,” Josiri replied. “And . . . he reacted poorly to mother’s portrait.” No sense saying the rest. Calenne wouldn’t understand.
She sighed. “And now you know why I stayed away. If Makrov reacts like that to Katya’s image . . . I didn’t want complications. I can’t afford them. And I do want this marriage.”
Josiri didn’t have to ask what she meant. Katya in oils was bad enough. Her likeness in flesh and blood? Even with Calenne at her most demure and charming – a rarity – there was risk. With every passing year, his sister more resembled the mother she refused to acknowledge. Perhaps she’d been right to stay away.
“You think Makrov has the power to have it annulled?”
She shrugged. “Not alone. But Kasamor’s mother isn’t at all pleased at the match. I’m sure she’s allies enough to make trouble.”
“Kasamor would truly let her interfere?”
On his brief visits to Branghall, Kasamor had seemed smitten. As indeed had Calenne herself. On the other hand, Josiri had heard enough of Ebigail Kiradin, Kasamor’s mother, to suspect she possessed both the reach and influence to thwart even the course of true love, if she so chose.
“On his last visit, he told me that I was the other half of his soul. So no, I don’t believe he would. He’d sooner die, I think. And I . . . ” Calenne shook her head and stared down at the book. “It doesn’t matter.”
Josiri frowned. “What? What doesn’t matter?”
Calenne offered a small, resigned smile. “I’ve had bad dreams of late. The Black Knight. Waking up screaming doesn’t do wonders for my mood.”
The Black Knight. Viktor Akadra. The Phoenix-Slayer. The man who’d murdered their mother. He’d taken root in the dreams of a terri-fied six-year-old girl, and never let go. Josiri had lost track of how often in that first year he’d cradled Calenne as she’d slipped off to broken sleep.
“Is that why you’re back to hiding up here? He’ll not harm you, I promise.”
“I know he won’t.” Her shoulders drooped, and her tone softened. “But thanks, all the same.”
She set the book aside and joined him inside the tower proper. Josiri drew her into an embrace, reflecting, as he so often did, what a curious mix of close and distant they were. The decade between them drove them apart. He doubted he’d ever understand her. Fierce in aspect, but brittle beneath.
“The world’s against us, little sister. We Trelans have to stick together.”
Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward is published by Orbit Books and is out in paperback now.
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.
Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.
Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.
Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.
Josiri Trelanis Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.
And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.
As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.
The story of the Gilded Age Chicago heiress who revolutionized forensic death investigation. As the mother of forensic science, Frances Glessner Lee is the reason why homicide detectives are a thing. She is responsible for the popularity of forensic science in television shows and pop culture. Long overlooked in the history books, this extremely detailed and thoroughly researched biography will at long last tell the story of the life and contributions of this pioneering woman.
I don’t read much non-fiction these days, but when the chance to read 18 Tiny Deaths came up, I jumped at the chance. Regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of crime novels, and the opportunity to see how the forensic science at the heart of them came to be was one not to be missed.
It’s a fascinating story about a fascinating woman. Born into money in 1878, Frances Glessner Lee showed a keen interest in medicine and became a driving force behind the development of forensic science.
Her use of meticulous dioramas, the 18 tiny deaths of the title, as a training aid for police officers was revolutionary. Presented not so much as a ‘solve this puzzle’, but more an exercise in observation, the miniature models were exact replicas of crime scenes, down to the blood spatter on the walls.
If anything, I wish there had been a bit more about the detail behind these dioramas, the cases involved and what happened. But that’s a minor quibble! The story of Captain Lee’s life is astonishing, and Goldfarb’s account is well-written and comprehensive.
18 Tiny Deaths is as meticulously researched and presented as Captain Lee’s dioramas. Fascinating to read, this is one for any true crime buff.
18 Tiny Deaths: The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics by Bruce Goldfarb is published by Octopus and is out now.
Many thanks to Anne Cater and Octopus Publishing for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the copy of the book for review.
Leeds, September 1908. There’s going to be a riot. Detective Superintendent Tom Harper can feel it. Herbert Asquith, the prime minster, is due to speak in the city. The suffragettes and the unemployed men will be out in the streets in protest. It’s Harper’s responsibility to keep order. Can he do it?
Harper has also received an anonymous letter claiming that a young boy called Andrew Sharp was stolen from his family fourteen years before. The file is worryingly thin. It ought to have been bulging. A missing child should have been headline news. Why was Andrew’s disappearance ignored? Determined to uncover the truth about Andrew Sharp and bring the boy some justice, Harper is drawn deep into the dark underworld of child-snatching, corruption and murder as Leeds becomes a molten, rioting city.
A new case for DS Tom Harper (his eighth), following up from last year’s excellentThe Leaden Heart.
We’ve moved on to 1908 – a new century and a set of new challenges for Harper and his team. The prime minister is on his way to Leeds and Harper is tasked with making sure everything runs like clockwork – no small feat when the suffragettes and unemployed both plan on making trouble.
On top of that, Harper has a mystery to solve. He’s received a letter claiming that a young boy was stolen from his family some fourteen years ago. But where was the outcry? Why is the file so empty?
I really enjoyed delving back into the world of DS Tom Harper. I read a lot of modern crime fiction set all around the world, so it’s great to find one set so close to home. I know the streets and alleyways that Harper’s men walk, and get a real feel for how my adopted city has changed. Not that you’d need to be familiar with Leeds to enjoy this, mind!
The story is, as with The Leaden Heart, full of intrigue and good, solid no-nonsense police work. Nickson clearly knows and loves his subject (and city) well, and it really comes across on the page. Leeds is very much a key character in Nickson’s books, and I hope to read many more.
The Molten City is the eighth book in the Tom Harper series, but could easily be read as a standalone. I still need to go back and read some of the earlier books, and am looking forward to doing so.
Huge thanks to Chris Nickson for asking me to review his book, and to Natasha Bell and Severn House for the advance copy via NetGalley.