Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world.
But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.
So, here we have book 2 of M. R. Carey’s Ramparts trilogy. Following hot on the heels of book 1 – The Book of Koli – we find our hero out in the wide world.
And what a world it is. I love a good post-apocalyptic dystopia, and as I’ve said many a time before, Carey is particularly good at them. He’s also built a wonderfully rich world in this Ramparts trilogy, albeit probably not one I’d relish spending much time in!
It probably goes without saying that this being the second book in a trilogy means this is not a good place to start. But of course, you’ve read the first book, haven’t you?
(if not, why not, and get thyself to a bookstore, pronto. Read the first book then I’ll see you back here when you’re done)
Good, so you’ve read the first. And therefore you’ll need little encouragement to pick up this next installment. Koli is a wonderful character to spend a little more time with, and this time around his adventures are bigger, bolder, and an order of magnitude more perilous. But we also get to spend more time in the company of Spinner back at Mythen Rood, and find out a little (well, a lot) more about the Ramparts…
Utterly splendid. Book 1 was great, book 2 is even better, and I really cannot wait until book 3!
The Trials 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.\
Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life. As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away? Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.
When I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest book, I was told that it was something a little different from his Claymore Straker series. I was intrigued.
Turbulent Wake tells the story of a young man who discovers a manuscript in his recently deceased father’s estate. The manuscript appears to be a collection of short stories which turn out to cover his father’s life, but which turn out to be rather more than they appear.
I was absorbed by the structure of these stories within a larger story – each a facet of his father’s life, each providing a glimpse into the past and uncovering some uncomfortable secrets. Hardisty has shown that he’s a deft hand at the thriller in his Straker books, but the writing on display here is on another level. Fascinating to see how a young man’s life builds from a series of vignettes, played off against his son’s own story in the present day.
Some of the early stories are deeply uncomfortable, revealing a hidden traumatic childhood which is as hard for the reader as they are for the son. I think this is what I found the most interesting thing about the book – we’re reading about a son reading about his father, from his father’s own point of view, and discovering things about his father’s history as the son does. Seeing how our own reactions compare with the son’s as he finds out so much that he didn’t know about his father’s (and indeed his family’s) life is an unusual experience, but one which works well.
Already a fan of Hardisty’s books, Turbulent Wake has put him firmly onto the “can’t wait to see what he comes up with next” list.
Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire. And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
So this marks the third appearance of Kjell Ola Dahl’s books on the blog, and roughly a year apart. First we had Faithless, then The Ice Swimmer, books five and six in his series featuring his detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich. Classic slices of Nordic Noir, both.
And so now we have The Courier, a standalone historical thriller which delves into the dark history of Norway in WWII. The story is told across three time periods – 1942, 1967 and 2015, though the modern-day element bookends the story.
It’s a fascinating tale, told in Dahl’s signature style of short, punchy sentences, once more ably translated by Don Bartlett. It’s a style that in previous books took me a little while to get into, but here it’s like sinking into a familiar, favourite armchair and you’re soon lost in the story.
As with his earlier books, Dahl shows a deft hand with plot, juggling the two main threads between 1942 and 1967 and revealing his cards only when he’s good and ready. Even though we know how things turn out in the quarter century after the earlier chapters, there’s a real sense of menace and genuine peril in the earlier sections.
It’s not just the plot though, character and especially the relationships between them is where Kjell Ola Dahl excels. Fascinating to see Ester grow from the girl who loses her parents to Auschwitz, a courier who is forced to flee to Sweden to escape the Gestapo herself, to the woman she becomes some 25 years later. The world has changed and so has she, but then everything changes again when an old face makes a startling reappearance.
I don’t usually read a lot of historical fiction, but couldn’t resist seeing what Kjell Ola Dahl, the Godfather of Nordic Noir, would come up with. It’s proper, hard-boiled Noir with a wonderfully gritty, distressingly authentic edge.
It’ll keep you thinking for a long while after you’ve finished. Highly recommended.
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books on 21st March 2019. You can find Kjell Ola Dahl on twitter @ko_dahl.
Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the review copy.
Adam Brandt is a forensic psychologist, well used to dealing with the most damaged members of society. But he’s never met anyone like Kassie. The teenager claims to have a terrible gift – with one look into your eyes, she can see when and how you will die. Obviously, Adam knows Kassie must be insane. But then a serial killer hits the city. And only Kassie seems to know where he’ll strike next. Against all his intuition, Adam starts to believe her. He just doesn’t realise how deadly his faith might prove…
A Gift for Dying is the first book by M.J. Arlidge that I’ve read, and it definitely won’t be the last. Intriguing premise, great characters and snappy pacing make for a great read.
Teenager Kassandra Wojcek has a gift (if you can call it that) – she can see how and when a person will die, just by looking in their eyes. And some of those people will be meeting a very sticky end. A serial killer is on the loose, and she is the key to stopping him. She’s a wonderful character, troubled and alone, but with a deeper, hidden strength that she eventually comes to realise she has.
Forensic psychologist Adam Brandt is faced with a tricky dilemma – Kassie can’t be telling the truth. Or can she? She knows too much about what’s been going on. Is she somehow involved in the murders? Or can she actually do what she claims to be able to?
Arlidge’s writing style tends towards the short and snappy, with chapters coming thick and fast, giving you the excuse to just read one (or ten) more. A Gift For Dying was very hard to put down, and races towards the ending at breakneck pace.
Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
A Gift For Dying by M.J. Arlidge is published by Penguin and is out now. You can find M.J. Arlidge on twitter at @mjarlidge
The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?
The Leaden Heart is the seventh of Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper Mysteries, but the first I’ve read. Set in Leeds in 1899, we find Detective Superintendent Tom Harper sweltering in the long, hot summer. Harper’s old friend and colleague, Billy Reed, comes back to Leeds from Whitby for the funeral of his brother, only to discover that it was suicide. The two friends dig into the mysterious circumstances of his death to discover there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, and some powerful men do not want him uncovering the truth.
I really enjoyed The Leaden Heart. I read a lot of contemporary crime fiction so it was a breath of fresh air to delve back into my adopted city’s past and see it through a different lens. Familiar streets and places brought to life through Nickson’s evident extensive research and love of the city gave the story an extra edge for me. It may be the seventh book in the series, but could easily be read as a standalone as I did. That said, I’d be interested to go back and find out more about Harper and his investigations.
It’s a great story too, full of political intrigue and corruption. Harper is a fascinating character, a solid, no-nonsense old school copper with a determination to get to the bottom of what’s going on, no matter the consequences to his reputation. There’s an interesting subplot too featuring Harper’s wife Annabelle, a Poor Law Guardian investigating the deaths of two young girls and trying to change the minds of the men who make the rules but have no time or desire to listen to her.
I’ve not read much historical fiction, but on the strength of The Leaden Heart, perhaps I ought to add a few more to my reading list!
The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson is published by Severn House at the end of March 2019. Many thanks to the publisher and author for the advance copy for review. You can find Chris Nickson on twitter @ChrisNickson2 or at his website www.chrisnickson.co.uk
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.
But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.
It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.
Well now. At face value The Raven Tower checks all the regular classic fantasy boxes. A son returns home from afar to take up his father’s post as ruler, only to find that his position has already been filled by his scheming uncle. A kingdom under threat. Mysterious machinations at court. Gods making alliances with mortals.
You know, standard fantasy stuff.
But Ann Leckie takes those standards and twists and pulls them into something new, something different, something quite unique.
It took me a little while to settle into the style of The Raven Tower, as large parts of it are told by a mysterious other, who appears to be talking to Eolo, warrior aide to the true heir to the Raven’s Lease, Mawat. You are doing this, it says. You are thinking that. You go here and see things.
It takes a little getting used to. For this mysterious narrator (don’t worry, all does become clear but you know, spoilers) knows an awful lot about a lot of things, and appears to be almost relating the tale to Eolo from after the fact, pausing only to drift off into stories of what once was, setting the scene for present day tensions against the tapestry of long ago.
And there is a lot of this tapestry of history to read, making the scope of The Raven Tower utterly vast, from the dawn of this land up to present, all told through the eyes of this almost omniscient narrator. The characters are fascinating and well written – I was particularly interested in the power structures in play here, from the enigmatic Raven god, to its Lease and the assembled that made up the court.
So yes, it’s a story of gods and power and what people will do to gain the latter and the price they’re willing to pay to do so. But Ann Leckie does this with such a deft hand that you’re left marvelling at how it’s all constructed. The way she plays with character and language and structure reminded me not a little of the skillful hand of Claire North, and whilst they tell very different stories, they both show a similar joy at playing with expectations.
It’s really hard to say more without spoiling the experience, and I can only urge you to discover the secrets of The Raven Tower for yourself.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie is published by Orbit Books and is out now in hardback and ebook.
Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the review copy.
Tonight is the night for secrets… Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught. Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers. Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father … What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…
Welcome, dear listener. It’s five after midnight and have I got a tale for you to take us through the small hours. Are you sitting comfortably? Got your hot chocolate? You might want something a little stronger this time.
You see this is a story of love and loss, of secrets and lies, of families that once were and might have been. Of obsession. And murder.
Are you still with me, out there in the dark? It feels strange, sat here with just the glow of the mixing desk, talking into the ether. There’s no-one here but you and me. It’s almost like a confessional. A final show, our last chance to share.
So this is a story about a girl and her mother. And what happened when her mother disappeared. As all such stories go, the girl grew up and met a boy and fell in love. Stella and Tom forever and ever.
And then, twelve years later, Stella’s mother came back. And long-held secrets started coming to light. And the world changed. For everyone.
There’s another girl in this story, Victoria Valbon. Poor Victoria is brutally murdered not far from the station where Stella works. And one of Stella’s callers says that he knows who did it…
Secrets and lies. Twists and turns. Where will it all lead, dear listener? Dare you find out?
I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.
Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.
A price on her head, and just 48 hours to expose the truth, and save her family…
Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob, who they want her dead. But rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.
With only 48 hours before North is due to appear in court, Lori sets across Florida, racing against the clock to find him, and save her family…
Deep Dirty Truth is the third book in Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series. Now, I loved the first two books, Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble, so it was with some sense of anticipation that I started book 3.
Never really in any doubt. Steph has delivered yet another fantastic instalment in the ongoing adventures of Lori Anderson, bounty hunter. This time the stakes are higher, with Lori sent off on an almost impossible mission – recover mob “numbers man” Carlton North from the FBI. In 48 hours, before he testifies against his former employer. Oh, and his location is secret. And if she fails, JT and her daughter Dakota will be killed.
Nothing like a bit of motivation, eh?
The action comes thick and fast, on a rattly rollercoaster of an adventure, throwing us hither and yon and back again, hanging on by our fingernails. JT and Dakota get their own adventure on the sidelines, though the focus is firmly on Lori, kicking ass and taking names (then kicking ass again to make sure it’s well and truly kicked). She’s a brilliant character though I think Steph Broadribb rather enjoys putting her through the wringer. Just when you think there’s a moment to draw breath, we’re off again.
Steph proved in the first two books that she can do Americana so very well, and the same deft skill with place is on show here. Hugely entertaining, fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting just one more chapter until you look up and it’s 1.30am and it’s finished and how on earth are you supposed to get to sleep now?
Highly recommended, though you need to read Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble first!
Deep Dirty Truth by Step Broadribb is published by Orenda Books and is out now.
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
Attend, by West Camel
Published by Orenda Books
Source: Review copy, ebook
When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah.
Seamstress, sailor, story-teller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.
Well, now then. We are, dear reader, presented with somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to this book. A quandary, some might say.
Most books that I’ve read you could neatly slot into a category, or maybe two. Crime fiction. Check. Science fiction. Check. Crime fiction in space. Check.
Where to put Attend though?
Sometimes we’re too quick to attach labels, and those labels often mislead. It’s much like the sizing of my favourite t-shirts. One might say it’s a large, but be a little baggy, one an XL and yet be snug. When buying a new t-shirt, you never quite know what you’re going to get until you try it on.
And sometimes you get one which fits *just* right, despite what the label says. (I’m afraid there are going to be a lot of fabric-related analogies here folks).
Attend is just that.
It’s 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. 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.
I loved the way the story bounces from present-day back to Deborah’s younger days, unravelling her story one fold at a time. She’s a fascinating, unique character providing the warp threads to anchor the weft of the other three. She’s not the person they’re looking for, but she’s the person they all need in their own way. She fits *just* right.
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.
Attend by West Camel is published by Orenda Books. You can find West Camel on Twitter @west_camel. Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan for the review copy. Kudos also to the hugely talented Mark Swan for another stunning cover.