Blog Tour: The Shadow Glass

I received a gifted copy of the book from the publisher, Titan Books, in exchange for an honest review.

I am very much a child of the 80s, and a huge fan of Jim Henson, so when Lydia from Titan Books emailed about The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning, describing it as perfect for readers who fit both those things, I didn’t take much persuading! I was immediately sold on the concept – a film very much in the style of The Dark Crystal flops at the box office in the 80s and becomes a cult film, and decades later, the creator’s son has to come to terms with the idea that the world and characters of that film might actually exist. There’s more to it than that of course, but as a hook, it’s brilliant.

Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

The first thing I want to say is how much The Shadow Glass felt like it was about a real film. It has excerpts from reviews, articles, transcripts of interviews and panel appearances and I got a real sense of what it was like to be a fan of the film, as well as the hope and despair cycle those fans had been through in the previous 30+ years. The book also managed to make me feel like I was in one of those Jim Henson films (or, in this case, a Bob Corman film), and I loved that. I was properly immersed in the action and I really cared about what was at stake.

As I said above, The Shadow Glass isn’t just about the puppets and fantasy world being real. It’s also about Jack coming to terms with his relationship with his father and learning how to reconnect with the person he used to be. Jack has a lot of anger and resentment towards his father and struggles to reconcile the Bob Corman he knew as a teenager and adult, with the Bob Corman that fans idolise. I really liked that there was a coming together of both sides of Bob for Jack and Toby, a fanboy who joins Jack in trying to save the world. There’s also regret, and grief, and the book is as much about dealing with the death of a parent as it is about saving the world. It was a really interesting angle to take, and it worked really well.

Character-wise, The Shadow Glass is stuffed full of interesting people (and puppets). Zavannah and Brol are brilliant, kettu from the fantasy world of Iri who are fantastic fighters, and the bad guys from that world are exceedingly violent and creepy. The human characters are also great – Toby and his friends, who love the film, and cosplay and campaign for a charity showing as a tribute to Bob, are a brilliant representation of fandom and the good it can do, and kickass Amelia just takes everything in her stride while reminding Jack about the good things about his father.

I was a bit worried before I read The Shadow Glass that it might lean a bit too much towards horror for me, but it was fine. There are some horroresque scenes – the bad guys do not hold back and there is a lot of death – but I’d put it on the same level as something like Gremlins. Lots of gore, but nothing too horrific.

So I really enjoyed The Shadow Glass. It really is perfect for anyone who grew up watching cult 80s fantasy films and I think Jim Henson would be very happy to know he was still inspiring people today.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4.5/5

The Shadow Glass is out now from Titan Books

Book review: Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup

My copy of Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup was gifted to me by the publisher, Hachette Children’s Group, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Yesterday Crumb is no ordinary girl. She was born with fox ears that have cursed her to a lonely life working in the circus and her origins are a complete mystery. But she is about to escape into the adventure of a lifetime when she learns that she’s a strangeling who’s lost her magic.

Taken in by Miss Dumpling the flamboyant Tea Witch, Yesterday is introduced to a magical, walking teashop filled with fantastical customers, a flying teapot turtle called Pascal and powerful spells in every teacup!

Yesterday starts to rediscover her magic and to feel a sense of belonging. But a mysterious figure of darkness is working hard to ensure her new life comes crashing down – and it all starts with a deadly shard of ice in Yesterday’s heart…

But there’s nothing that can’t be solved with a pot of tea, a slice of cake and a BIG dash of magic!

Sometimes, you come across a book and you just know you’re going to love it. It might be the lead character’s name (Yesterday Crumb is an amazing name for a children’s book character), it might be the comparisons to other book series (This one was compared to The Strangeworlds Travel Agency and Starfell, two of my favourite series), or it might just be the synopsis (there’s a tea witch and a magical walking teashop. What more do you need?!). In this case, it was all three, and let me tell you, this is already a contender for my book of the year. I absolutely adored Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup by Andy Sagar, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy.

I’m not even sure where to begin with this book. Everything about it was fantastic. The main characters – Yesterday herself, Miss Dumpling, Madrigal and Jack – are all brilliant, and make up one of my favourite found families. Madrigal, the grumpy not-raven with a heart of gold may have been my favourite, but I loved all of them. Mr Weep and his gang of minions was the perfect antagonist for the story, sufficiently creepy to make you worry for our heroes, but with an intriguing backstory which went some way to explaining his motivations.

My absolute favourite thing about this book though, was Dwimmerly End, the magical teashop where Yesterday finds herself, complete with the cutest tea spirit you have ever seen in a book. I want to live there. I’ll even volunteer to muck out the unicorn stables if necessary, as long as I get to drink Miss Dumpling’s wonderful tea and eat her amazing cake while travelling around the country in a teashop on legs. It honestly just sounds so welcoming and full of sunshine. If I can also train as a tea witch, that would be a bonus, but I’m not a strangeling, so I don’t think I have any magic.

So the characters and setting are amazing, what’s the story like, I hear you ask. Well, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that it is also amazing. We travel to various places to find the ingredients needed for the pot of tea to lift the curse Mr Weep has laid on Yesterday for nefarious reasons of his own and it’s a proper rip-roaring adventure. At the same time, Yesterday is trying to learn how to use her magic, training as a tea witch under the most immense pressure, and everything comes together to form a truly satisfying plot. Is it clear yet just how much I loved this book?

I really can’t recommend Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup highly enough. If you have kids of the appropriate age, they are definitely going to love it, but it’s such a good book that there’s plenty for adults to enjoy too. It’s the sort of book that makes you give a big sigh of contentment when you’ve finished it, shortly before you start desperately wishing for the sequel!

5/5

Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup is out on Thursday 17th March

Book review: The Atlas Six

My copy of The Atlas Six was gifted to me by Black Crow PR via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Secrets. Betrayal. Seduction.

Welcome to the Alexandrian Society.

When the world’s best magicians are offered an extraordinary opportunity, saying yes is easy. Each could join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Their members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places.

Contenders Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona are inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds. Parisa Kamali is a telepath, who sees the mind’s deepest secrets. Reina Mori is a naturalist who can perceive and understand the flow of life itself. And Callum Nova is an empath, who can manipulate the desires of others. Finally there’s Tristan Caine, whose powers mystify even himself.

Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them. 

So I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make of The Atlas Six, by Olivie Blake. I’d seen the hype, but I wasn’t convinced it deserved it, and it really didn’t sound like my kind of thing. And I have to say, now that I’ve read it, I’m still not convinced it deserves the hype. It must be said, dark academia is not my jam. I find the concept interesting, but I’ve generally found the execution to be lacking, and The Atlas Six was no exception. Which is a shame, because a book about six people plucked from their lives in order to become some of the most powerful people in the world sounds fascinating, especially when you add magic into the mix.

It started so well. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed the first few chapters, meeting our characters and watching Atlas recruit them to the Society. It ended well too. The last few chapters were breathtaking and I literally couldn’t put it down because I had to know what was going to happen. The problem for me was the bit in the middle, which was just meh. Granted, it gave me enough investment in the characters and story for those last chapters to have an impact, so it wasn’t all bad, but there was just too much sitting around trying to sound clever for me to fully enjoy it. Only a couple of the characters seemed to show any growth over the course of the book, and I found the timeline confusing. It also features one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever come across in the form of Callum. I am not someone who thinks everyone needs to be likeable, but he had no redeeming features whatsoever.

I did like most of the characters, even if there wasn’t any growth, although some of the side characters (looking at you Gideon) seemed much more interesting than our main six. I liked Nico and Libby, although I’d have liked them more with less bickering and mistrust, and I found Tristan intriguing and actually, he may have been my favourite of the main characters.

As much as I found the middle something of a slog, I do have to admit that I keep thinking about the story and what happens next, so I guess I’m invested enough to read the sequel. I’m not exaggerating when I say those last chapters really grabbed me and didn’t let go, and I’m fairly certain at least a star and a half of my rating is due solely to them!

So would I recommend The Atlas Six? If you’re a fan of dark academia already then yes, this is probably right up your street. I’d probably receommend it if you’re on the fence about the genre, because it’s certainly going to help you come down on one side or the other. If you’re already not a fan though, I don’t think this book will change your mind. I’m glad I read it, and I’ll be looking out for the sequel, but it’s definitely not top of my recommendation list.

3.5/5

The Atlas Six was released in the UK by Tor UK on 3rd March 2022. Thanks again to Black Crow PR for the gifted copy.

Book review: Gallant

My copy of Gallant was gifted to me by the publisher, Titan Books, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior is missing three things: a mother, a father, and a voice. Her mother vanished all at once, and her father by degrees, and her voice was a thing she never had to start with.

She grew up at Merilance School for Girls. Now, nearing the end of her time there, Olivia receives a letter from an uncle she’s never met, her father’s older brother, summoning her to his estate, a place called Gallant. But when she arrives, she discovers that the letter she received was several years old. Her uncle is dead. The estate is empty, save for the servants. Olivia is permitted to remain, but must follow two rules: don’t go out after dusk, and always stay on the right side of a wall that runs along the estate’s western edge.

Beyond it is another realm, ancient and magical, which calls to Olivia through her blood…

I was so excited when I was approved for an e-arc of Gallant on Netgalley. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while will know that I adore V E Schwab’s writing, but I’d missed out on a physical arc and thought I wouldn’t get to read it until it released. I have to say, it’s not my favourite Schwab book, but it’s wonderfully creepy and beautifully written.

Olivia is a great main character. At Merilance, she keeps herself to herself, partly through choice, partly because the other children don’t want to know her. She’s quick and clever and knows that her lack of voice means other people underestimate her, which she uses to her advantage. Once she arrives at Gallant, she’s not daunted by the things she finds there, even when her only known relative screams at her to leave. I really liked that Gallant was important to her, despite her mother’s warnings, because it was somewhere she belonged. And her joy when she realised that Edgar could understand her sign language was beautiful. I also really liked that, although her lack of a voice did other her in many situations, she knew her own worth and never wished to be able to speak.

The other characters are great too. Hannah and Edgar, the two servants in the house, are parental substitutes to both Olivia and her cousin, Matthew, and I loved seeing Olivia get used to having people who cared about her. It was also interesting to see the toll living in the house had on Matthew and wonder if that was Olivia’s future too.

However, as good as the characters are, Gallant’s real strength is the setting and world-building. In fact, it’s so good, it’s almost another character. Both versions of Gallant are described so vividly I can still picture them, and the whole concept of the two houses mirroring each other and the backstory we eventually get are so good. Schwab builds up the creep factor throughout the book, until we finally see the master of the other house and realise why everyone’s so scared of him. I loved this. I was almost holding my breath as I was reading so he didn’t discover me! And the ghouls! I loved the ghouls and the part they had to play in the story. I also loved the way we slowly realise why Olivia can see them.

There isn’t really much of a plot as such. There’s a throughline of Olivia discovering who she is and who her family are, but it’s very much a character piece. I can’t say nothing much happens, because that’s not true, and there is a big reveal of why there are two Gallants the connection of the Prior family to the house, but it’s much more about getting Olivia from point a to point b. I liked it for that, but the main reason this was a four star read and not a five star one for me was that there really wasn’t much of an ending, except in terms of Olivia’s journey, and it just felt a bit anti-climactic. I can’t really explain this very well without spoiling it, which I’m obviously not going to do, but I was disappointed. It was probably a good place to leave Olivia, but not a good place to leave the book if that makes sense.

I would still recommend Gallant. As I said above, the writing is gorgeous and it really pulled me into the world. I happily gave the book four stars. I just would have liked that ending to be a bit…more.

4/5

Gallant is out today from Titan Books

Book review: The Five Queendoms: Scorpica

My copy of Scorpica was gifted to me by the publishers, Titan Books, in exchange for an honest review.

A centuries-long peace is shattered in a matriarchal society when a decade passes without a single girl being born in this sweeping epic fantasy that’s perfect for fans of Robin Hobb and Circe.

Five hundred years of peace between queendoms shatters when girls inexplicably stop being born. As the Drought of Girls stretches across a generation, it sets off a cascade of political and personal consequences across all five queendoms of the known world, throwing long-standing alliances into disarray as each queendom begins to turn on each other—and new threats to each nation rise from within.

Uniting the stories of women from across the queendoms, this propulsive, gripping epic fantasy follows a warrior queen who must rise from childbirth bed to fight for her life and her throne, a healer in hiding desperate to protect the secret of her daughter’s explosive power, a queen whose desperation to retain control leads her to risk using the darkest magic, a near-immortal sorcerer demigod powerful enough to remake the world for her own ends—and the generation of lastborn girls, the ones born just before the Drought, who must bear the hopes and traditions of their nations if the queendoms are to survive.

I enjoyed Scorpica a lot. I loved the matriarchal society that G R Macallister created and the way each queendom had a different area of specialism – Scorpica is a queendom of warriors, where baby boys are sold to the other queendoms shortly after birth and the baby girls grow up to fight and protect the world, whereas Arca is a queendom of magicians, Bastian is full of scribes, Paxim full of traders and Sestia full of farmers. We spend most of our time between Scorpica and Arca, but we see bits of the other queendoms and have a variety of point of view characters. I also liked the breadth of time covered – we start in 501 and finish in 516, and get to see how this matriarchal society copes when there are suddenly no girls being born and no-one knows why. The world-building was great, and I’m still thinking about some of the things that happened in this book.

But my god, it is dense. Now I would normally read a book like this in about a week, especially one I was enjoying. Scorpica took me an entire month. A month! It destroyed my reading target for both January and February, and I have no idea why it took me so long to finish it. It wasn’t the writing style, because I enjoyed that. The point of view characters and their companions were great, especially the group that Jehenit, Eminel and Vish were part of, so it wasn’t the characterisation. It could have been because I got attached to a character who didn’t survive for very long, which both surprised and jolted me a bit, or maybe just because the proof was printed in tiny text. Whatever the reason, it was a much longer read than I had anticipated, so it’s a good job I did enjoy it!

I can’t say that the plot whips along, because it doesn’t, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Instead, we get a book that is focused on exploring the political and societal worlds of the Five Queendoms in a way that makes each character’s actions make sense. If there’s a weak point, I think it’s probably the primary antagonist, whose main motivation appears to be power and for me, personally, it wasn’t really compelling enough, although I enjoyed the latter part of her plotline. There’s also a character I didn’t particularly get on with, but I think that’s mostly because they were responsible for that death I mentioned above (I hold grudges over fictional character’s deaths. I still haven’t forgiven Melanie Rawn for a character she killed off in a book more than 25 years ago!). My favourite character was probably Vish, who can never quite forgive herself for abandoning her homeland and her queen, even though she also knows she had no choice.

I’m very interested in seeing what happens next. Obviously I’m not going to say what happens at the end, but the events of the last few chapters do change the direction of the story quite dramatically and I very much want to see where Macallister is planning to take it. I’m also hoping to see more of the other queendoms we only passed through in this book – Bastian in particular is somewhere I’d like to explore further.

If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, Scorpica could easily be your next favourite book. I’m glad Titan offered me the chance to read it, as I’m not sure I would have picked it up in a shop, but I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book!

4/5

The Five Queendoms: Scorpica is out today from Titan Books.

2022 Bookish Resolutions

So hi. It’s been a while (although it’s almost certainly not the longest break I’ve taken from this blog) and I thought I should definitely come and post something. And it’s January, so why not a bookish resolutions post?!

Number one, top bookish resolution of the year is actually start blogging consistently. I almost put again at the end of that sentence, but I think the only time I have actually posted consistently was December 2016 when I managed a post a day to start the blog off. So, maybe a schedule? A committment to a certain number of posts a week? I’m not going to lie, if I go with that, it’s not going to be more than one a week, but it’s a start.

Number two has to be clear my netgalley shelf. Although actually, that seems a bit unrealistic, so let’s say get my netgalley ratio up to 60%. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is at the moment, because that’s too embarrassing.

Number three is my goodreads challenge, which I’ve set at 141. Last year’s was 140. I normally like to increase it a little more than 1 book, but I struggled so much last year (at the beginning of December I was 30 books away from hitting it, and I only managed to meet it by reading all my graphic novels!). I know it’s arbitrary, but I’ve hit it every year I’ve been setting it and I can’t bear the thought of not managing it!

Number four is to make sure that 50% of the books I read came into this house before 1 January 2022. My TBR is out of control and I need to start reading some of them instead of the shiny new books.

Number five is similar to the last one, and it’s to read my Illumicrate books. There is absolutely no point in me paying for a subscription box and never reading any of the books, it doesn’t matter how pretty they are!

And number six is to post every day (more or less) on instagram. Most posts will be bookish, but there will also be photos of some of my art journalling and papercrafts, and just general life. I’ve kept it up for 16 days so far, so fingers crossed!

I must admit, some of these resolutions sound very familar. This is the third resolutions post I’ve done on the blog (the last two were in January 2018 and 2017) and they genuinely haven’t changed that much! I am going to be better at blogging and reviewing – and let me know if you’d be interested in seeing things like theatre reviews from me (although I’m not promising anything!).

Hopefully I’ll see you around in 2022!

Blog Tour: The Winter Garden

Huge thanks to Del Rey Books for inviting me to join the blog tour and sending me a gifted copy of the book! I was so excited to read The Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell, and it did not disappoint!

Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.

You are invited to enter an unusual competition.

I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.

On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

Now all she has to do is win.

I really loved The Winter Garden. I’d read a couple of Alex Bell’s YA/Middle Grade books, so I knew I liked her writing, but this was on a whole other scale. It’s one of those books that slowly unfurls its plots and characters in such a way that you get sucked in immediately. The Winter Garden itself is truly magical, and I shared Beatrice’s wonder as she discovered it as an 8 year old whose mother had just died. It also made perfect sense to me that once she had the opportunity to go searching for it as an adult, she would do so. Who wouldn’t want to revisit such a magical place, especially if you’re constantly being judged for being different in your usual world?

Beatrice as an adult, Victorian woman is such a great character. She bucks so many Victorian trends – she won’t marry, she wants to live independently, she loves science and she wants to explore the world – but in other ways she’s still so bound by society’s rules. She can’t stop herself from treating James, who was her only friend as a child, as a servant because he’s of a lower class than she is, and she is abominably rude to him multiple times as a result. She judges her friend Rosa for being American, new money and searching for a marriage which will bring her a title, without realising how that will bring Rosa a security she’s never had before – and one Beatrice has never needed. It’s fair to say that Beatrice is not necessarily always a nice person. But it’s still a joy to watch her find herself, firstly on her wedding day, then in her travels and finally as she designs her garden.

All the way through those adventures though, many of which we learn about through letters, there was a part of me that desperately wanted Beatrice to come home and rescue Rosa, who is trapped in the most terrible of marriages. Even as Rosa chases the thing she wants more than almost anything else, I was silently screaming not him! Don’t pick him! (Trying to review this book without spoilers is HARD.) It’s really difficult to see the cheerful, vibrant Rosa we first meet on Beatrice’s wedding day start changing into someone else, someone who yearns for escape. She never completely loses herself, and she comes up with the perfect way to keep her husband away from her, but she’s never that carefree young woman we first saw. The character development throughout the book is spot on, and I also liked the way it looked at mental health and the way women were so often dismissed as hysterical.

There is a plot, but it’s almost secondary to the characters, which I have to be honest, I always love in a book. We follow both these women’s stories until the fateful invitations to design a garden arrive. I loved this part of the book, maybe more than the rest, because both Beatrice and Rosa have their own reasons for wanting to win that wish and it was really hard to know who to root for sometimes. And the gardens they design are magnificent. It’s never really mentioned how magic must be at the heart of so much of their gardens, even by the visitors to them, and yet it’s also made clear at the very beginning of the book that no-one believes Beatrice’s stories of the Winter Garden because they’re so fantastical. I absolutely want to actually visit all three gardens though, and ride the golden horse on the carousel and maybe even eat a plum of regret.

The Winter Garden is honestly a book that will stay with me for a long time. It’s truly magical, and while I’ve seen a lot of places say it’s like The Night Circus, I will go one step further and say it’s better. I really, properly, loved it, and Beatrice, and Rosa and James. It doesn’t scream and shout for attention, but manages to grab it anyway, and it’s perfect for reading in the dead of winter, wrapped up warm in front of a fire. I highly recommend that you get yourself a copy!

5/5

The Winter Garden is published by Del Rey and out 2nd September. I was gifted a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: The Hand of the Sun King

I’m very excited that today is my stop on the blog tour for The Hand of the Sun King by J T Greathouse. Huge thanks to Will at Gollancz for the gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.

All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.

I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path . . . a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by Empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.

But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves 

I knew I wouldn’t have time to read the book for a full review, so this is my first impressions.

First of all, I absolutely love the cover, so kudos to Patrick Knowles who designed and illustrated it. The illustration on the hand is stunning.

But on to the actual book! I’m 123 pages into it, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s first person point of view, and we first meet our protagonist, Wen Alder, when he is 8 years old. Alder’s conflicting loyalties can be seen right from the start – does he choose the path of his Sienese father, or that of his Nayeni grandmother, who rebels against Sienese rule? Well actually, Alder chooses to follow magic and he’ll take whichever path will lead him to greater understanding and control.

The characters are really well fleshed out. We don’t spend a lot of time with anyone other than Alder, but I still loved his grandmother and his tutor. Alder himself can be a bit annoying – he’s quite arrogant and he puts himself in danger in his determination to master magic properly, not in the restrained ways practised by his grandmother and the empire.

The worldbuilding is pretty good too. It’s obviously based on Asian history, and I’m sure someone more versed in it would be able to spot all the links, but “based on Asian history” is all I’ve got. As I’m not very far into the book I’m not sure how this is going to play out, but I like the two different magic systems, clearly accessing the same power in different ways. I also like what we’ve had so far about the internal conflicts felt by someone brought up under an oppressive, conquering regime with loyalties to both the oppressors and the oppressed.

So far then, The Hand of the Sun King is living up to expectations. I’m very much looking forward to getting to know Alder and the people surrounding him better as the book goes on, and to finding out if he can ever resolve his torn loyalties. It’s definitely worth picking up if you’re in the mood for a coming of age story filled with magic and conflict!

The Hand of the Sun King is out now from Gollancz

Blog Tour: The Wood Bee Queen

I’m very excited that today is my stop on the blog tour for The Wood Bee Queen by Edward Cox. If you’ve been here for a while you might remember that I loved Ed’s debut series, The Relic Guild, so I was very much looking forward to reading his latest book. Many thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy!

Somewhere in England, in a small town called Strange Ground by the Skea, Ebbie Wren is the last librarian and he’s about to lose his job. Estranged from his parents, unable to make connections with anyone except the old homeless lady who lives near the library, Ebbie isn’t quite sure what he’s supposed to do next. His only escape from reality is his deep interest in local folklore, but reality is far stranger than Ebbie can dream.

On the other side of the sky and the sea, the Queen of House Wood Bee has been murdered. Her sister has made the first move in a long game, one which will lead her to greatness, yet risk destruction for the entire Realm. She needs the two magical stones Foresight and Hindsight for her power to be complete, but no one knows where they are. Although the sword recently stolen by Bek Rana, small time thief and not very good at it, might hold a clue to their location . . . and to stopping the chaos. But all Bek wants is to sell the sword and buy herself a better life. She’s not interested in being a hero, and neither is Ebbie.

But someone is forcing their hand and playing for the heart of the Realm. Ebbie and Bek are destined to unite. They must find a way to stop the destruction of House Wood Bee, save the Realm, and just maybe save themselves in the process. All victories come at a price. The Oldungods are rising. And they are watching… 

The first thing I want to say is congratulations to Ed on that glorious pun of a title. I’m ashamed to say it took me a very long time to realise the double meaning, but once I did, it made me smile every time.

Anyway, you’ll be pleased to hear I really enjoyed The Wood Bee Queen. It’s the story of Ebbie Wren, a librarian in a tiny town near the sea, who, on the day he loses his job, finds out that the Realm is a real place and not just a story. Not only that, it turns out the future of both the Realm and Earth might actually rest on the shoulders of Ebbie and his very reluctant companion, Bek Rana. I loved both Ebbie and Bek as lead characters. They’re both very closed off in their own way – Ebbie has just lost his only friend, and Bek had a tragic childhood which means she doesn’t trust very easily – but we see them open up to each other over the course of the book, and there’s some good character development for them both. Is it a little bit tropey? Well, yes, but tropes are tropes for a reason, and the story carried me along anyway.

Speaking of story, the plot is mostly a portal fantasy quest/epic adventure, but it spends more time in (the slightly alternative version of) our world than you might expect, and I really liked that. I also liked the way Ed mixed in the old Greek gods, and used the idea of the gods using mortals as pawns in a game. There’s also a great cast of villains and side characters that I quickly cared about – Karin, Charlie and, of course, Mai were particular standouts. The worldbuilding was great – I could easily picture both versions of Strange Ground- and was made richer by the inclusion of some of the stories Ebbie had heard from Mai. I know some people hated the letter that Mai sent Ebbie, but I loved both the idea and content of it. I also enjoyed reading from Yandira (the villain)’s point of view, and she is a delicious villain indeed!

The Wood Bee Queen isn’t a complicated book, and I did feel the pace suffered in the middle a bit, mostly the parts featuring the army on the move. However, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and apart from that small gripe about the pacing, I thought it was great. There were times I didn’t want to put it down, and if that’s not a sign of a good book, I don’t know what is! I would definitely recommend it to other fantasy fans – it’s fun and filled with a cast of characters that will stay with you.

4/5

The Wood Bee Queen is out now from Gollancz

Blog Tour: The Blacktongue Thief

Today is my spot on the blog tour for The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman! As such, I received a copy of the book for free from Gollancz, in exchange for an honest review.

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford. 

I’ll be honest. I thought for a long time before I requested a spot on the tour, because I really wasn’t sure if The Blacktongue Thief was going to be my sort of book. It appeared to be traditional epic fantasy, and therefore, I assumed, full of the misogyny often found in those books. Fortunately that was not the case. Kinch, our main character, isn’t the most enlightened person, but he is a 23 year old, brought up in a thieves’ school and living in a world that has been ravaged by war, so I can forgive him some rough edges. It helps that Kinch is a great first person POV – he’s telling the story from some point in the future, and is happy to pass comment on the actions of himself and his companions, often in a very funny way. Because Kinch is telling his own story, we get to see his thought processes too, and I particularly liked that we got a lot of his backstory in a very organic way. There were two occasions when I thought this worked very well: his reaction to meeting Malk, and the guilt and shame it provoked; and when he meets a man who could possibly-maybe be his biological father. I also loved KInch’s relationship with his god, Fothannon, and the mischievous ways Fothannon would grant prayers.

KInch isn’t our only well-written character though. The rest of this band of adventurers have enough depth that I cared about what happened to them – even Galva, who barely speaks – and even the minor characters are memorable. The plot moves at pace, and it’s a credit to Buehlman’s writing that he builds the character development into the fast moving story. Also, the world building is phenomenal and again, is fed into the story in a really organic way. One of my favourite world building ideas was the Taker’s Guild and the way they’d spread around the world, as well as their policy of charging their members for the education they’d had no choice in receiving. Because Kinch is in debt to the guild, he has a tattoo on his cheek that allows anyone to slap him and claim a drink on the guild, and I loved this idea. It’s such a tiny thing on the face of it, but really illustrates what sort of world this is and where the power lies.

I will say that it took me a little while to get into the book. I’m not sure why that was, as the first scene is great, but it just didn’t immediately grip me, and I was worried that I was going to struggle to read it. However, it soon picked up for me, and I found myself cursing every time I had to put the book down! If you’re struggling too, just stick with it, because it’s worth it!

Overall then, I greatly enjoyed The Blacktongue Thief. It’s funny and fast moving, with a great set of characters and a well thought out, vivid setting. It’s definitely worth your time!

4/5

The Blacktongue Thief is out now