[Friday Flash Review] The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig

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❧ Title: The Girl From Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)
❧ Author: Heidi Heilig
❧ Publisher: Hot Key Books
❧ Publication date: February 16th 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦

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Sixteen-year-old Nix Song is a time-traveller. She, her father and their crew of time refugees travel the world aboard The Temptation, a glorious pirate ship stuffed with treasures both typical and mythical. Old maps allow Nix and her father to navigate not just to distant lands, but distant times – although a map will only take you somewhere once. And Nix’s father is only interested in one time, and one place: Honolulu 1868. A time before Nix was born, and her mother was alive. Something that puts Nix’s existence rather dangerously in question…

Nix has grown used to her father’s obsession, but only because she’s convinced it can’t work. But then a map falls into her father’s lap that changes everything. And when Nix refuses to help, her father threatens to maroon Kashmir, her only friend (and perhaps, only love) in a time where Nix will never be able to find him. And if Nix has learned one thing, it’s that losing the person you love is a torment that no one can withstand. Nix must work out what she wants, who she is, and where she really belongs before time runs out on her forever

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25950053In A Nutshell
✎Time-travelling pirate ships, magical map Navigation and dysfunctional families visiting real and mythological worlds.

✎#ownvoices biracial (Asian American) teen

✎Diverse ☒ (race, queerness, secondary character with mental health issues)

✎ Nix and her family (her father and the crew of the Temptation ) travel through time and alternate realities by using maps that guide them to a specific place and time (one use per map), collecting treasures both real and mythological/magical, as they search for the one map they’ve been looking for: the one that might undo Nix’s entire existence. It might mean getting her mother back, but is it worth the risk? The captain of The Temptation seems to think so. And he’s willing to do anything to get his hands on the map he needs, no matter the cost.

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What I loved

✎ Everything! The Girl From Everywhere is full of magic, heart and adventure. Between the often heartbreaking relationship between Nix and her father and the interpersonal relationships between the crew, this book takes a hold of you and makes you care. The characters are vivid and layered and the unique method of time travel is every bit as magical and thrilling as it sounds.

✎ Kash is an utter delight; half romantic rogue and half not-quite-gentleman thief.

✎ The seamless inclusion of so many fragments of mythology and magic, all of which come together to weave an intriguing tapestry against which the story of The Girl From Everywhere plays out. It’s almost Urban Fantasy, with the modern setting from which Nix and the ship come and go, passing through as they please, but the time-hopping and seafaring aspects transform the story into something else entirely. Something completely enchanting.

✎ The fact that Heilig goes there with the dysfunction of Nix’s family, including suggestions of mental health issues as well as drug abuse. It’s hard and it hurts but it’s real and it’s written like a pro.

✎The “political bits”!

✎ Everything. I loved everything.  This book is so, so long overdue a stellar, praise-singing review (which was why I did it first when beginning to tackle the terrifying backlog!), because it is a genuinely amazing book. A clear five stars with glitter and tasteful sparkles.

✎ Heidi herself is so lovely it’s almost criminal, to be honest. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her for Fantasy Faction, where she was an utter delight.

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If you liked this…

…then you might also like: Into The Dim, by Janet B Taylor.
Because: It’s slightly similar in theme, e.g. unorthodox methods of time travel and a vividly-realised cast. Into The Dim isn’t as diverse (though it features a MC with Anxiety and phobias that aren’t exploited or there for ~drama~ and ~tension~, as well as non-white* secondary characters (a black teen in the modern day and a Jewish teen in the past)) with regards to the main characters, but the mental health and anxiety issues are handled sensitively and accurately. Unsure if it is #ownvoices in this regard.

* Written as “non-white” instead of PoC because whilst many Jewish people consider themselves White, many do not.

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Battling my review backlog: a battle-plan

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I am ludicrously behind on reviewing what I read. I’ve tried to be good with at least the books I receive from NetGalley, but even so, due to a couple of years of lapsed blogging (not lapsed reading…) my backlog of reviews more closely resembles a mountain than a list. It’s gone from the ridiculous to the sublime, honestly. So here’s what I’m going to do about it.
1. Blog more.

Revolutionary, I know. I’m going to get through the backlog with the least amount of pressure possible, and to this end, I’m going to start Friday Flash reviews. (Hopefully) weekly I will post a review of a book that I read anywhere between 2014 to present. So I don’t drown in yet more reviews, anything from now (May 2017) onwards will get reviewed as normal with the intention of blogging more frequently.

2. Break the backlog down

Alongside the Friday Flash reviews, I’ll be going through the massive backlog and seeing which books I bought but then didn’t read for months. These will be my Tsundoku Sundays and they’ll add a little variety, as well as being a pretty cool way of seeing which books I jumped on within a month or so of their release and which I–for whatever reason–left to gather a little dust on the shelves first.

3. Write shorter, more concise reviews

I’m not good at writing short reviews, not gonna lie. But given my ever-limited number of spoons for both mental and physical exertion, posting reviews of 1.5k+ for each review very quickly gets tiring: in fact, that’s why, during the rough period that was 2014-2015, I barely managed to keep on top of anything at all. Things in my life were out of control and the first thing to slip was my blog. I want to fix that.

So that’s how I’m going to attempt to battle my epic backlog of books to review. I’ll get there. Maybe.

Flame In The Mist, by Renée Ahdieh

Title: Flame In The Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 16th May 2017
Rating:  ★★★★.5 (4.5 stars)

23308087The first of a new trilogy by The Wrath and the Dawn author, Renée Adieh,  Flame In The Mist is an exciting mash-up of Mulan and 47 Ronin. It isn’t a retelling of The Ballad Of Mulan, but rather a faint echo of Mulan’s spirit (and, you know, the passing oneself as a boy, thing), giving us Mariko, a girl who is bright and brave and unafraid to enter into a world reserved almost exclusively for men. We switch out the concept of a girl replacing her father in the army (with her family’s blessing, unlike in the Disney retelling of the Ballad) for a girl bound for an arranged marriage, who finds herself cast out into the world with little reason to head for her betrothed and all the reason in the world to choose her own path. But what begins as a quest for answers and for revenge, turns into a complex series of events that will change Markio’s life–and her heart–forever.

When Hattori Mariko is told she must marry into the Imperial family, she accepts this duty as any good daughter might: she wishes to honour her family and do what is best for their reputation, in spite of marriage being the last thing from her mind. Especially since she has far better things to do than play at being a doll in which to dress prettily in silks. Things such as continue tinkering with her many inventions, however small. She has a bright mind and wants nothing more than to prove her worth beyond her station and gender. Yet things are as they must be, and Mariko accepts her fate with grace and honour.

Except that inside she is slowly dying at the notion of what her life will become. Hattori Mariko was never meant for the dull security of marriage. She was always meant for more.

When tragedy strikes on her way to the Imperial palace and she is betrayed, Mariko seizes her chance and flees into the night; it’s that, or die. Though she could make herself and the fact that she survived known, she has no idea who it was who betrayed her and if, should she finish her journey to meet her betrothed, she would be again only travelling to meet her doom. With only the knowledge that the infamous Black Clan is responsible for the attempt on her life and the blood spilled in the Jukai forest that night, Mariko takes on the appearance of a boy and thrusts herself into the hidden world of mercenaries and dark power. Soon she finds herself in the midst of the very people she believes tried to murder her, taken into their fold and privy to their secrets.

Only nothing is ever as it seems, and soon Mariko learns that the Black Clan is not what they appear. As she grows closer to the members of the clan, Mariko realises that the world has never been black and white, but is cast in infinite shades of grey. The only constants are power and honour and she begins to rethink everything she ever thought she knew about both.

Meanwhile, Mariko’s twin brother, Hattori Kenshin, refuses to believe that Mariko is dead. He is a skilled tracker and he finds evidence that leads him to believe that she escaped the slaughter that befell her party in the forest. He can’t fathom where she went, but he trusts that his cunning sister has a reason for having vanished. But with the betrothal to the prince being such an important step in their family’s ascension, Kenshin knows he must tread carefully so as not to draw suspicion and shame. Mariko is now by herself in the wild and with unknown persons possibly still eager for her death–the last thing he can do is draw attention to the fact that she survived at the same time as not wishing to jeopardise the marriage by news of his sister’s death. Kenshin, the Dragon of Kai (the moniker bestowed for his prowess in battle and his skill as a samurai), must navigate carefully if he is to bring Mariko home and keep her both safe and leave their family’s honour–and his own–intact.

But a force moves in the shadows, with its own agenda and with eyes where those it watches least expect. The only question is when it will move.

During all this, two boys are bound together by more than blood and through a bond that runs deeper than the honour their parents chose to throw to the wayside before them. One has designs on revenge and reclaiming his rightful title and position, whilst the other wishes only to quell the anger and shame at their pasts and live in anonymity. Yet when all these paths finally converge and become entangled with one another, everything is set to change.

Flame In The Mist is the first of what is set to be a trilogy that is equal parts political intrigue and adventure, with a lost legacy to reclaim, a powerful betrothal at stake and the true meaning of both honour and friendship on full display within the vivid and exciting world that Adieh has presented. Easily one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017,  Flame In The Mist blends an rebellion against gender roles and conformity seamlessly with an exhilarating story of exiled warriors and old magic, all whilst delivering a page-turner of a book that left me eagerly awaiting the next.

One thing I will mention is how disappointed I am by the fact that Ahdieh chose not to include any queer rep. Especially given how much the historical context of Japan lends itself to the acceptance and even celebration of queer relationships, especially between men in the context of samurai etc. It’s actually a little lazy and generally demonstrates that most authors won’t even consider even a hint of queer rep. It’s alienating and unfair, not to mention, very unrealistic–especially in the context of the Black Clan and their interpersonal relationships with one another.

(P.S. Not sure whether this next applies more to the writer or the publisher, since italicising foreign words is a Thing in publishing, or if it was an inconsistency of the eArc I received from NetGalley by the publisher, but there seemed to be little to no reason or rhyme regarding which Japanese words were typed in italics and which weren’t. Arguably the words that are more “familiar” and less “foreign” were left un-italicised (e.g. kimono, samurai, sake, etc), and yet words such as ‘tabi’, ‘hakama’, ‘tantō’ and ‘rōnin’ were presented in italics, even though it’s also arguable that these words are just as familiar. To further illustrate the seemingly random choices regarding italics, words such as ‘kata’ were left without italics, when in fact this is a word related specifically to martial arts and form and therefore would be less familiar than perhaps ‘rōnin’. Generally the italics seemed a little confusing regarding where they were used, with little consistency. But then I’m of the opinion that no italics to designate foreign words is better.

Further, it would have been amazing for, in the glossary of terms, perhaps, for the kanji used to write all of the character’s names to be included. As someone studying Japanese (including kanji), it would have been a nice little touch and also I am a nerd so there’s that, too.)

Masquerade, by Laura Lam [Micah Grey #3]

Title: Masquerade (Micah Grey #3)
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 9th March 2017
Rating: ★★★★

23279496It’s been a long wait between Shadowplay and Masquerade, and there were times when it seemed it would never come, short of Laura Lam electing to self-pub and/or kickstart the third and final Micah Grey novel. Thankfully, Lam’s publisher, also responsible for publishing the fantastic futuristic sci-fi thriller False Hearts swooped in and seized the entire trilogy, meaning that Micah was coming home.

And what a homecoming. Masquerade is a fast-paced and exciting story, full of mystery and heart, from the second we’re taken back to Ellada.

I was worried about the amount of time that had passed, having expected to forget absolutely everything, and since I do not have the ability to re-read books, it was a genuine concern that part of my enjoyment might be diminished by “what is happening? Who are these people?” and “I have no memory of this place!”. There were things I’d partially forgotten, but the way Lam both opened Masquerade and weaved the story, any of those gaps were very easily filled, with my memory being jogged where relevant and not once did I feel I was reading something I only half connected with, in spite of the huge gap and subsequent gaps in what I remembered. It felt every bit the same as having waited a year or so between books, with no clumsy dumps of exposition or info.

And the wait was worth it.

After the circus and then the magic contest with the Masque of Magic, things seem to be looking up for Micah. Except that at the close of Shadowplay, to sour the success, Micah fell suddenly ill and it seemed related to his burgeoning abilities as a chimera. Luckily, soon Micah is well (but for how long?), but at the cost of trusting someone he never wanted to see again. The Royal Physician is someone Micah would rather steer clear from, and with good reason, following the man’s employment of a Shadow to report their actions and whereabouts during the magic contest, even sending someone to get close to Masque in order to glean all the info he could. Yet Micah doesn’t have much choice and his treatment at the hands of the Royal Physician becomes regular affair–one he remains deeply mistrustful of.

Yet ridiculously, allowing Pozzi to treat him is soon the lesser of Micah’s worries, as tension grows within the city due to both the rumours of chimera and the politicking of the Foresters. The problem is: they have a point. For too many centuries, the noble families and the royal family have had much of the power and all of the privilege, whilst many in the country go hungry or find themselves in poverty. This dissent will not be eased without change, and yet when a particularly violent arm of the Foresters, calling themselves the Kashura in reference to the old histories and tales of the chimera and the Elder race, rises up and makes themselves known, the people of Ellada are caught between the need for change and the dislike for violence and bloodshed.

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Things will come to a head eventually and civil war may well be on the cards.

Meanwhile, Micah’s abilities seem to strengthen thanks to the treatment rendered by Pozzi and soon he is experiencing strange dreams that seem to show him the actions of another person as they go about their business in shadow. That business is body snatching. But without any notion of who is behind the actions or why, Micah and his friends are working blind. They’re not in this alone, aided by the mysterious Anisa, the Damselfly apparition from the Aleph who knows more than she says and who sometimes appears only to help them when it suits her best. None of them are entirely willing to trust her, but with their secrets held tightly to their chests, there are few around them who know the full truth and they must take whatever help they can get.

Matters become more complicated when hands behind the scenes begin to play their cards and Micah, Drystan and Cyan are pulled into things far more complicated and delicate than they could have imagined–and with the Foresters poised for action and change (one way or another) it looks as though things may come to a head sooner than anyone hoped.

One of the things that I’d been hoping for most with Masquerade was Micah’s confrontation with his parents, one way or another. I felt that given the storyline that led him from the noble house in the first place, there needed to be some manner of resolution given that Micah had returned to Imachara with a mind to stay and settle into his new life. This happened, in a way, and although there were elements of what I wanted to see, I felt disappointed in how Micah ultimately handled the situation. Which, really, is to say, I was disappointed in how easily Micah was able to set aside his anger and hurt regarding what his parents wanted for the daughter they believed they had. I think that any narrative from Micah suggesting that he understands what his parents were trying to do, and that he knew it came from a place of love, possibly suggests that Lam maybe hasn’t experienced strained relations with parents regarding queerness and acceptance. Micah loses his anger at his mother, understanding her “reasons” for wanting to fixing (or at least this was how it read to me) and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. Micah’s mother does not really, really, truly admit fault and she does not truly accept Micah–and therefore she deserved no quarter, no acknowledgement and no further consideration from Micah. It felt like Micah gave too much for the sake of resolution and that just didn’t sit well with me, considering how his mother both was and wasn’t–and how she’d been earlier in the trilogy.

Overall, Masquerade was just as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, jumping effortlessly back into the same world we’d been forced to leave behind for so long. Every bit as exciting and compelling as its predecessors, Masquerade was a delight and being given such diverse characters with a q u e e r  r o m a n c e  as casually as any other never, ever, ever, ever gets old and it means every bit as much as it ever did. I very desperately want more of Micah and Drystan and still hold out hope for further Micah Grey novels that see him older, wiser and more established with his place in the world.

A wonderful end to the trilogy and almost everything I’d anticipated it would be.

The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco [The Bone Witch #1]

Title: The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1)
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date:  7th March 2017
Rating ★★★★★

30095464The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco, the first of a new YA fantasy series, has been likened to The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss. Usually I take these things with a pinch of salt and decry “advertising!” instead of walking into the book expecting to be given just this. But in this case, the echo of style and verve truly is there—and that’s one of the things that made me love this book so very, very much.  There’s a kind of slow, soft poetry to a story told through the eyes of a single character as they recall the (however distant or recent) past; as if we’re being told a story within a story. We’re told the story by Tea as she recounts it herself and we not only learn about her in snatches and glimpses, but that’s the way we’re invited to see the world of The Bone Witch as well, which is immensely rich and satisfying, as well as tantalisingly slow. The way in which Tea tells her story allows you to curl up and savour every word, simultaneously eager to spend time in the past through her recollection and race back to present day in order to follow the unravelling story wherever it is headed.

Tea is a bone witch, which she discovers when raising her dead brother from the grave, ultimately making him her familiar; in this way he is something resembling alive, though he remains very, truly dead. When a bone witch creates a familiar, the once-more-living creature retains their personality and memories and becomes linked to the witch who raised them. Which is why, when Tea is found by Lady Mikaela, a bone witch on her travels, raising and slaying the monstrous daeva as a bone witch is tasked to do, her brother is forced to remain with her. Neither sibling seems to mind this new and strange turn of events, however, and although Tea is apprehensive about leaving her sisters and family to become an asha-in-training, she is pleased enough to have raised her brother and be headed away from her tiny, insignificant village.

But it won’t be smooth sailing. Perhaps if Tea was any other kind of witch, then perhaps. Only Tea is a Dark asha, a bone witch who can only draw the Dark runes; runes for raising the dead and other darker, murkier things. And the raising and slaying of daeva. Only bone witches can kill the terrible creatures who rise up and bring death wherever they tread and though Tea has just arrived in the city with her new teacher, she already knows that this will be her fate.

As Tea struggles to manage her powers and undergo all the necessary training to become a fully-fledged asha, she finds that being the new girl is hard—let alone when you’re a bone witch. For all the bone witches are essential, they are treated with suspicion and often open hatred by many people and on the whole, they are merely tolerated as a presence among other asha. Not all of the asha think this way about their bone witch sisters, but Tea finds that for the most part she will make no easy friends among the other asha and asha apprentices.

Tea soon discovers that she is very capable, surpassing the expectations of her tutors in many areas. But life remains difficult under the strict rule of the asha-ka’s matron and there are times that Tea wishes she’d never left her little village. But she’ll never take back having raised Fox.

As Tea continues her story, we begin to see the tension mounting and are given the tiniest glimpses that might reveal what her plans will come to be. Through her eyes we see her past and through the observant narrative of the bard who sought her out, we’re told the story of Tea now, where she hides in exile from the rest of the asha as her plan begins to unfold. Much like Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, we are constantly held within inches of learning more about Tea, both in the present day and in her past, and the result is a compelling, lyrical story that lures you in and keeps your interest through its delectably slow unfolding and merging of past and present, with the smallest hint of what the future might hold.

The Bone Witch takes places in a diversely populated world where the asha take centre stage. In subsequent books I would be thrilled to see the male would-be-asha be afforded a place among the asha, instead of the ranks of the Heartseekers, where boys who can draw the runes usually go. I would love to see a boy join the ranks of the asha in the exact same way that Tea did: with the pretty clothes and enchanted jewellery, instead of keeping the genders separate with soldiers and witches, or by further feminising him in order to make him fit. I want Kai to be a male asha still partaking in all the traditional things that the asha do, without needing to surrender his gender somehow to do so. For me, that would mess with the gender boundaries of what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’ in a way that feels relevant to me and more powerful given the typically feminine education and training of the asha apprentices. Basically Kai can be asha, regardless of his gender, doing all the things a girl would. That’s what I want. It’s what I’m hoping for. In addition, since there seemed to be (what I perceived as, at least) the implication of at least an attraction, if not romance, between two of the asha, I’m happy that at least some manner of queer representation was included, though I will be hoping for more in future.

I absolutely loved The Bone Witch, finding it completely enchanting and compelling: the slow, careful pace of the book is what makes it shine, with every detail lovingly rendered on the page, weaving a tapestry which becomes the backdrop to Tea’s journey. This trilogy is going to be fantastic, I have no doubt.

The Ninth Rain, [The Winnowing Flame #1] by Jen Williams

Title: The Ninth Rain (The Winnowing Flame #1)
Author: Jen Williams
Publisher: Headline
Release date: 23rd February 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

29758013The thing about Jen Williams is that she gets it. In the same way that any artist needs to know all the rules of their art intimately, in order to then bend or break those rules, Williams is so intimate with the genre of true, classic fantasy that she likely meets it in the pub for Sunday lunch and sends a card at the holidays. She knows exactly what she’s doing when she crafts these incredibly familiar worlds with almost-but-not quite familiar characters, only to then turn everything on its head and throw all expectation out the window. And she’s very good at it.

Another thing about Williams is that she writes in worlds that really ought to appear so cliché and dated that the words hang off the page in tatters and dust puffs up with every turn. In fact, the worlds she crafts are both gloriously familiar and excitingly fresh, clean and new: we’re never re-reading old “golden age” fantasy ground with Williams—even if, for a moment, we would be forgiven for thinking we are. The thing about this is that we get that cosy hot-chocolate-by-the-fire feeling that’s almost nostalgia for all the classic kinds of fantasy we thought had since been usurped by newer, reimagined fare, yet without any of the dowdy old tropes and generally completely of date nonsense we put up with without knowing there was an alternative. There won’t be any wailing damsels and certainly no chainmail bikinis or armour that is as ineffective as it is silly. Instead we have intelligent, queer (!) black women tromping around the woods, going about the business of being scholars and adventurers. Even the cliché of the womanizing rogue is bashed soundly on the head and left back in the decade from whence it came, and in its place, we have an updated elf-like almost-warrior who’s just enough of a dandy to know how the hell to dress (and to care about his appearance), but lacking in the other cliché of the useless fop who contributes very little outside of someone to laugh at for his lack of Traditional Masculinity.

After the stunning finale to the Copper Cat trilogy, which both tied everything up nicely as if with a ribbon, at the same time as leaving the vast stage open for our heroes to continue on thereafter, I was excited to delve into a whole different world and meet the new denizens of William’s very vivid—and very fun—imagination. The Ninth Rain does not disappoint.

We’re whisked away to a world we see in glimpses, where war stretches back through its long, bloody history and although the level of civilization and resulting technology is on its way to impressive, much of this is contained to walled cities and safe spaces upon which the overgown and worm-touched Wild does not encroach. Those who choose to live out in the Wild do so at great risk and most elect for the safety of cities and towns—anywhere the Wild hasn’t yet spread. But the Wild is spreading, slowly but surely, and this is what (among other things) prompts our wine-making scholar, Vintage, to set off from her family’s very wealthy vineyards in search of answers. What she doesn’t count on is getting entangled with a runaway witch from the infamous Winnowry, who might hold part of the answer Vintage has been looking for.

As for Tormalin the Oathless, even traipsing around the Wild with Vintage has got to be better that what he left behind at home: sickness and the slow and dusty decay of his people. No thanks—Tor would rather leave Ebora and keep on walking, and he has very little intention of looking back. Except Tor isn’t as good at pretending he’s done with Ebora as he thinks and whether he likes it or not, Ebora isn’t done with him. In fact, what he and Vinatge find out in the Wild might just change everything for the home he left behind. Tor isn’t the rogue some readers might expect, and neither is he the brooding, manly man-man warrior of total manliness who mans about doing his man thing. Even with his experience at the House of the Long Night, he absolutely is not That Guy; that wine-and-women dude. He’s more–so much more. And of course he is: because it’s Williams who wrote him and she nails him every bit as much as she nailed Frith and Sebastian.

The Ninth Rain fair sings off the page when reading and even the unusual and, let’s be fair, generally yuck and ick details of worm people and wandering, rampaging ghost plants, are conveyed clear as crystal and in with such an expert hand that, not for one moment, does the notion of said wandering ghost plants sound even a little silly.

Everything about The Ninth Rain cries classic fantasy, from the questing heroes to the fate of the world hanging in the balance. We even have an elfy, ethereal race gifted with longevity and beauty. Cue the forbidden magic that’s little understood, inextricably attached to a dodgy cult and the dutiful runaway with the dark past and we have precisely what’s needed to get very comfortable in that sepia-tinted Good Old Fantasy that brought us here in the first place.

But because this is Jen Williams The Ninth Rain is old fantasy all dressed up new and shiny and with only the good things left in, with all the dated and dodgy tropes drop-kicked into space. As usual, we’re invited to a diversely populated fantasy world that is engaging, exciting and written with complete abandon and no self-consciousness to be seen.

In others words, The Ninth Rain is peak Williams and if we learned anything from The Copper Cat it’s that from here, the bar is only going to get higher and higher. I have no doubt that when it does, Williams will step up her game and vault over it again and again.

Basically Williams’ The Ninth Rain is a shining example of just what modern fantasy can be and do. You need this book.

[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as either high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.

Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.