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 eithleo-stickerset4er 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.

The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Title: The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)
Author: Evelyn Skye
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Publication date: 17th May 2016 (US) 30th June 2016 (UK)
Rating: ★★★★★

CrownsGame hc cThe Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye, is another Truthwitch (by Susan Dennard). Not that they have anything at all in common—which they don’t, as it happens—but rather that this book is so hyped it’s unreal. And yet, as with Truthwitch: the hype is real.

There’s always a certain glee at reading a book that everyone is telling you you’re going to love, and then you actually do love. A tiny wee part of me was braced for disappointment. Not because anything about the book or the hype had put me off, but for two reasons: a) I’d rather be ready for the disappointment of a hyped book not quite hitting the spot and b) I always enter into books with a structured conflict (such as Vika and Nikolai’s duel to the death) with a thin veil of detachment, so I can figure out if it’s worth investing myself, when we’re pretty much told from the offset that someone is going to lose.

That veil did not last long.

Because this book is wonderful.

We’re introduced to an alternate Imperial Russia where magic is secret but real, and the time has come for Russia to once again appoint an Imperial Enchanter. Ordinarily, this is a simple task, with there being a single enchanter at any given time. Unfortunately for both Vika and Nikolai, who have been training their whole lives in preparation for being Imperial Enchanter to the Tsar, this time, things are a little different.

When there are two enchanters, the Crown’s Game must begin.

Vika has been raised on an island with her father, Sergei, and she knows nothing of the other enchanter out there. One day, she will be Imperial Enchanter and she will serve Russia, making her father proud. Nikolai, on the other hand, an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe who was bought from his village for a handful of livestock, has been raised and trained to be the best. Galina, Sergei’s sister, has been a ruthless mentor, giving nothing in the way of love or a comfortable life outside of dressing him for show and parading him as her dear little charity case.

Whilst Nikolai has been studying and mastering his magic through craft, engineering and more scientific ventures, Vika’s magic is all the wildness of natural energies and the very world around her. They are unalike in every way.

But it is time for the tsesarevich’s birthday, and to coincide with the beginning of the Game, both Vika and Nikolai are commanded to make their moves part of his birthday festivities. With no other guidelines given, the two enchanters are set against one another from the offset. And with their mentors whisked away to Siberia, they are left alone to participate in the Game.

Perhaps Nikolai stands a better chance of knowing how to make an impression, since he is best friends with the tsesarevich. But Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov knows nothing of his friend’s magic, or the Game, so even though they are close, things won’t be as simple as he might have hoped. In turn, Vika soon realises that she has caught the attention of Pasha, but with the tension of the Game and the growing fear for her life with each and every move of the Game, she might be too caught up in the magic to know how to use this to her advantage.

But in the end, it is the Tsar who will declare a winner, and he is stony and resolute. The Game will be played and an Imperial Enchanter will be appointed.

The Crown’s Game isn’t what it seems. It isn’t a bloodthirsty battle or a contest of egos or even wills. It’s, instead, a subtle and deep game that revolves entirely around the small cast and their feelings and relationships with one another. There are secrets and twists and revelations that, even if you cotton on a single page before the reveal, will make you go wide-eyed in surprise or clap about like a mad thing with glee (guilty—there might have been book-waggling/hugging). This book is a glorious feast for the senses, with delightful and extraordinary magic that exceeds both expectation and belief at every turn, making the reading of The Crown’s Game almost as exhilarating and wondrous as the Game played by Vika and Nikolai themselves.

The Crown’s Game is a stunning book with such heart and such strong characters, each in their own way. Vika is a fiery thing, whilst Nikolai has brooding, thoughtful edges. Pasha was a constant delight, even as he struggles to face up to the fact that one day he will be Tsar—and the realisation that his heart might be too soft for the role.

From the depth of the friendship between Pasha and Nikolai and the warmth of the relationship between Vika and Ludmila, this book is a pleasure to be immersed in, if only for the interactions between the characters and the way they shape and form the story. Yes, this is about magic and enchantments to make you beam with delight and gape with awe. Yes, this is about a deadly Game and a battle of wills. But it’s also so much more than that. The Crown’s Game is a story about discovery and about pushing the limits of who you are and how far you will go. It’s about finding just what it is that makes you, you, and a little bit of exploring the consequences of letting others make your decisions and sway your heart.

JBI 5 star chibiThis book isn’t just set in historic Russia—it takes you there. You feel it in the streets, in the palaces, in the people who populate the world. From the mounting tensions of the lower and working classes, to the discomfort of those in the nobility who see the dangerous ground upon which the Tsardom treads, this is a book that really feels authentic. Which, given Skye’s love for Russia, isn’t a surprise at all. She nailed it.

At the end of the day, The Crown’s Game is about imagination and finding those little pieces of yourself in order to move one step closer to completing the puzzle of just who you are. It’s gorgeous, it’s exciting and it’s thrilling. It’s pure, pure magic.

 

 

False Hearts, by Laura Lam

Title: False Hearts
Author: Laura Lam
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication date: 16th June 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

False-Hearts-UK-Cover (2)False Hearts, by Laura Lam, is an exciting sci-fi thriller that explores the ideas of brain-hacking, lucid dreaming and the deep, dark world of organised crime and corruption in a city that is perfect on the outside. Where flesh parlours are a five-minute ticket to a new appearance and neural implants allow for quick downloading of information directly to the brain, muscular implants regulate body mass and size, and everything from synthetic, hangover free alcohol to fully-prepared meals can be ordered from a replicator in your kitchen, San Francisco seems to be the perfect city, full of perfect people.

Since the introduction of Zeal lounges, allowing the user to plug directly into their own vast fantasies and participate as they play out, the crime rate has plummeted and the city has become a peaceful haven of happy people with sculpted smiles.

But not everyone gets the same kick out of Zeal; for some, the dreaming process of acting out hidden fantasies doesn’t produce the same effect. For formerly conjoined twins, Taema and Tila, raised outside of society in a secluded cult, Zeal does nothing. Maybe it’s because they were raised so differently, taught the word of Mana-Ma, the conduit for the Good Book and God’s word. But maybe it’s the fact that they can already both lucid dream thanks to their training in the cult of Mana’s Hearth and the fact that their brains simply work differently, lowering the pleasure of Zeal for both of them.

However, this fact makes Taema and Tila somewhat unique and very useful for those seeking to use Zeal for a darker purpose. Everyone knows about the Zealots; those who plug into Zeal and live out such dark fantasies that they are driven away from the monitored feeds in the legal, safe Zeal lounges and into the shady, grimy parlours of the city’s underbelly. Addicted to Zeal, unable to feel a connection with life outside their fantasies, they plug in for hours and hours at a time, eventually wasting away, their lives crumbling around them as they act out their darker sides away from the prying eyes of the rest of the city.

Taema has always been the sensible twin, the reserved twin. An engineer with a good job and bright future, she plays by all the rules. That is, until her sister comes home covered in blood, accused of a murder Taema knows her sister can’t possibly be capable of.

Or could she? The deeper Taema delves into her sister’s life, the more she realises that, since they left Mana’s Hearth, she barely knows her sister anymore. So many secrets and lies hang between them now and Taema is left in the dark. With her sister’s trial pending and the first murder in the city in decades being covered up, Taema is given a choice: become Tila and find out the truth or leave her sister to die.

Soon she finds herself undercover and in deep water as she tries to step into her sister’s very different shoes. With a partner to help her learn the ropes of being undercover, Taema brainloads new info every day, learning everything from the hierarchy of the city’s dark and dangerous mafia to martial combat techniques. As she slips further down the rabbit hole, losing herself more with each day spent pretending to be Tila, she discovers a deeper, darker truth at the heart of it all.

Whatever her sister was caught up in, it goes far further than she could ever have imagined, and in the end, it might feel as though they never really escaped the Hearth after all.

This book was thrilling in every sense of the word; exciting and vibrant and bursting with what felt like a genuine and accurate possible aesthetic of a future San Francisco. So many earthbound science fiction narratives can read far too much like our very own here and now, rendering the setting somewhat redundant as a supposed science fiction. False Hearts does not suffer from this at all, instead depicting a very visible future with all the usual instalments of such a setting, with thoughtful details that make a world feel less like a structure confined to the page, and more a living, real thing. Essentially the world that Lam creates in lieu of our own feels possible, as if we’re glimpsing the future instead of reading about an entirely fictional world. This, for me, is something of an essential part of a good futuristic earth.

False Hearts is a superbly-written and gripping thriller that plays out with almost startling movie-like clarity. It would translate to film like a dream come true. As is to be expected from Lam, the world she presents is not only racially diverse, but also sexually. Lo and behold and let the angels sing for a bisexual main character who neither coyly dances around the subject nor is revealed as not heterosexual outside of the actual story and by the author. No Dumbledore treatment here. Taema is bi and definitely interested in the possibility of dating women when the suggestion is presented. We even have a disabled boy. Heck, Taema and Tila themselves are formerly conjoined twins. And, as I’ve also come to expect from Lam, their status as such is not a part of the plot. It simply is. Just as Micah’s intersex biology was not a part of her Dark Circus series; it simply was just how Micah was.

It’s ludicrously refreshing to have an author remember that bisexuality, race and disability are a thing. As said, I’d expect nothing less with Lam. She’s a bright star in a sky dotted with samey science fiction that tries too hard to be edgy, potentially using both race and LGBT characters more as set-dressing than as characters who feature very prominently in the story.

I knew about False Hearts long before I read it, dating back to a handful of DMs where we both lamented the fact that her publisher (then, Strange Chemistry) would not be picking up the third Micah Grey book. She’d recently finished a draft of what became False Hearts, which her agent loved and we both crossed our fingers hoping it would be a breakout novel for her (and that her backlist would be picked up as well).

These things happened, and now, after years of anticipation, waiting whilst “Bonkers Book” was finished and edited and eventually sold, I got to read the novel the pitch of which made me giddy with excitement.

I wasn’t disappointed. False Hearts is a stunningly clever thriller that is sure to keep you reading well into the night. I can’t reiterate how much I love this book. Lam is a stellar author and with False Hearts she has stepped up her game. I can’t imagine how I’ll possibly wait patiently for the second book. I miss Taema already.

The Vanishing Throne, by Elizabeth May [The Falconer #2]

  • Title: The Vanishing Throne (The Falconer #2)
  • Author: Elizabeth May
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Publication date: 19th November 2015 (UK) 7th June 2016 (USA – Chronicle)
  • Rating: ★★★★★

51z1+okqIeL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_I loved The Falconer, the first of the trilogy of the same name, by Elizabeth May. We’re talking big, big love. Faeries are my thing. Give me faeries. I’m also somewhat partial to incredibly kickass girls who hunt and kill fae by night to avenge their mothers and fight against the gnawing grief and PTSD, apparently. When you add in everything else that made The Falconer amazing—war and ancient feuds and secrets and good fae versus bad, and also romance and swords and that sort of thing—it’s no surprise that the bar for The Vanishing Throne was set very, very high.

Things were very tense for Lady Aileana Kameron at the end of The Falconer and The Vanishing Throne sees her pulled through into a world she has no business being in. She failed, and now Scotland—and beyond—will pay the price, letting the fae and the Wild Hunt free in the human realm after centuries trapped and hungry. The fae are bent on destruction, and now Aileana isn’t there to fight them. And even if she were, what use is she? She might be a Falconer, but she was powerless before. They lost.

Now she’s trapped by Lonnrach—and nobody is coming for her. She’s alone and breaking, prisoner of both her own mind and Lonnrach’s sadistic interrogations as he rifles through even her most mundane and private of memories in search of something he’s certain she has. Aileana is strong, but she’s been through too much, and the pain and fear of what Lonnrach does to her sends her into a spiral of her own mind.

But she’s not been forgotten, and soon, help arrives. And just in time: there’s only so long someone can remain strong for, and this time Aileana might just have been about to break. Before long, aided by possibly the strangest faery she’s ever met, and she has met (and killed) a few.

Soon she is on her way back to her own world, back to Edinburgh, and she can only guess at what awaits her. The fact that the faery sent to aid her won’t tell her anything of the people she left behind? Not reassuring. Not reassuring at all.

After managing to flee Lonnrach and return to Edinburgh, she realises more than she could have imagined has changed—and it’s all her fault. But some things remain the same, and in spite of everything that has happened, everything she has been through, Kiaran is still there and they might just have a future together. Possibly.

If they survive everything, that is. Which seems less and less likely with the odds that keep mounting. Still, with steadfast allies and the threads of a way to foil Lonnrach coming together within reach, they press on together and seek to do whatever they can to save what’s left of the world they barely recognise any longer.

But as things progress, secrets about the past are revealed and however deep Aileana thought the truth might run, however twisted and buried the secrets might be, she could never have guessed at the truth that lies at the heart of things.

It is an unimaginable truth—one that changes everything.

With so much lost already, Aileana will fight to the last for everything that remains. And she won’t do it alone.

The Vanishing Throne is a gorgeously-written and gripping adventure that took the story of The Falconer and turned everything up to eleven. The stakes are massive and game-changing and the Aileana we know and love is more fragile than she’s ever been, but in that fragility there’s a strength even she can’t see half the time. That’s what makes her so much moremoremore in this absolutely stunning sequel. May’s writing has evolved to a completely new level of wow and I couldn’t love this book more. I was barely three pages in when I had to stop and send a garbled email about just how much I loved this book.

That’s how much I loved this book.

The friendship, the romance, the sheer raw violence and grief and everythingness is so astoundingly stellar that it’s hard to believe that the book is over and now I need to wait for the third. I don’t quite know what it is about May’s prose, but there’s something that makes it sing off the page to me. Reading The Vanishing Throne was a pure joy and occasionally I had to stop to just hug my Kindle and then hug my beautiful hardcover of the book.

I love big things in books, where writers aren’t afraid to really, really do something huge and epic and wow. May gave me precisely this for the finale of The Vanishing Throne, upping the tension and stakes even higher than I’d thought possible (and I usually dream pretty big).

Everything is gorgeous and powerful and saturated with yesness. It is a magical, exciting adventure of war and loss and fighting and never giving up, all interwoven with beautiful and delightful friendships that feel real and are so utterly right that they shine off the page, every bit as important and glorious as the romance (which also shines very brightly, as it happens).

JBI 5 star chibiThe Vanishing Throne is one of those books that couldn’t possibly be allowed to end, because then it would be over. Whatever it is about May’s writing that draws me in and keeps me gripped, keeps me enchanted, it’s here in double measures in the second book of this trilogy. I’m addicted and don’t even care.

Let’s just say that I really, really, really need book three.

The Fallen Prince, by Amalie Howard [The Riven Chronicles #2]

  • Title: The Fallen Prince (The Riven Chronicles #2)
  • Author: Amalie Howard
  • Publisher: Sky Pony Press
  • Publication date: April 5th 2016
  • Rating: ★★★★★


25898456The Fallen Prince
is the long-awaited sequel to Amalie Howard’s The Almost Girl. I was thrilled to receive an ARC, because I absolutely adored the first book and couldn’t wait to dive back in with Riven and Caden. Most of my reading tends to err towards pure fantasy or urban/historical-urban fantasy, so when I get something that is science-fiction, I get a little excited. With the promise of even more sci-fi with Riven and Caden’s return to their own world, I was super hyped for this book.

After the betrayal of Caden’s clone, Cale, and the death of Riven’s sister, Shae, things have been chaotic for both of them. Add to that the fact that Riven won’t stop hunting her father and creator, Danton. She’s been chasing him through the Otherworld, desperate for revenge and/or justice; bent on bringing him back to Neospes to answer for what he’s done.

She’s made her peace with the revelation of what she is, the almost-girl that her father engineered. Caden’s support and acceptance helped. Still, there are times where Riven feels like little more than General Riven: soldier, monster, killer. She will always be a warrior, always lead and always strive to protect those she loves.

Only now that’s proving to be more difficult, as a new and unimaginable foe emerges from the shadows. But that’s not all and before long Riven will find herself torn between what she wants for herself and what is best for Neospes. Perhaps reverting to her old self, the cool and aloof general, is the best thing for everyone. Of course, it’s difficult to distance yourself from your heart, when the boy you love isn’t buying the act. Caden is, as always, there to remind Riven that she isn’t the heartless soldier she wishes she could be, thinks she still could be.

A lot changed in the Otherworld and it changed Riven forever. They’ve come a long way from her task to take Cade out.

Unfortunately, things are set to get harder from here. With the fate of Neospes hanging in the balance, threatened by the aggressions of an enemy that shouldn’t exist, the Lord King of Neospes might be called upon in a capacity neither he nor Riven has ever considered. Still, Cade will do what he must for his city and his people, even if that mean making tough decisions.

As Riven and Caden enter into tangled web of danger and new political relations, both begin to realise that there seems to be no right answer. With the appearance of new allies and the revelation of a secret so large it could change everything, the fight to get Caden back on the throne is soon going to seem like it was a walk in the park.

Everyone has an agenda and diplomacy and people-skills have never been at the top of Riven’s resume. But when things take a turn for the strange and she begins to doubt her own mind, her own monstrousness, it seems that even Riven might falter when things get hard.

Except that if she does, it could spell out the doom for everyone in Neospes—and that’s not something she’s willing to let happen. One way or another, she will find a way to defeat their new enemy, even if it costs her absolutely everything. Even if it costs Riven her life.

The Fallen Prince is precisely what I was expecting from the sequel to The Almost Girl: an exciting and gripping adventure in a truly post-apocalyptic setting that stands apart from other dystopian landscapes by virtue of its original and thoughtful details. From peculiar flora and fauna to unusual technology leftover from the brutal war, and the immersive attention to detail with scorching temperatures and the necessary biotechnology to survive them, The Fallen Prince feels like an authentic and vibrant ride through a gritty scorched-earth style adventure.

Add in the dynamic between Riven and Caden, which doesn’t suffer from any second-book syndrome of should we/shouldn’t we in spite of their new and awkward situation, and we have a winning formula for a very successful sequel that was well worth the wait.

The Fallen Prince feels like the natural continuation of the story, with a seamless transition from what became an urban sci-fi adventure in The Almost Girl to the pure dystopian sci fi of the second book in the sequence.

Howard’s prose feels slick and sharp and completely on point in expressing the next part of Riven and Caden’s story. This was always going to be a different book from The Almost Girl, owning to the drastic change of setting and a busier cast—and the result is an exciting and vivid exploration of the world outside of Neospes.

There’s a lot tucked between the lines in this book; from commentaries on parental relationships to what power means and how to use it. In the end, Riven remains a kickass force of nature who is here to get the job done, whatever that means. Meanwhile, nothing of Caden’s rise to Lord King has changed who is and we’re still presented with the nerdy, long-haired boy we met in the Otherworld. Though Caden can hold his own when needed, it is definitely Riven who fulfils the role of protector. She will protect her Lord King, whether he wants her to or not.

JBI 5 star chibiHoward writes the science so casually that it feels like tasting little nuggets of hard sci-fi without the twenty page long descriptions of spaceship engines and how a forcefield works. This book feels bigger and better and generally more than The Almost Girl. It feels like the next step in a dark, clever and thrilling scorched-earth, world-hopping adventure. Which is precisely what it is.

The Fallen Prince was definitely worth the wait.

 

 

The Diviners, by Libba Bray [The Diviners #1]

  • Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 12th September 2012
  • Rating: ★★★★★

9780316126113_p0_v1_s260x420The Diviners, by Libba Bray, invites us to a sumptuous big city adventure in 1920s New York, where Evie O’Neill is soon to be the talk of the town.

Flapper and party girl Evie’s unique talent might have seen her ushered from small town Ohio to the big city by her socially-conscious parents, but it seems that the very same unique ability will be what saves the day from unspeakable evil.

All she did was tell the truth—and happen to smear the good name of the town’s golden boy in the process. So when she refused to apologise and take back the accusation, her parents decided to ship her off to stay with her Uncle Will in New York until the dust settles. But Evie is used to not being what they want her to be.

And Evie doesn’t see this exile as punishment. Rather, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.  New York! She’ll snap that up in a second if it means getting out of boring Ohio. Sure, she’d rather not know that her parents would sooner ship her off for a few months than stand by their daughter, but since the death of her elder brother in the war, Evie is used to being second best. She’s always too much for her parents and yet never enough.

Everyone, even her friends, is always telling her that Evie O’Neill is just too much.

Evie is looking forward to a few months in the city, where she can party all night and make a name for herself as the hottest Sheba in town. Who knows what can happen? This is New York! She has her sights set high and intends to make the most of this exile. Who needs small town Ohio anyway? Not Evie O’Neill. And to boot, she’ll be reuniting with her friend with whom she exchanges letters, so it’s not as if she’ll be alone. It’s all jake for Evie as she heads off to the city.

When she arrives and finds Uncle Will as the curator of a museum of supernatural whatsits and the occult, she is a little sceptical, but soon flourishes (perhaps a little too much) under Will’s very loose rule. Soon Evie makes new friends and starts to really live it up in New York. Between the awkward acquaintance of her uncle’s assistant, Jericho, and the confident advances of a thief who seems to always be there when she turns around, Evie will never have a dull moment.

But the glitz and glamour doesn’t last for long and before she knows it, not only is there talk at the museum of Diviners—people with unique gifts, just like Evie—but a string of bizarre ritualistic murders take place and soon Will is called in to consult.

Is it really possible that here in New York she can find out the truth about her talent? And if so, what will that mean? She’s never given it much thought, except to use it for cheap party tricks when the limelight slides away for a second too long—and look where that got her last time.

There’s something undeniably strange about the murders and soon the city is rattled. But no one more than Evie. Try as she might, she can’t shake the notion that something is very wrong. As she follows her uncle with the investigation, Evie soon puts her talents to use. That’s when things really get strange.

Little does Evie know that an evil has been released—and it has work to do.

Evie is convinced the murders have a link with the supernatural and the almost-biblical scriptures left behind at each scene don’t disagree. The deeper into the case Evie and her uncle dig, the stranger things get. Between ghosts and cults and strange old houses, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a straight answer to the case. The bodies keep turning up, each in accordance with a different verse from the scripture that doesn’t make much sense.

With the uncanny approach of Solomon’s comet and the murders drawing towards what seems like a grand unseen finale, Evie will have to use her wits and her talents to get to the bottom of things. There is an evil afoot in New York city. Evie is the life of the party, but if she doesn’t hurry and lay this evil to rest, she may well end up the death of it. Evie might not be the only Diviner in New York—but she’s the only one who can get to the bottom of these killings.

The Diviners is the first of a wickedly brilliant series, where we’re treated to an authentic and addictive 1920s New York, all tangled up with the chilling and gripping paranormal events that will change Evie O’Neill forever.

It’s astounding to sit here and say how inclusive a book set in the 20s is, and yet here I am. There is more representation (people of colour; sexuality) in this book than half the books I read and review. Effortless and authentic, Bray paints so clear and strikingly accurate a picture of New York that you all but melt into the story as you go. The Diviners is populated by wonderful characters who are immediately worthy of attachment and investment.

It’s difficult to say just how fantastic The Diviners is—and that’s not even starting on the absolutely stellar performance of January LaVoy in the superb audiobook.

This book is funny and creepy and gripping. It effectively marries both the grotesque and chilling elements of urban supernatural horror, whilst presenting a unique slice-of-life adventure into the heart of Prohibition-era New York. Between speakeasies, flappers and jazz, we’re treated to the thrill of numbers runners on the streets and the discomfort of the darker underbelly of social politics, racism and homophobia, however subtly. It’s still there.

The bright young things Evie befriends in The Diviners are varied and inclusive and being partway through the second book, Lair of Dreams, I can only say that it gets better. If at all possible. Which it is.

Evie is a flapper who seeks the limelight, but beneath all the makeup and glitz, she is a damaged girl still mourning the death of her brother and the loss of her parents’ love at the passing of their favourite child. She is seeking more than just a murderer on the streets of New York: she’s looking for the most important thing of all. Herself.

Even if you think that the setting isn’t for you—think again and let yourself be lured in by the promise of The Diviners being the most gripping, chilling page-turner of a supernatural crime urban fantasy (yes, all those things!) you’ll read any time soon.

JBI 5 star chibiBray has nailed the 20s and her writing is just the cat’s pyjamas. This book was so, so, so, very good. I loved every single little detail of this book and definitely can’t sing the praises of the audiobook enough. If you want excitement and a really good and gripping and clever supernatural murder fantasy, then The Diviners needs to be right at the top of your reading list.

It’s just bloody wonderful and I loved every damn second of it.