TBR Pile Review: The Rivers of London Novellas, by Ben Aaronovitch

It’s been a while since I read any of the Rivers of London books, not since Foxglove Summer, but I have The Hanging Tree and Lies Sleeping on my TBR pile so I’m getting back into the ‘world’ by reading the novellas. I’m reading hem in publication order rather than series order.

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Paperback, 118 pages
Published March 2018 by Orion (first published June 30th 2017)
Rivers of London #5.5

Blurb

There have been ghosts on the London Underground, sad, harmless spectres whose presence does little more than give a frisson to travelling and boost tourism. But now there’s a rash of sightings on the Metropolitan Line and these ghosts are frightening, aggressive and seem to be looking for something.

Enter PC Peter Grant junior member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Assessment unit AKA The Folly AKA the only police officers whose official duties include ghost hunting. Together with Jaget Kumar, his counterpart at the British Transport Police, he must brave the terrifying the crush of London’s rush hour to find the source of the ghosts.

Joined by Peter’s wannabe wizard cousin, a preschool river god and Toby the ghost hunting dog their investigation takes a darker tone as they realise that a real person’s life might just be on the line.

And time is running out to save them.

With this new novella, bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch has crafted yet another wickedly funny and surprisingly affecting chapter in his beloved Rivers of London series. 

My Review
The Furthest Station is about a missing person and strangely behaving ghosts. It was a bit odd, and took a while to get going. Abigail plays a larger role in this novella than she has in the novels I’ve read so far. She’s fun, and clearly has something going on with the foxes, which I suppose I’ll find out about in ‘What Abigail did that summer’.
I enjoyed the story but I was a little underwhelmed.

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Hardcover, First Edition, 180 pages
Published June 13th 2019 by Orion Publishing Group (first published May 31st 2019)
ISBN:1473224314 (ISBN13: 9781473224315)
Rivers of London #7.5

Blurb

Trier is famous for wine, Romans and for being Germany’s oldest city. So when a man is found dead with his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth.

Fortunately this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything.

Enter Investigator Tobias Winter, whose aim is to get in, deal with the problem, and get out with the minimum of fuss, personal danger and paperwork. With the help of frighteningly enthusiastic local cop, Vanessa Sommer, he’s quick to link the first victim to a group of ordinary middle aged men – and to realise they may have accidentally reawakened a bloody conflict from a previous century. But the rot is still spreading, literally and with the suspect list extending to people born before Frederick the Great solving the case may mean unearthing the city’s secret magical history.

. . . so long as that history doesn’t kill them first.

My Review

Tobias Winter is sent to Trier by his Director, die Hexen auf dem Ostern, to deal with an unusual death. What he finds is a couple of river goddesses, a drinking club, a fungus and a 250 year old entitled brat.

His liaison with the local police is called Vanessa Sommer. Because someone is having a laugh. But Vani is actually really enthusiastic about the weird stuff, and helpful with infant river goddesses, so they tolerate the jokes and get the job done.

This novella has a bit more meat to it than The Furthest Station, maybe because Aaronovitch was testing the waters with his first novella in this world? It is written with his signature humour and attention to local detail. The plot is fun and kept my attention. Need to get the novels read soon so I can catch up on what has been happening, there were hints in this novella of events I haven’t read about yet.

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Hardcover, 232 pages
Published March 18th 2021 by Subterranean Press
Rivers of London #5.3

Blurb

Ghost hunter, fox whisperer, troublemaker.

It is the summer of 2013 and Abigail Kamara has been left to her own devices. This might, by those who know her, be considered a mistake. While her cousin, police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, is off in the sticks chasing unicorns Abigail is chasing her own mystery. Teenagers around Hampstead Heath have been going missing but before the police can get fully engaged the teens return home – unharmed but vague about where they’ve been.

Aided only by her new friend Simon, her knowledge that magic is real and a posse of talking foxes that think they’re spies, Abigail must venture into the wilds of Hampstead to discover who is luring the teenagers and more importantly – why?

My Review

My favourite novella so far. I’ve spent a pleasant three hours this afternoon reading my signed first edition hardback from Goldsboro Books. It’s close to novel size at over a hundred pages, and the space has allowed the author to really develop the story with an established character. Abigail, the foxes and Simon, a new friend, discover teenagers are going missing and decide to find out what is happening. The foxes help track the kids down to a house that really doesn’t want to let them go.

I liked learning more about Abigail and her home life, as a child carer and trouble causer. She’s open, honest and hardworking. She cares. I think I could make an argument for being neurodivergent. Simon too, in a different way. He definitely has a learning difficulty, and it seems as though his mother is the over-protective sort until you realise she works for the intelligence agencies of the Thames. He’s not book smart but he knows things, is inquisitive and adventurous, asks deep questions, and a very happy person.

It’s a shame Abi suggests sending him to a special school at the end, and that his mother says he’s thriving there. I’m sure there are ‘special schools’ where his strengths would be encouraged while his general education wasn’t neglected, but not at the ones paid for by the state (looking at you, NAS schools).

The house is complicated and it’s origins are fascinating, and I’m sure Abigail will be spending hours or possibly days in the Folly’s library looking up sorcerers and their ghosts. This novella adds dimensions to the Rivers of London world.


Now I’ve tackled the novellas IO think I’m ready to dive back into the novels. I was putting off ‘The Hanging Tree‘ because I don’t like Lady Ty very much. I’m allergic to supercilious posh people who like to manipulate anyone they think is inferior to them.

Review: Space Taxis, by A & H Frosh

Space Taxis

“A perfect blend of science fiction and alternate history”

He’s abducted by aliens to the planet Vost.

He’s saving up for his fare home.

But he’s got the small matter of a planetary apocalypse to deal with first…

In 1977 a New York Cab driver Mike Redolfo is abducted by aliens after being mistaken for a renegade scientist. Meanwhile, back in 1944 a mysterious man and his Jewish fiancée are fleeing across Nazi-occupied Europe.

Redolfo tries to keep a low profile on his new world whilst earning his fare home, but unwittingly gets involved with a shady gang of alien criminals, inadvertently bringing the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

As the link between the timelines becomes clear, Redolfo must discover secrets from the past that may hold the key to saving the planet.


If you like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, and Frank Herbert’s Dune, you’ll love this gripping and entertaining sci-fi mystery thriller.

Purchase Links

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Space-Taxis-Adam-Frosh-ebook/dp/B08H19CCWR

US – https://www.amazon.com/Space-Taxis-Adam-Frosh-ebook/dp/B08H19CCWR

Continue reading “Review: Space Taxis, by A & H Frosh”

TBR Pile Review: The Library of the Dead, by T.L. Huchu

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Hardcover, Goldsboro exclusive signed and numbered edition (1000) with sprayed edges, 336 pages
Published February 2021 by Tor Books

Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.

When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.

She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

My Review

I got this book from Goldsboro Books as part of their ‘SFF Fellowship’ monthly club. Its beautiful, and the ribbon is so soft. My signed copy is number 533 of 1250 of the first edition, with sprayed edges. The edges are a map of Edinburgh. The cover reminds me very much of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. I like them as well. Must get caught up on reading them.

The Rosie Synopsis

Ropa is a gobby, spunky teenager, the bread winner for her small, impoverished family in an Edinburgh devastated by some past disaster. Her grandmother is some sort of magician who knits, Ropa is a ghostalker who finds her way into the titular library, via her friend Jomo. She becomes a member of the library and casually starts to learn magic by reading. At the library, she meets Priya, a disabled healer with an adrenalin junkie streak.

Ropa makes her living taking messages between the dead and the living. One of the ghosts, Nicole, keeps bothering her about finding her missing son. Gran persuades Ropa to do the job for Nicole. This leads Ropa into a dangerous world, and answers the mystery of how there ‘national treasure’ looks so young.

The Good

I really enjoyed this book. It kept me entertained for all 330 pages.

Ropa and her family and friends are really defined, interesting characters. I want to know more about how her Gran came to knit a scarf for Callahan in the past. People at the Library know who Gran is, but no-one is telling Ropa.

Ropa carries the story, and as a first person narrative we only know what she knows, which means there are a lot of secrets yet to be revealed. I want to know what happens next. I enjoyed the differences in personality between Ropa and Priya, and their developing relationship. I can’t tell whether they’re flirting with each other or not. Jomo is going to be so disappointed if they are.

I liked how the complex history of Edinburgh and the changes that made it a dystopian hell are woven into the story, and want to know more. The snobbery of the magicians and scientists towards ‘allied trades’ is so reminiscent of 18th and 19th century medical doctors and their attitudes to non-doctor medical practitioners – surgeons, apothecaries and herbalists – I can only surmise that that is what the author is modelling them on?

There’s a lot of detail in this novel and the author has clearly worked out how the magic works in his world. I like that. It intrigues me, and makes me want to read the next book.

I love the fact that the disabled character in this book is a fully fleshed out human being, not a sad, pathetic character lamenting what she can’t do or desperately seeking a cure for her disability – that trope gets boring and is insulting. Thankfully these days disabled characters are more often getting to be in on the action.

I think this novel is an adult novel but it’s not dark or horrifying at all, so I think it would be suitable for teenagers too. The main character is a teenager as are her closest friends.

The Not-So-Good

There’s a lot going on and the author has crammed it all in, so there are plenty of lines to follow for future stories but it could have been overwhelming for some readers. I hope the author explores a lot of the background information he has put into this first novel.

The Verdict

Excellent novel, highly entertaining and I can’t wait for the next one.

TBR Pile Review: Ashes of the Sun, by Django Wexler

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Paperback, 592 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by Orbit
ISBN:0316519545 (ISBN13: 9780316519540)
Series: Burningblade & Silvereye #1
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Hardcover, Goldsboro exclusive signed and numbered edition with sprayed edges, 550 pages
Published 2020 by Head of Zeus

Blurb

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumours of a fabled city protecting a powerful artefact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

My Review

Warning, there will be spoilers.

I have both my very pretty hardback special edition, and the paperback edition. The hardbacks are gorgeous and I do tend to collect 1st edition hardbacks, signed if possible, but for everyday reading. paperbacks are easier. Yes, I break the spines, that’s why I have multiple copies of books. I got a really solid god and black bookmark with my Goldsboro Books edition, so I haven’t dogeared the pages in this one.

The Rosie Synopsis

The blurb isn’t accurate. Gyre’s sister Maya was taken by the Twilight Order when she was five; in the process Gyre lost his eye. A year later their mother died of grief and their father stopped caring for Gyre. In the years that have passed Gyre has left home, joined the rebels in Deepfire and has been hunting for a way to bring down the Order and the Dawn Republic, whom he blames for destroying his family.

Gyre falls in with a mysterious thief named Kit, who is working for people with very deep pockets and a desperate need for a specific artefact hidden in the vaults of Deepfire’s dux. The mission to retrieve the item turns disastrous after the rest of the rebels are betrayed, so Gyre and Kit seek out the clients in order to ask for a second chance.

Maya has been raised by the Centarch Jaedia for twelve years, barely remembering her birth family. She is a good little agathia – a student training to become a Centarch, a skilled used of a type of magic called daiat, power drawn from the sun.

When Maya and another agathia, Tanax, a scout called Vos and Arcanist Beq (a sort of an engineer of magical artefacts) are sent to Deepfire on a mission for the Council of the Order, to collect a very powerful artefact, things go badly wrong. It doesn’t help that Tanax is the protégé of the Dogmatist factions’ leader, and that he believes Maya has been sent to foil the mission.

Maya and Beq realise there is something very bad happening in the city and that the dux, Raskos is corrupt, but how corrupt shocks them. And the corruption goes all the way the the Council. In an expedition into the city, the pair meet the rebels, accidentally, and then are drawn into Raskos’ plans. In anger, Maya exposes the duxes corruption, meets her brother in battle and then gets arrested for treason.

Then things become complicated. As the siblings realise that they are on opposite sides and the people calling the shots are not what they seem, their individual paths meet at the Leviathan’s Womb, where horrific monsters guard a construct that could destroy everyone.

The Good

The worldbuilding, the characters, the plot. It was all good.

It’s a big book so I read it in stages, usually a couple of hundred pages at a time, with a week or so’s break in between. It was a really easy book to read, and to get lost in. But I got a bit overwhelmed if I spent too long there so I had to put it down and rest. The world is very vivid, from the dank tunnels of Deepfire to the glory of the Forge (the baths sounded amazing!), to the cold of the Splintered Mountains, it was glorious.

The main characters are Gyre and Kit, and Maya and Beq, who are also romantically inclined towards each other. The relationships progress differently, as Kit is very forthright, and Maya and Beq are incredibly inexperienced. Those two are adorable. The romance isn’t a driving factor in the plot, but an incidental part of the character’s development and individual stories. The real drivers are family love and revenge. Gyre wants revenge for the destruction of his family, Maya wants to defend her mentor/pseudo-mother Jaedia from accusations of treason, they both don’t kill each other twice because they love each other.

The story is told from Maya and Gyre’s perspectives, in alternating chapters, denoted by a mask or a burning sword. That was really helpful as the change of perspective could have been confusing. I enjoyed seeing events from both sides, through their different beliefs and perspectives.

The plaguespawn, dhakim and ghouls are really quite awful creatures, but for a part of the novel you get their perspectives as they travel with the main characters. The war between the ghouls and the Chosen was much more complicated than humanity is allowed to know or believe, and the Order are complicit in keeping people ignorant. They also control what pieces of ancient technology left over from the war that ordinary people are allowed to use. Their control of the Republic has driven some people into desperate straits but they refuse to take responsibility, while the ghouls and dhakim straight up hate humans and prey on the weak. They’re more honest about their predation, and don’t hide behind words.

The Not-So-Good

Who were the Chosen, why did they have advanced technology while 400 years later people are playing with scraps? And how long do I have to wait for book two?

The Verdict

Excellent fantasy, sprawling world, engaging characters. Highly recommended.

Queer TBR Pile Review: When The Tiger Came Down The Mountain, by Nghi Vo

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Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 8th 2020 by Tordotcom
ISBN:1250786134 (ISBN13: 9781250786135)
The Singing Hills Cycle #2

“Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful. . . . The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling.”—NPR

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

My Review 

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih hears the stories of the Empresses life and that of her loyal companion. In this, Chih is up in the mountains, riding mammoths and being chased by tigers. Tigers who are able to turn into humans.

In order to save their life, and that of their human and mammoth companions, Chih tells a story about an earlier human Scholar who meets a tiger who can become a human. The tiger queen interrupts and corrects the story repeatedly.

This is another story within a story, although more accurately it’s two stories in a story as the tigers tell their version of events and the humans write it down for ‘correction’. And to save their lives. As Scheherazade tells stories to save her life, so Chih tells the story and listens to the tigers’ story in the hopes that the sun will rise and help will come with it.

I should have finished this a month ago but stuff got in the way and really, I rushed from reading the first book to reading this one and it was a bit too much of a change in pace and setting for me. However, this afternoon, after I walked Ezzie, had teas and then waited for the shopping delivery, I picked up this book. The last two thirds flew by in an hour. It was most inconvenient for the shopping to arrive early for a change, but I went back to the remaining pages, gripped with anticipation. How would Chih save them?

Obviously, I’m not going to tell you how, but Chih and the rest are saved, and the tigers leave. There’s a love story in the story within the story, and seeing things through the eyes of the tigers was fun, because they obviously have different priorities to humans.

I enjoyed the evocative descriptions, and the cultures and mythology of the civilisation of the books, which are clearly based on broadly east Asian, possibly more specifically Chinese and Mongolian, history, culture and mythology. I can’t wait to see what Chih gets up to next.

The BFS Awards 2020: My reviews of the books in the Best Anthology category

I’ve been keeping fairly quiet about this, even after the British Fantasy Society announced the shortlist and jurors; I’m one of the jurors for the Best Anthology category. The Awards ceremony was yesterday (Monday 22nd February 2021) and was streamed on YouTube and Facebook.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsAgzty3SeNzHV3canzycwA

Originally the following were the shortlist:

·      New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction for People of Colour, ed. Nisi Shawl

·      Once Upon a Parsec: The Book of Alien Fairy Tales, ed. David Gullen

·      Wonderland, ed. Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

·      The Woods, ed. Phil Sloman

Other jurors added:

  • A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods, ed. by Jennifer Brozek
  • The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, ed. Jeff and Anne VanderMeer

You can find the short lists for the other categories here.

Now that the winners (add link to winners list)have been announced, I can safely share my thoughts on the books I read for the awards.

Continue reading “The BFS Awards 2020: My reviews of the books in the Best Anthology category”

Review: Holes In The Veil, by Beth Overmyer

Fiction: FICTION / Fantasy / Epic
Product format: Paperback
Price: £9.95; $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-78758-582-9
Pages: 256 pp

Having killed his lifelong enemy, Aidan Ingledark finds himself in possession of a map to the Questing Goblet, one of the Goblets Immortal that gives the drinker luck beyond measure. Meraude seeks this Goblet to wipe out magickind. Aidan and his traveling companion are determined to find it first but they must battle through illusion and doubt.

Jinn’s a Sightful seeking the Summoner. She wants to kill her mother, but her foresight ends in darkness. Can she enlist Aidan’s help and change her fate?

The threat of Meraude and her dominion are imminent in this sequel to The
Goblets Immortal.


FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.
Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

Continue reading “Review: Holes In The Veil, by Beth Overmyer”

Review: The Crow Folk, by Mark Stay

04 February 2021 | Paperback Original | £8.99

Faye Bright always felt a little bit different. And today she’s found out why. She’s just stumbled across her late mother’s diary which includes not only a spiffing recipe for jam roly-poly, but spells, incantations, runes and recitations… a witch’s notebook.

And Faye has inherited her mother’s abilities.

Just in time, too. The Crow Folk are coming. Led by the charismatic
Pumpkinhead, their strange magic threatens Faye and the villagers. Armed with little more than her mum’s words, her trusty bicycle, the grudging help of two bickering old ladies, and some aggressive church bellringing, Faye will find herself on the front lines of a war nobody expected.


Fall in love with the extraordinary world of Faye Bright – it’s Maisie Dobbs meets The Magicians.

Continue reading “Review: The Crow Folk, by Mark Stay”

Review: The Invitation, by Katie Webster


·        Publisher : The Conrad Press (31 July 2020)
·        Language: : English
·        Paperback : 272 pages
·        ISBN-10 : 1913567273
·        ISBN-13 : 978-1913567279
 
Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Invitation-Lucys-Crypt-Katie-Webster/dp/19135672731
 

BLURB

On the island kingdom of Meta Emery, a young queen, Abigail, wakes in the middle of the night to a terrifying realisation; hostile wizards from the rival kingdom of Archmond have finally done what they’ve been threatening to do: bring a girl, Lucy, into this world to destroy the queen and all she has worked for.

Hundreds of miles west, in Archmond itself, a great feast unfolds in the castle to celebrate Lucy’s arrival. Soleman, one of the wizards and a co-ruler of Archmond, has spread the news to his people that Lucy is the heroine an ancient prophecy predicted; he promises that the discord throughout their world will soon be over. But his fellow ruler Ronald remains dubious that this apparently meek and troubled girl could really overthrow Abigail, or whether she is ever likely to want to.

This highly imaginative and original novel is the first in an exciting new fantasy series, ‘Lucy’s Crypt’.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Webster is an Australian lawyer, born in Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest. She has worked in both criminal and international law. She has published academically, but this is her debut novel.

Continue reading “Review: The Invitation, by Katie Webster”

TBR Pile Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo

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Paperback, 128 pages
Published March 24th 2020 by Tor.com
ISBN:125075030X (ISBN13: 9781250750303)
Series: The Singing Hills Cycle #1

With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully.

Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for.

At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

Continue reading “TBR Pile Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo”