Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

‘ “I bear a hell within me,’ Black Tom growled. “And finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the tress, spread havoc and desctruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin.”
“You’re a monster, then,” he said
“I was made one.” ‘

*****Trigger warnings: Racism, gore, death of a parent, torture, the occult, police brutality and body horror*****

So here’s the thing, I have a very strange relationship with H.P Lovecraft. I have not read any of his stories since I was about 18 and that was nearly a decade ago. At the time, I had never read anything with eldritch beings or monsters before so this was the first thing I had ever read and the problematic elements definitely slipped by me. I do like the newer retellings and adaptations like The Colour Out of Space (Nicolas Cage) and recently started playing the Call of Cthulu on my Switch. I had no idea going into this total mood read of a novella though, that it was a retelling. Or possibly the best one I read yet.

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn.

Will Black Tom live to see it break?

If you’re going to read this, I would go into this blind like I did. I had no expectations of either LaValle’s writing or the content of the story, especially it being a Lovecraft retelling from a person of colour. That just made everything even better. This is a story that is both horrifying for the real world reasons of racism, the police system in America and the way we treat people from marginalized communities in society. It also has an eldritch god lurking around the corner, creepy AF magic and some weird mans library that can travel through dimension.

The world building is unfortunately very realistic for 1920’s America. We follow Charles “Tommy” Tester as he hustles to keep himself and his father alive. He experiences racism on the daily, is harassed by cops, train conductors, people who literally see him through their window. Tommy’s father is a widower who is permanently disabled as a result of the work he has done in the construction industry and what really warmed my cold dead heart was watching Tommy take care of his dad through everything.

One nice part of the world building I enjoyed was Tommy is already aware of the occult and the dangers of it existing. I enjoyed this because is such a short work, if a lot of time was spent to bring the main character on board with the very existence of magic and old Gods then it can take away from room that could be spent on developing the character and the story. Clearly LaVelle knew what he was doing with getting this over with and really pushed ahead with giving us a fantastic story.

Now like the trigger warnings at the start advise, this is a horror story. There is a lot of body horror, details of bodily harm for the various rituals carried out and just a whole bunch of stuff you would expect from a cosmic horror story. The second half is told from the perspective of a detective who has been following and harassing Tester and that’s the part the real graphic details kick in.

I really can’t talk about too much without giving away large chunks of spoilers but this is a wonderful story that totally took me by surprise and has me looking for spaces in my TBR where I might fit LaVelle’s other books in. I will say I knocked out a .5 of a star just for the ending being a little too long winded but that is the most minimal criticism I can come up with.

This is definitely a great October read. Also you don’t need to read the original Lovecraft story to enjoy this or appreciate it if you don’t want to, despite what Goodreads people say. This is far better a choice and is by an author who understands the issues with Lovecraft best of all and manages to do this as a response that just smashes it out of the park. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★.5 /5

Review: The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson

‘The mind is an illusion, a hologram generated by the body. What you’ve encoded is memory, and personhood is not just memories. Personhood is embodied.’

Here we are again with the latest read from my TBR project! I’m can be very wary with second book entries in trilogies. They can either be brilliant or totally let the genius of the last book down but I kind of knew that this one would be reliably brilliant and very good.

All is quiet in the city of Rosewater as it expands on the back of the gargantuan alien Wormwood. Those who know the truth of the invasion keep the secret.

The government agent Aminat, the lover of the retired sensitive Kaaro, is at the forefront of the cold, silent conflict. She must capture a woman who is the key to the survival of the human race. But Aminat is stymied by the machinations of the Mayor of Rosewater and the emergence of an old enemy of Wormwood…

This was absolutely wonderful and functions as the perfect middle book in a trilogy like this that is following more a place than just one person. I really think the best aspect here is how the perspective and the story changes route from the previous book. In Rosewater, we follow Kaaro on his mission to figure out why ‘sensitives’ (telepathic/psychic powered people) like him are dying and we learn how his past is linked intrinsically to the creation of the city of Rosewater and the alien biodome that started it. Here, we are moving between multiple characters perspectives and we actually don’t hear from Kaaro until well past the halfway point of the story.

To me, this works best for the book for two reasons. One would be the general world building of how every day life works in Rosewater and how the day to day works there. I LOVE world building in SFF books, it’s one of my main focuses for reviews and can be the fine line between me finding a book fully immersive. The changing perspective, locations and just general different experiences of others living in Rosewater does allow us to see what’s happening out there. Just other small things really pleased me like the mention of a space mission that Aminat is supposed to be going on, the discussion of the Re-Animates and do they have rights. Those small touches were great.

The second reason is how the different point of views really function in the story and work to outline the absolute mess that is happening in Rosewater. They tie together so perfectly by the end as well which made me so happy since everyone was important to the story and their input was valued. We read very widely across Rosewater from the Mayor who appeared far more in the back ground in the last book, Jack Jaques, to Aminat who was definitely my favourite right down to these interludes that cut in and out from another agent of S45, the government agency Kaaro worked for in the first book.

I will say that if you’re looking for the same kind of detective story we got in the first book and the plot that is far more driven by one persons investigations, you may be a little disappointed. The plot is kind of kept at arms length a little and it can feel like it’s happening a couple of miles away. Like at one point in the story, a lot of the characters we have been following are all gathered together in a room and it’s the first time that the thing that is happening outside, feels urgent suddenly. I wasn’t all that affected by it myself but definitely worth bearing in mind.

My main conclusion that I’m taking away from this is that Tade Thompson is a master with weaving a near future stories with a reminder that the martians aren’t always going to land in London and that plants are scary and dangerous. Yup. I said it. I am even more terrified of them now going forward. With the way this wraps up, I am truly looking forward to the last book in the series.

I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. If you’re looking for a science fiction series that is highly readable and fast paced in these strange times, this is a series I would highly recommend checking out. Hopefully my read of the Rosewater Redemption won’t be far behind. Thanks for checking in everyone! Happy reading!

★★★★/5

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by V.E Schwab

‘Live long enough, and you larn how to read a person. To ease them open like a book, some passages underlined and others hidden between the lines.’

This is the first book in a while to make me ugly cry. Am I the only person to say hat about this book? No. Is it true? YES. Honestly, I have read a small amount of V.E Schwabs work compared to some of my friends, each to varying levels of success. I was also really lucky to meet Schwab more than once and attend many of her panels at Worldcon in Dublin. This was well worth the wait.

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name

This was sprawling and highly impressive. Everytime I saw V.E Schwab either at Dublin or online speaking to others, it was clear that this book was highly important to her. That does come across very clerly in reading this I will say and whether you believe in authorial inten or not, this is clearly a book that belongs to someones heart.

V.E Schwab really shines here in the writing, it’s wonderfully written and is densely packed with lots of metaphor and descriptive language. Now this is where I would warn that if you’re someone who desn’t like either literary fiction, or flowery writing/metaphoric prose (Lani Taylor, the Nevernight Chronicle) then this might irk you a little. The writing is kind of essential to both the plot and the world building and as a result it can seem slower in places but it is never without reason. We are following 2 timelines in Addie’s life and after she meets Henry, things do drastically change in terms of pacing, background and levels of the fantastic. This to me was kind of needed a slow, whimiscal start to this dreamy, strange world his girl has had to make for herself does work well. Then of course when she is happy and finds some solace, the shit hits the fan.

This is an old trope. We all know it. Person has want, devil/god/spirit etc has means to give want to person for soul, consequences occur and person regrets new life choice. Schwab does it justice though! She really does pull off a refreshing, dakly romantic take on both the Faustian deal legend with mixes of the death and the maiden trope. It works so well and honestly think it’s most of the books best parts are the beats that folow that story.

Addie La Rue, I will remember you. Sorry for the cheesy line but I really am not likely to forget this tragic, romantic girl any time soon. I love how we see her grow over her 300 years but mostly what I love learning is how she found different parts of herself as time went on. Something important to know is that both Addie and Henry are queer. Both have had relationships with people of the same gender and it’s neither a huge part of the book, one passing line or integral to their development. Addie out of the two of them I would have liked to seen how she lerned over the years that the curse she has would be an advantage to being in queer relationships through historially worse times but then again it was a refreshing to have them just there and queer. Henry as well is very hard to not fall for as well. He is tragic in his own way and I was very attached to him come the end of the book but without spoiling, he isn’t a man who needed Addie to bring meaning to his life. He has his secrets and flaws too like Addie. They both just anchor each other in different ways.

All in all the last third of the book is definitely my favourite. I just can’t over emphasise how enthralled I was after learning one small thing. It is also the main climax of the story and suddenly everything ramps up VERY quickly. It does have a point ad the end to the story is asolutely wonderful but this book definitely made me cry in a way I haven’t since reading Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett. I honestly think that part bumped it up a star for me and will continually sit in my mind for a while.

This is definitely a stand out for me for the year. I am however a sucker for devil stories, tragic romances, curses and very descriptive writing so I am in fact the perfect reader but I will say this is the most imprressive of V.E Schwabs books I have read so far. The ADSOM trilogy is on my TBR project list and I find it so strange I love this book when my top pick for Schwab has been The Near Witch for a year now and that is her first book, Addie being her latest.

Thank you both Titan Books and Net Galley for giving me an advanced digital copy of this for review. I am always eternally grateful to get o read my big anticipated releases in advance but this was honestly a fantastic book and definitely a favourite for this otherwise dismal year. Now if either of the physical editions I ordered would get here soon, I would be delighted. Thanks for checking in everyone, happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Review:The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

‘I’m not very good at being alive. Sometimes I despair of ever mastering it, getting it right. When I’m old, perhaps.’

******Trigger warnings: Mention of rape, alcohol, self harm and suicide******

Cast your mind back to the October of 2018. What were you doing? I had just returned home from Canada from the trip of a lifetime and was looking to my first anniversary with my now partner. In the mean time, I decided I was going to attend my first Octocon (this comes up a lot), the Irish Science Fiction convention. (It should be this coming month, I’m quite emotional) While at it, I learned the guest of honour, Colleen Doran, was involved in the Kickstarter to reprint the graphic novel of this book. Which led me to Google this book and I’ve been in love ever since. Reader, I’m in love with a robot.

Love is made of more than mere flesh and blood….

Tanith Lee is one of the most thought-provoking and imaginative authors of our time. In this unforgettably poignant novel, Lee has created a classic tale–a beautiful, tragic, erotic, and ultimately triumphant love story of the future.

For sixteen-year-old Jane, life is a mystery she despairs of ever mastering. She and her friends are the idle, pampered children of the privileged class, living in luxury on an Earth remade by natural disaster. Until Jane’s life is changed forever by a chance encounter with a robot minstrel with auburn hair and silver skin, whose songs ignite in her a desperate and inexplicable passion.

Jane is certain that Silver is more than just a machine built to please. And she will give up everything to prove it. So she escapes into the city’s violent, decaying slums to embrace a love bordering on madness. Or is it something more? Has Jane glimpsed in Silver something no one else has dared to see–not even the robot or his creators? A love so perfect it must be destroyed, for no human could ever compete?

I read this way back when in 2018 I bought it and I distinctly remember being in a bit of a reading slump back then due to job stress so had trouble remembering the full details. I’m so glad I read it again now of all times. I loved this book, right down to the last words and finished it in 2 sittings. If you have ever avoided this because of the romance factors of the plot, don’t let it even stop you. I’m not a romance reader and there is so much more at play here.

Many writers manage to write decent dystopia, Tanith Lee is the only one I have read who manages a good utopia. Honestly you would think it’s easier but I struggle with even believing the few I have read, but this one is totally one I could get behind. People using a treatment called Rejuvinex to make them look younger, contraceptive injections for everyone not just women, a process of having a child and giving birth without the process of birthing. Why wouldn’t these be the things that people would try and use in the future? Contraceptives are already going in that direction slowly but surely.

I can also believe every bit of this world. A world where the wealthy live in the clouds and have the luxury of avoiding a contaminated river where the poorer people struggle to maintain living conditions with earthquakes, said river and the results of a planet change is something similar to what is happening now. The group of teenagers that Jane is associated with and she herself as one too, are some of the most selfish and confused creatures of the wealthy class. We do only see one parental figure, Demeta, Jane’s mother who is more present and a bit stricter with Jane but is still a big absentee. This is the same as Lev Grossman’s Magicians, if teenagers were left the amount of alcohol, freedom and money they wanted without guardianship, they would behave like this. Not to say any of them are bad (well 2 are but they are supposed to be) for doing these things, it a utopic setting we all might do the same.

The characters are a shining light (I see my teen self in Jane) and the romance is wonderful but something that Tanith Lee hits right on the head is discussions of consent and sexuality. Silver is a robot while Jane is a human and there is endless discussions across the entire science fiction genre about robot/AI characters and consent. This time, it was slightly flipped and took me by genuine surprise where Jane is lamenting that Silver doesn’t want her, he just wants to please her:

‘No, because you don’t want me, or your body doesn’t, which is more important.’
‘You have to make me happy.’ I got out.
‘I won’t make you happy by raping you. Even at your own request.’

There are slim picking in a lot of SFF stories so I’ll take what I can and this one genuinely took me by surprise. There is also a discussion between Demeta and Jane early on where she tries to discuss with her daughter about learning about her own sexuality and she encourages her to explore it herself since she isn’t seeing anyone. So if you like to see that in your books then, I implore you to read this.

I’ve made no secret of my love for Tanith Lee before, particularly on my Twitter but I genuinely think a lot of people sleep on this book for many reasons. Most of them are listed above but this book ticks so many boxes for so many fans of different tropes, discussions and genres that I would love to recommend more of her books to you all. There is a sequel, I finally found an acceptable copy! So hopefully I’ll follow up on this review with my read of that. Thanks for checking in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

‘It was a pittance, utterably small against the scale of the lives lost. But it was there. And one life certainly made a difference to the one living it.’

This year has been, to put it nicely, a lot. Reading is hard, existing is a hell of a lot of effort and I have accepted that pesto is the key to my sanity. However, this hasn’t stopped the sheer amount of amazing SFF books that are being bestowed on us in these trying times and I think I just found the one with the best world building yet. Bone magic, rebellious daughters and dangerous toppling empires is exactly what I need right now and Andrea Stewart has delivered.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

This book will keep you at arms length. This book will also consume your attention at every turn. Don’t expect this one to have anything you expect and don’t expect answers until the very last moment. I feel the need to explain this since I found the start to the story and indeed the first quarter to be very tightly paced. I think it may have been my own expectations that the second I read this I would be dropped right into the world but that doesn’t happen at all. It serves a huge purpose to the story which I very rarely see these days and you do gain the satisfaction of being let in on the secrets but only when you absolutely have to.

Stewart has built an amazing world here. I read this as an advanced review copy so didn’t have a map yet (twirls hands in a Mr. Burns way thinking of my GBSFF edition coming) but I didn’t need it to feel immersed. There isn’t a single thing that hasn’t been meticulously planned here and you get a real sense of enjoyment in the way things are set out. The magic system for one is so interesting and was my favourite part for two reasons. One is the fact it’s bone magic and based around weaving complex commands inscribed in bone (terrifying, obviously) and the second is that it has consequences to use it.

Everyone in this empire has to give up a shard of their bone as a duty when they are a child to help maintain the Sukai (the ruling family) dynasty. Yep, it’s as awful as you imagine and yes you can die from that alone. Alongside the sheer terror of undergoing these ‘Tithing Festivals’, if your bone shard is used to power a construct (a creature powered by bone shards with various commands built in) then you’re pretty much done for. It essentially uses your life force to power the magic of this construct. Isn’t that amazing yet utterly terrifying? There are stakes at play here and they are high.

The characters are something I want to let you all know about, that there are more than just Lin in terms of perspective. We get 5 in all (1 that is a total spoiler and will feel pointless to you but is vital) including Lin, the heir to this entire empire. While I love Lin and all her complexities, I have to admit my heart lies with Jovis, the smuggler who is also a reluctant hero with the CUTEST animal companion named Mephi. But all the characters are written fantastically. There is also a queer couple who are wonderfully realistic too which I hope to see more of in the next book.

There is a great conversation between the queer couple, Phalue and Ranami, that is ongoing for their entire side plot of the book. Privilege is something that is a distinct conflict in their romantic relationship since both of these women come from very different situations. Even though it is mostly an internal struggle between them both, there is a very real message here that is a welcome reminder that some people (myself included) should be aware of just how much privilege they carry.

Again, this book is incredibly woven and densely packed with a perfect attention to detail and I can’t flaw a single thing. This is a perfect beginning to a series I think will keep delivering on all the strongest parts of this book. Thank you to both Orbit Books and NetGalley for providing me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for review. The Bone Shard Daughter is out now!

★★★★★/5

Hedwig’s World of TBR: Update

Welcome back guys! Hope you like the little logo up above. So I’ve not been having the best of reading the last month or so and that really ran into September I am sad to say. I did read 2 books this weekend gone but I am looking to get back on the horse this week and at least catch up on the four books that I am behind on for my GR goal.

That being said it is insane to think it’s been two months since I made the first post for this little project I set myself. Today I’m updating the list since I’ve finally completed one of the series I set on the original list! I’m glad to have made a dent however small and to be honest, it couldn’t have been a better one since it’s now one of my favourite series.

That is of course the Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K Le Guin. I have reviewed each of the books in the series now and I will link them below but I will say, regardless of it taking me longer than I anticipated, I loved this series. It was everything I needed right now for many reasons, one being the rise of She Who Will Not be Named.

So now I’m done one series, am I left with only 3? No, that would be sensible and I’m a glutton for punishment. I am going to add another 2 series to the list since I’ve felt a real need to finally finish that one in particular so without further rambling, the below is the updated list. Again, Those highlighted in bold have been read and those with a * are going to be a reread.

Books and series read:

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin:
– A Wizard of Earthsea
– The Tombs of Atuan
– The Farthest Shore
– Tehanu

Series left to read and finish:

The Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson:
– Rosewater
– The Rosewater Insurrection
– The Rosewater Redemption

The Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E Schwab:
A Darker Shade of Magic*
– A of Shadows
– A Conjuring of Light

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb:
– Assassins Apprentice*
– Royal Assassin
– Assassins Quest

The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman:
-The Magicians
-The Magician King
-The Magician’s Land

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K Jemisin:
-The Fifth Season
-The Obelisk Gate
-The Stone Sky

So two more trilogies! Both by extremely excellent authors and both having been in both my possession and unfinished for a while. I would like to get at least a chunk of these read before the end of this year but that might be pushing it and I am a very mood reader. I shall be updating here on the occasions that I have a new one completed (or DNFd??) so we shall see.

Thank you so much to everyone for reading my disaster post and my very minimal attempt to hold myself in check for the amount of uncompleted series I have. If you have read or finished any of the above that you think I would like, do let me know. Happy reading to you all!

Review: Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

‘If women had power what would men be but women who can’t bear children? And what would women be but men who can?’

****Trigger warnings for the following: Rape (implied and off page), incest,some ableist language and death of a spouse****

Well here we are. We’ve come full circle. And I have many feelings. Honestly, despite my clear love of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work, I had no idea when I started this series just how much of an impact this would make on me and now, I can honestly say I never want to leave Earthsea.

Years ago, they had escaped together from the sinister Tombs of Atuan—she, an isolated young priestess; he, a powerful wizard. Now she is a farmer’s widow, having chosen for herself the simple pleasures of an ordinary life. And he is a broken old man, mourning the powers lost to him through no choice of his own.

Once, when they were young, they helped each other at a time of darkness and danger and shared an adventure like no other. Now they must join forces again, to help another in need — the physically and emotionally scarred child whose own destiny has yet to be revealed

When I reviewed the previous book in the series, I mentioned how for many that is considered the conclusion to the original story of Ged and his adventures of Earthsea. Considering the time between The Farthest Shore and Tehanu, anyone who had been following her work for so long would be right to assume that was the end. But this, truly felt like the conclusion we needed.

We are back of course where it all started, Gont. And we are back with Tenar, now known as Goha to the Gontish people she married among. Honestly, I loved Tenar a lot for the simple realism she brought to the story while also struggling with something that is very real for people who have lived under such a sheltered rule. I was glad to see she had chosen to make a life for herself on Gont, marry a husband, have children, lose said husband and become Goha. There is a very interesting point later between Ged and Tenar where he reminds her that she could have been the first woman mage, she had Ogion, she had the power, she had everything available. But Tenar reminds Ged very quickly that for the first time in her life, it was her choice alone. That to me, is the most important thing of Tenar’s story.

Something the story juggles and discusses a lot is gender. It’s no secret that Le Guin’s writing of gender was ahead of it’s time in many ways and particularly for a woman in such a high place in SFF. But here it’s really confronted by Tenar. She is clearly more powerful than a common witch (“weak as a woman’s magic, wicked as a woman’s magic” is a phrase used a lot in the story) and can even converse with the dragon, Kallesin, in the Old Speech. This is pretty unknown outside of wizards and dragons and does take years of study but she manages it. Reality didn’t cease to exist because a woman conversed with a dragon.

This book is hell of a lot darker than any of the others. The story opens with Tenar helping a local Gontish woman try and safe a young girl who was raped by her fellow clan members and thrown live into a fire. She is named Therru (flame in Kargish) and Tenar tries her best to raise the girl in some form of normality and to try and help her recover from the horrific way she was treated. The girl is left physically scarred and affected by this (again like the start, definitely some out of date language used to discuss her disabilities) forever, barely speaking and only learning to trust men once Ged comes back. The story concludes wonderfully with Therru given back a hell of a lot more agency but it is worth knowing in advance that these are in the story.

You’re probably wondering how I made it this far without even mentioning Ged. That’s because this isn’t his story. It’s the story of those left behind. Women, widows, witches, the disabled and the older people. This is the story of anyone who the big fantasy epics left behind and forgot about after we left the last page. I honestly really enjoyed the direction this book took, you could truly tell that Le Guin was in a very different place in life writing this. While we still see Ged and he is still a big part of the story, his story is over and this ends his, and Tenar’s, stories so they can enjoy the rest of their lives. Together in peace.

Thank you to everyone who has read these reviews and followed my journey to read the series I started so I can truly experience them. Earthsea is honestly after this one of my favourite series of all time. I know I do have The Other Wind and Tales of Earthsea left still in this world but for now, I’m thrilled to have finished this amazing series. I’ll be posting an update to the TBR project and I’ll discuss the series at length in it’s own post hopefully but in the mean time, thanks for checking in! Happy reading!

★★★★.5/5

Review: The Raven by Jonathan Janz

‘The evidence is all around me. Humans have always been monsters. We just needed a push to embrace our shadow side.’

*****Trigger warning for the following: Body horror, apocalypses, rape, pedophaelia, gore, blood, torture, death of a child and a parent*******

I always talk about my love for SFF and comics on this blog but horror sometimes falls by the wayside here. I’ve been reading horror since I was 13 (10 if you include Under the Hawthorne Tree. If you know, you know.). I am ashamed to say that despite my love of horror, I have never read a Jonathan Janz book. Until now!

Fearing that mankind is heading toward nuclear extinction, a group of geneticists unleash a plot to save the world. They’ve discovered that mythological creatures such as werewolves, vampires, witches, and satyrs were once real, and that these monstrous genetic strands are still present in human DNA. These radical scientists unleash the bestial side of human beings that had been dormant for eons, and within months, most people are dead, and bloodthirsty creatures rule the earth. Despite the fact that Dez McClane has no special powers, he is determined to atone for the lives he couldn’t save and to save the woman he loves. But how long can a man survive in a world full of monsters?

I haven’t read a book that felt this cinematic in a very long time. Everything literally felt like I was sat watching it on screen instead of a book. This is a grim, dark world that is both familiar yet totally alien. Not a single moment gives you relief from the constant threats this world throws at it’s characters and for a post apocalyptic novel that I read during a global pandemic, I had great fun.

One things that struck me was Janz’s wonderful ability for world building. This is a world that felt lived in and it certanily felt like he was questioning just what lengths he could really push the misery of the characters lives. And then how could he make it worse. He honestly has such a knack for writing a world like this, like trying to pitch a pandemic level apocalypse that turns people into vampires and werewolves as a novel is just so unique. I honestly am mostly obsessed with the concept and I really enjoyed it.

Now as we all know, horror is hinged on atmosphere. This book does it times ten. This world is bleak, it’s unforgiving and you will die in seconds if you don’t have your eye on the ball. Like honestly Janz does not care about the wellbeing of his characters. Dez, our protagonist, literally escapes a bunch of cannibals and watches 2 people being killed and consumed, he finds shelter (and popcorn!) only for his peace to be ruined and his life nearly stolen at by a grieving werewolf. Noone at all catches a break here.

Random thing I really liked about the myriad of monsters of this world is the werewolves. They aren’t transformed or alered by moonlight but ususally an emotional trigger. Dez does let us know that is seems to be mostly anger or rage of some kind that sets off the transformation of human to wolf. However w do meet one later that changes as a result of the crushing grief at the loss of his wife. I really liked that since it is an interesting modern take.

Janz is truly brutal to his characters though. Dez has been through almightly hell when we meet him. Mostly as a result of the post traumatic stress of the loss of his son, he lives in this constant state of guilt. One small complaint I really didn’t like was the brief hint that he had a form of possible OCD but he never bothered to get it checked. I know it’s the apocalypse but this is distinctly described as a moment of contemplation when he thinks of the past. Outside of that, all the characters need a cup of tea that isn’t secretly full of wasps.

The horror is really dialled up to ten, the characters are interesting but what took the last star was the plot and structure of the book. We had what promised to be every other chapter told in the first person by Dez. That only lasts for a few chapters and it is forgotten about. The framing device is the journal he keeps and those chapters are his entries, granted he can’t write them all the time but the lack of consistency with it was a bit jarring.

Thank you to both Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for an early copy of this book for review. This was highly enjoyable and I look forward to reading more of Janz work. Thanks for checking in everyone! happy reading! ‘The Raven’ is out now.

★★★★/5

Review:The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish

‘No, the shadow had moved. It really had. She hardly dared breathe.
A loud “caw” outside her window madeher jump. The shadow fluttered and was gone.’

*******Disclaimer: I was sent a digital advanced copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.******

Well summer is over, who can say they’re honestly sorry to see it go? Alright, maybe a few of you are. But spooky season is upon us! Finally, after this dreadful year, it’s nice to see some proof that time is passing. But no here we are, time for spooky stories and speaking of them, is there anything more unsettling than the idea that your perfect holiday home is haunted by vengeful witches? While you’re isolated by the sea?

“Naught remained of their bodies to be buried, for the crows took back what was theirs.”

An idyllic coastal cottage near a sleepy village. What could be more perfect? For Robyn Crowe, borrowing her sister’s recently renovated holiday home for the summer seems just what she needs to deal with the grief of losing her beloved husband.

But behind those pretty walls lie many secrets, and legends of a malevolent sisterhood—two witches burned for their evil centuries earlier. Once, both their vile spirits were trapped there. Now, one has been released. One who is determined to find her sister. Only Robyn stands in her way.

And the crow has returned.

I spent most of my childhood summers by the sea up the West Cosat of Ireland. I think anyone who knows this and knows Ireland at all will know that it certainly wasn’t sunny, sandy beaches with everyone smiling. It is a lot of unsettled weather, seaweed and spending time in the local bars hiding from said weather. So right away from the get go, this book appealed to me being set in such a similar place. Trust me I know my description makes it sound like it wasn’t a great place but going to the most remote parts of the coast did allow us always a chance to cut off from the city for a while.

This is why it makes sense to me that our protagonist Robyn would retreat there to recover from grief. The world building is superb, there is such an atmosphere here I could literally feel the winds blowing in on Robyn’s walks. The local scrutiny and the endless nepotism of the local village had me smiling from sheer nostalgia.

This is obviously a double edged sword since what is a wonderful, remoste place for recovery from very devastating loss is also an isolated cottage with very little contact with the world outside rural ‘Malan’. What I really enjoyed about the writing here was how the two of these moods are so well balanced. There is a moment here Robyn is reflecting quite cosily over a piece of cake, watching the world go by in the local cafe. Within moments, the stoy is suddenly overshadowed by the strange and tragic history of Malan and how Robyn might not be truly alone.

Something I really enjoy in books is sister dynamics. Robyn and her sister Holly are a very close set of sisters, onee being in Malan cottage at the others recommendation. What really worked was their relationship in comparison to Jowanet and Zenobie, the witches themselves. Granted the sisters were clearly working some evil dark magic and were cursing the entire land but one of them is haunting the place still searching for her sister. I have to admire that.

All that asie this is still a horror story at the end of the day and it delivers on that even better than I expected and I knew thatI would enjoy this. Catherine Cavendish really has a gift for the uncanny that manages to unsettle you even in very small ways. Smell is something I really react to personally and the smaller details of the near rotten smell in the cottage was such a small thing that added to the overall experience. To me personlly it’s always the smaller things that lead to me feeing on edge. The attention to detail here is honestly fantastic and I can’t fault the creepy feel of the Malan Witch lurking around every corner.

The only thing I wish there had been more of was Robyn and her late husband, Simon. this is a very small thing in the overall story but it becomes clear from the moments she does think of him that Robyn and Simon were very happy in their marriage. It definitely would have added extra emotional weight to the story, that we do get from the moments that Holly and her children are brought into context of the witch but I personally would have loved to have seen it.

Thank you so much to the author for sending me a copy of this to review! This was the exact book I needed to pull me out of a mini slump that I was having and I would recommend to get them spooky feels started for the Autumn. Thanks for checking in everyone! Happy reading!

★★★★★/5

Review: Axioms End by Lindsay Ellis

‘No intelligent species has evolved past fear.’

I don’t generally fare well with first contact stories. I saw E.T for the first time 2 Christmases ago and was left in the depths of melancholy. I literally can’t go back to it. Aliens generally to me are usually of the Xenomorph/Thing type than the needing a hug from my mother because one went home. Lindsay Ellis however managed to change that for me.

Truth is a human right.

It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government—and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him—until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.

Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human—and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.

I generally watch Lindsay Ellis’s videos at least daily if not then every few days. Even ones that I have seen multiple times, have pestered my boyfriend with and just generally know the academic flow they will follow. So you can understand my caution for someone who writes non fiction video essays emerging with a science fiction story. I was very wrong. What Ellis manages to capture is the nostalgia and dread I feel when I think about 2007 while still writing a compelling story.

The world building here is very well done with just the right levels of throwback to the early 2000’s and the strangeness of that time. I was a teenager in 2007 when Bush was president so I was in my own little bubble of angst back then. But I was very aware of the political environment at the time, both in Ireland and the U.S with Barack Obama in the run for president especially. This book is written so well I was dragged back to those years. From the mention of the final Harry Potter book being published and the very mention of My Chemical Romance set the right mood of that year. it wasn’t all nostalgia though, Ellis really captures the unease of living during the economic crash by adding little details here and there. One of them I really found interesting was the details of the Dow Jones Industrial Average at the beginning of each part of the book. Kinda really sets up the constant awareness of the economy we all lived with back then.

Cora is hard not to relate to, a 20 something college drop out forced to work through her mother’s agency and live with her again. The family strain is always clear, especially that which has been caused by Nils choosing his ‘Truth is a human right’ ideology first and his family when it best suits his narrative. I may have finished college, but that ennui is still there. As the story moves along it becomes clear that Cora is very flawed but doing her absolute best with what she has and that isn’t something I see a lot in SFF. She has this fantastic dynamic with the alien being (that later becomes known as Ampersand) with boundaries and a mutual respect that you can feel she is struggling to get from family and peers.

Something that I really picked up on in the story was the importance of language and how outdated ideas and knowledge of cultures is damaging to both those people and those that have them. As it becomes clear that what Ampersand is trying to achieve isn’t something he can do without having someone to speak with or for him, the language barrier between he and Cora and other humans is outlined as vital. Without Cora, Ampersand is literally stuck. Despite human ignorance of Ampersand’s world and people, it is clearly a double edged sword with his knowledge of humanity’s advancement and development being slightly out of date. Slightly being around a 1000 years almost. This obviously leaves Ampersand thinking we are still dragging knuckles and such, Cora delightfully updates him. But at the end of the day, the message still rings true. Ignorance is dangerous.

I obviously really enjoyed this despite my caution and the story flows wonderfully with excellent development that is clearly (and confirmed!) to be getting a sequel but despite it being an amazing debut, there are parts of the story that still read like a debut. The explosive start to the story doesn’t drop a single beat but there are convenient moments in it. Cora is down on her luck but always just has a solution nearby. World-building is A1 but still has moments of characters spouting exposition. All small details but all in all irrelevant to how great this was to read and testament to Ellis as a writer.

Any fans of Lindsay Ellis’s videos or this book? This is also an idea scifi book for anyone who is very into scifi movies but not read much books in the genre. It’s extremely cinematic and fun so worth checking out. Thanks for popping in guys! Happy reading!

★★★★/5