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: The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Quartet) by Ursula K.Le Guin

They do not die. They are dark and undying, and they hate the light: the brief, bright light of our mortality. They are immortal, but they are not gods. They never were.

If you follow me on any of my social medias or even have seen my most recent posts here on the blog, then you may know that I am holding myself accountable for finishing some series I started. This review is my first finished book of that I will be doing as part of that. I read A Wizard of Earthsea earlier this year and absolutely loved it. But what about the follow up book?

When young Tenar is chosen as high priestess to the ancient and nameless Powers of the Earth, everything is taken away – home, family, possessions, even her name. For she is now Arha, the Eaten One, guardian of the ominous Tombs of Atuan.

While she is learning her way through the dark labyrinth, a young wizard, Ged, comes to steal the Tombs’ greatest hidden treasure, the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Ged also brings with him the light of magic, and together, he and Tenar escape from the darkness that has become her domain

This is certainly a change in direction from the first novel in the series. For a start we have a new protagonist and we are on a totally different part of the archipelago of Earthsea. We have moved to the culture of the Kargish people, those who keep the Tombs Atuan. Our protagonist, Tenar, is taken to the tombs at age 5 and is made High Priestess to the Nameless Ones, being renamed ‘Arha’ (meaning ‘eaten one’) as part of the duty.

I thouroughly enjoyed seeing this side of the islands. Considering the Kargish people are a race of people with white skin and are seen as ‘savages’ by the Hardic folk for their religious theocracy and their distaste of reading and writing, it made for interesting worldbuilding. The atmosphere as always is perfect in Le Guin’s worlds. You really feel the isolation that Tenar faces here and the struggle of maintaining the duty that you were given while being expected to just know how to do the job.

While A Wizard of Earthsea functioned as a coming of age story for Ged, and we watched him grow from the impulsive spirited apprentice he was, to the powerful mage Sparrowhawk, we get a similar situation here with Tenar. Tenar is renamed Arha at the age of 5 when she taken away from her parents. The Kargish believing that the same High Priestess lives, dies and born again to serve the Nameless Ones. Tenar as a result is constantly struggling between her belief in the Nameless Ones and how she is proud to serve them to the endless questioning of what lies out there.

Her eventual meeting with Ged is genuinely some of the best moments in the book. You see Tenar confronted with everything she has been conditioned to believe is barbaric and wrong. She has to fight against this belief that her Nameless Ones she serves so well didn’t step in to stop this evil mage. She genuinely struggles and battles against it showing the clear signs of trauma someone indoctrinated might go through. Ged is wonderfully patient and helpful with her, guiding her to eventually use the power she has wielded all these years to learn what she truly wants.

The plot was a little tricky here since I never realised although Ged is a character in all the Earthsea books, each one takes place years apart from the last and he isn’t the main character in any of the other books. Tenar did grow on me and I did love her story as it went on but to start with it was a little jarring and had me a little lost to begin with so maybe take that on board if you are going to read these.

I am quite happy I chose to start my TBR projct with this series first. Ursula K Le Guin is honestly one of my favourite writers and I wish I had read Earthsea sooner. I have found it vastly comforting since my break up with JKR and trying to distance myself from Harry Potter for a while. Thanks for checking in folks! happy reading!

★★★★/5

Blog Tour: The Influence by Ramsey Campbell

Today I’m kicking off the RandomThingsTour blog tour for The Influence by Ramsey Campbell.

‘The wall felt chill and gritty, yet it made her think of softened flesh. She recoiled before she had time to gasp, but the sensations clung to her, swarmed through her.’

Synopsis: Queenie is the ageing matriarch of the Faraday family,and even death can’t break her hold over her eleven-year-old granddaughter Rowan. She’s buried with a locket that contains a lock of Rowan’s hair and by the time anyone sees what effect the ghostly influence on Rowan is having, it may be too late for her.

This was one creepy read. I have never read any of Ramsey Campbell’s work prior to this and I’m very intrigued now. The writing is haunting while managing to create a disctinct atmosphere that makes me feel like I’ve actually been to Wales.

As mentioned, the book moves between Wales and Liverpool but the most distinct locations are the Wales and the house the novel takes place in. Queenie is such a bitter malevolent person that her spirit has infected the house. I’m referring to when she is alive by the way. The house is riddled with damp and rot with barely functioning electricity. I honestly hated every second of being in it, it reminded me of a mildewy house left to die while still having someone live there.

I am still in awe of the atmosphere that Campbell has created. When we are in Wales during the course of the novel its described so well I felt like I was there. Especially when Campbell is describing the damp weather and the rain that seems to cling to everything. There are so many creepy moments that take place in the dark in drizzly, wet conditions during the winter months and that is the weather at the moment in Ireland so it felt very real.

Queenie is a prime example of how age and time are nothing against the sheer iron will of someone who refuses to be triumphed by anything or anyone. In this case it’s literal death. I think everyone knows a woman who would remind them of Queenie, I know I did while reading and honestly put me in the same position of Rowan. I felt a very personal connection to what Rowan was going through with trying to figure out where she fit between her parents, her aunt Hermione and Queenie. I was very like Rowan at her age so I felt very protective of her during the whole book.

Something I felt that was an indication of the strength of Campbell’s writing was if the haunting was taken away, I would still find this book very creepy. Between the atmosphere, the unsettling house and just the sheer tension within this family I would still be very unsettled reading this.

Outside of the supernatural, Campbell brings up some very scary real life things that also add to the dread. There is a relative who is a paedophile , moments of claustrophobia and children with terminal ilnesses. Campbell manages to hold up a mirror to our society so we can see the true dangers out there for children. Legacy is a big theme in this novel and its influence (see what I did there?).

I highly recommend this book to any horror fans. This book was originally published in 1989 and won several awards back when it was first published and now has been adapted for Netflix in Spanish.

★★★★/5

About the Auhor:

Ramsey Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946 and still lives on Merseyside. The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as “Britain’s most respected living horror
writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror
Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thank you once again to Anne and Flame Tree Press for this fantastic opportunity and for sending me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This is How You Lose the Time War- Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone Review

‘ If the planet lasted long enough, the vines that sprout from the corpse’ mouths would grow berries.’

So just a quick note to begin, my heart. It is in pieces. I bought this after seeing it being discussed on Tor.com and intended on reading it in Dublin but I only got round to it last weekend. And for such a short work I have to say it is very powerful.

The world is dying. Among the dead is the two warring factions of the Agency and Garden. On a future battle field an agent of the Agency finds a letter saying ‘Burn before reading.’ What begins as an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents begins to develop into an unlikely friendship that slowly evolves into something that threatens both sides of the war. But could this change both past future? Could a potential love between two enemies save time itself? Wars have to be won, both are willing to die for it, but what about each other?

I have found recently that novellas and other shorter works of both science fiction and fantasy have been better at conveying a larger plot than longer, more epic publications within the genre. This one is no different and proves that a short work doesn’t have to be heavily edited and that a larger plot can definitely function within a tighter narrative. The war we see between both sides and that both our characters, Red and Blue respectively, is not only taking place in the future but also in the past. Agents are sent across ‘threads’ of time to braid and unbraid these strands of time. Both sides seek to gain the upper hand on the other by undoing and changing different actions both take throughout the threads of history, and I really liked that. It is definitely a world we recognise and live in, or at least was with elements from the past definitely being part of human history so it isn’t heavy on world building.

This is a character driven story and we meet very few characters besides Red and Blue and we really don’t need to. This is about them and is driven by their letters to and from each other. The letters begin as a taunt from Blue towards Red and watching them get to know each other was so wonderful. Both characters are discussed using she/her pronouns so this is a queer love story. The names that both the characters call each other at the start of each letter (Red, in tooth, in claw, Blue-da-ba-dee etc) really entertained me and these aren’t your paper envelope letters either. Blue and Red need to hide their letters from both sides and letters are found in lava formations, seeds to be cracked on the receivers tongue and in a birds wing to name a few.

The format of the text really helps keep a steady, busy plot that kept me constantly engaged. The few times I put the book down I was worried for both Red and Blue and kept wondering what was happening. Each chapter changes between both points of view and each chapter has and ends with a letter from one to the other. The imagery and the language are stunning aswell. The whole plot carries one big feeling of paranoia for these two but also keeps the romance the grows slowly between the 2 so private it feels like the reader is almost a voyeur within their world.

Without spoiling the ending, we get to avoid the usual harmful issues that are commonly in queer love stories while also getting a sense that this is a very natural and tender experience for both the characters and the reader. If this isn’t up for the Hugo’s next year I may cause a riot. Now if you don’t mind, I need to go fill the hole in my heart this book left.