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 Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

“These days, it is hard to know how to be a person,” she said. “To avoid doing wrong is not easy, never mind doing good. I have been praying for guidance- a light in this darkness. Now the deity has sent you to me. It’s a sign.”

I do love a good found family story and a nice novella to cleanse the reading palette from time to time. I mean when it has a great cover as well, it’s hard not to want to read. Even when it’s pitched to you as; ‘A bandit walks into a coffee shop and meets a nun. Mayhem ensues.’, why would you not want to read it?

Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

Regardless of any critical rating or review, this was fun. I did enjoy the story and the character banter. I personally have no connection or awareness of wuxia culture, movies especially, which is absolutely shameful. There is a sense of the melodramatic here all the way through the book and it’s used in a way that is meant to entertain the reader. Cho knows how to keep someone engaged with a shorter work like a novella.

The world building failed a little on me and I think, along with my other critiques this is down to the length working against the book. There is hints of an entire Peninsula and a “secret war” at play behind the scenes. While we get a few more details of the Order of the Pure Moon as the story carries on, I feel like all these religious orders that are mentioned in passing would benefit from a bit more detail. The world in general felt very limited to our band of characters but it has so much potential if Cho ever came back to it.

The characters really stood out to me in the story with one small let down that I’ll get to. The opening of the story with a brawl in a coffee house between a bandit and a petulant customer and a nun getting stuck in the middle is great fun. Guet Imm, the titular nun, was a surprise favourite. She has this uncanny ability to confuse both me and the characters in the story with just how resourceful she could really be. Nun or no, she has secrets The second in command to the gang of bandits, Tet Sang, is our main point of view here and he carries his own secrets relating to the Order of the Pure Moon.

Now where these characters fall down for me is the found family aspect of the story. I love this trope a lot. I don’t know a lot of people who don’t to be honest. It’s a very reassuring thing to see becoming more common in fiction since this is the reality for many people. However, to have this work in a book I find there needs to be very well planned writing and a hell of a lot of development of characters that this book just didn’t allow a lot of room for. There is some excellent dialogue, incredible charm but that just wasn’t enough to have me root for this family of misfits.

The plot was the real fall down for me . The pacing is fairly spotty with some great action scenes and a genuinely tender reveal that did bring this story to a higher rating for me in the ned. What the story ends with though is so left of centre I had to put the Kindle down and pause before I read it again to finish. The writing itself is wonderful with moving moments of are for these characters interwoven with some great action but ultimately how it was plotted out killed the potential for me.

Honestly l would still recommend this since Cho has amazing skill with words. I know I tried Sorcerer to the Crown back about 4 years ago and never finished it so I think I’ll reread that. Have you read this? Are you a Zen Cho fan? Tell me all below. Thanks for checking in folks, happy reading!

★★★/5

Review: Prospers Demon by K.J Parker

‘They have them, for sure. It’s a bizarre but widespread myth that only heroes have good qualities, and the only qualities heroes have are good; villains are, by definition, all bad. Bullshit.’

I usually try to keep novellas and shorter works I read to my Sunday Shorts posts that I post as often as I can. Especially since I only started that section of my blog before Christmas. However, sometimes a book needs a review all on its own. This is one of those books.

An unnamed narrator greets us with this one warning, we probably won’t like him very much. A darkly witty voice of an exorcist who has been marked by demons or Them since a child, walks the reader through his methods and how he works with questionable methods. Then he meets Prosper Schanz, a true renaissance man who is determined to lead the newly born prince into the new world of science of sense. Prosper is possessed by a demon. Then he meets the narrator.

This was way too short, I had to take a star from the book for it. It was such a good read and I wanted more of this world. There is no distinct world building here, only that there are clerics, royal families and children left to raise themselves on the lawless streets. The narrator provides us with choice flashbacks to describe his experience with demons, or Them as they are known here, and how this led him to where he is.

Something I thought was great was what we get to learn about Them. Is anyone else slightly frustrated with demonic possession stories and the lack of research in the stories about the demons in that world? Not only do we get to know how many of Them are (narrator is unsure how that was counted) but how they are hurt, how they can possess people and its just handled so well. I think if K.J Parker ever wanted to expand on this world, there is limitless opportunity to do it with what he has built here.

Unnamed and questionable narrators are always tricky too since the writer can easily fall into some very cliche territory. Thrillers in recent years have especially exploited it but Parker handles it very well. We don’t need to know this narrators name, we aren’t supposed to like them. He is willing to do whatever he needs to get rid of Them, but most importantly Him. There is a cat and mouse game stretching across the years between the protagonist and Him. Both of these characters met when when the narrator was VERY young and have been trying to catch and outwit each other ever since.

The way that this is all woven in with the main story of Prosper Schanz and his encounter with the protagonist makes for a creepy, dark tale with a fantastic payoff. I just wish this could have been longer since there was such good tension within the story. This is still a great read, very quick with a great take on the demonic possession tale.

Have you read this? Do you intend to? Please tell me in the comments. Happy reading folks!

★★★★/5

The Tea Master and the Detective- Aliette de Bodard

When you’re out there, with no one and nothing to stand in your way – when you realise how small you are – you also realise that everything that ever was, that ever will be, is connected to you. That we’re all, in the end, part of the same great thing.’

I read this for the 2019 Hugo’s as I am attending the World Sci fi convention in Dublin this year (Dublin 2019) and it did not disappoint. This story was a great merging of some of my favourite tropes and genre’s of story while packing a punch for something so short. So this is gonna be a mini-ish review.

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls belt! A ‘provincial backwater’ in the depths of space where humans and AI/mindships mingle and mix among each other. It is here we meet The Shadow’s Child, a discharged mindship who is suffering from the trauma of a battle. The Shadow’s Child makes her living from blending teas (YES) that function as drugs and remedies for people trying to survive deep space travel. When Long Chau walks in and introduces herself as a consulting detective looking to hire The Shadow’s Child to recover a body from deep space, we slowly unravel a detective story and a study of PTSD in space.

This is my first time reading any of Aliette de Bodard’s work and especially anything set in her Xuya universe and I really enjoyed it. I like shorter novellas but I sometimes feel that especially when they are sci fi that they can be short to the point it get bogged down with world building/character perspectives. This was had none of that. The world building is very straightforward and is essentially just a description of Space but with Vietnamese inspired notes. That’s it. Nice and simple.

The characters really stood out for me. I have not read ANY books from an AI perspective and I found this story did it really well. The Shadow’s Child is such a wonderful and refreshing character, de Bodard imbues this mindship with so much emotion and such humanity. She is a ship that is recovering from a violent event and she can’t go back into deep space as a result and she struggles to make rent and survive which is such a basic human need we would obviously not assign them to a synthetic sentient being like a mindship. It really made the story worth it for me. Long Chau wasn’t as well developed and I felt she suffered for it as a character for it but it is a shorter work. She has very Sherlockian traits including a drug addiction but she is a good foil for The Shadow’s Child. She was entertaining and fun to read.

I love detective stories. I spent a good chunk of my teenage years watching Sherlock, watching many Sherlock Holmes movies and reading the actual stories so this was like a love letter to one of my favourite tropes. I will say however that sometimes it felt too Conan Doyle-esque? So if you don’t like retellings it may not be for you. It’s still a highly original story regardless but it may not suit Sherlock Holmes purists.

To conclude, this was a perfect entry to the Xuya world and I can’t wait to read more. I did check to see would these 2 characters feature again in other Xuya stories but de Bodard has said they probably will not. I will read more of her stuff and this actually has me stumped for what my choice for the novella category for the Hugo awards.

★★★★/5