Thursday 28 May 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

January Scaller has grown up as the ward of wealthy collector Mr Locke in his house filled with rare art and artifacts, while her father is employed by Mr Locke to scour the world for more treasures. Her mother died long ago, and, as Mr Locke has no family of his own, January's life is fairly isolated and quiet. Then one day she discovers a strange old book, with the lettering almost rubbed away from the cover, that tells of doors to other worlds. It's just fiction, surely? but, as a child, January believed she found such a door, so some of it is surely true.

This is a spellbinding, unputdownable read, a mix of romance and adventure, loyal friends and evil societies, and, with ten thousand other worlds to escape to, perfect for these stay-at-home times

it's not perfect - one of the worlds has a resemblance to LeGuin's Earthsea, the writing is occasionally over the top with too many ornate, elaborate descriptions, and what I assume to have been big plot reveals were quite predictable - but none of that matters. This is a book i could happily fall into and lose myself again and again, so it earns five stars.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Orbit
Genre - fantasy/speculative fiction 

Monday 18 May 2020

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

Nona Grey is reaching the end of her incredible story. Rescued from the hangman by the Abbess of Sweet Mercy convent, and trained in martial arts and unseen magics, now she must fight to save the Empire from invaders. Her world is one where only a comparatively narrow belt of land is fit to live on, the rest overwhelmed by ice sheets, one settled long ago by different tribes from another planet, but remains still exist of a civilisation which preceded theirs.

The world building is excellent, character development believable and well thought-through, the plot gripping and well-paced. Swapping between two timelines - one picking up where book 2 left off, the other following Nona as she and her fellow nuns prepare for war - doesn't leave time for a dull  moment

One thing I particularly liked was that Mark Lawrence hasn't created one kick-ass heroine, but  whole convent full to support her. Okay, some of these women are not thoroughly, or at all, on Nona's side, but they're still strong independent women, easily the equal of the male soldiers and spies they encounter. I'd maybe like to have heard more of Abbess Glass's story, but for most of the series she just exists in the background, although her 'long game' shapes Nona's character and actions.

Holy Sister is the concluding part of Lawrence's Book of the Ancestor series (and you DO have to have read the previous two books - Red Sister and Grey Sister - to understand what's going on) but he's already started a new series based among the tribes who live on the Ice, so there's no need to say farewell to this world just yet.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

Thursday 7 May 2020

When The Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Chris and Emma's marriage is falling apart, their relationship being broken by something bigger than the two of them - the fate of mankind and the planet. Once they were equally concerned about the environmental catastrophe unfolding around them. Now, juggling home and work, Emma has adopted a more pragmatic approach to living, recycling whatever she can, and trying to make their resources (and income) stretch as far as possible. Chris, meanwhile, has begun to prepare for the end of the world, obsessing over climate change, stockpiling food and bizarre medicine bought online, and trying to spread his beliefs by preaching in town at weekends. 
As rain falls, the electricity mysteriously fails, and Christmas approaches, Emma begins to feel they can't go on in this way any longer ... and then Chris's mother moves in.

Carys Bray's third novel is the story of two people, once very much in love, but now drifting apart.. It's not down to the apathy that might sneak in to a long term relationship, but due to their different ways of coping with life and its challenges. Chris is exasperated by what he sees as Emma's abandonment of their ideals. Emma thinks Chris should concern himself with problems closer to home first, and worry about the wider world later.

As always, Carys Bray creates characters who feel real; believable and slightly flawed, they're people we can empathise with, even if we don't agree. Chris and Emma have a relationship full of love; they just choose to focus that love on different things, and express it in different ways. Emma is focused on family - the day to day hassle of providing food, clothing, and, above all, love. Chris has his sights on a longer, more catastrophic goal, and worries about how they, and anyone else, will survive when the environmental apocalypse comes.
Something I always like about Carys Bray's writing is that she isn't judgmental about her characters. It would be so easy to show Chris as in the wrong, especially when some of his actions seem a little underhand at times, but he and his ideas are presented with the same care, and given the same weight and respect that Emma's are. He and Emma may not agree, but that doesn't mean his opinions are of lesser value. They're attempting to cope with life's unpredictability in very different ways, but at the heart of both is love.

When The Lights Go Out has fallen victim to coronavirus lockdown, and now won't be published in physical form till autumn; meanwhile it's available as an e-book and audible.  I can't help but wonder what Chris would think about the situation we find ourselves in right now ... 

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - 
Genre - adult fiction,