Friday 24 June 2022

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett


Review by TheMole

Brutha is working in the monastery gardens when a turtle lands nearby - as they do. This turtle was supposed to be a mighty eagle but you can't have everything.

Brutha is a novice in the monastery, dedicated to the god Om, and is not likely to progress because while he seems to lack many skills he also has unrecognised skills. One such skill is to hear the voice of this particular turtle who claims to be the god Om. Brutha is a gentle soul and would not hurt a harmless creature and so he becomes guardian of the turtle god.

Brutha is chosen to go with a delegation to try to persuade them to worship Om but he suspects treachery, murder and war may ensue. And harmless Brutha with his pet turtle are trapped in the middle.

The 13th book in the series this felt like a deviation from the "normal" Discworld books but still delights in the same humorous vein. None of the regular characters appear although you very quickly don't miss them.

Once again you can see parallels to real life and views on those events expressed - but not at the expense of humour and a most enjoyable story.

Highly recommended but if you're new to the Discworld and want to know what it's all about then consider not starting with this one.

Publisher: Transworld

Genre: Fantasy, comedy

Thursday 23 June 2022

Madwoman by Louisa Treger

In 1887, Nellie Bly arrived in New York determined to make a name for herself in journalism, not in the accepted female range of journalism, of theatre reviews and flower arranging, but as a serious reporter covering social issues and inequalities. She'd had some success in her home town of Pittsburgh, but New York proved a harder nut to crack. In desperation she came up with a plan to get admitted to the asylum on Blackwell's Island and uncover the treatment of the patients there. What she found was beyond her most horrific expectations. 

Madwoman follows the true story of pioneering journalist Nellie Bly, her internment in a mental health facility, and the cruelty and oppression she found there. Although I wasn't aware of Nellie's story, I had heard of the appalling treatment of mental health patients in the days of 'lunatic asylums', and of many cases of people wrongly incarcerated. As such, much of the dreadful treatment didn't come as a shock to me,  and I found the writing style also distanced me from the horror; for my preferences, it was a little too much 'tell', not enough 'show'.

Not a book you'll 'enjoy', but one which many may find informative and shocking.

Thursday 16 June 2022

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater

As a child, Dora Ettings wandered into Faerieland, and had half her soul stolen away. Since then she's only experienced emotions in a detached way. She feels neither fear not embarrassment, and doesn't see how falling in love would be remotely possible. 

Now, Dora's accompanying her cousin, Vanessa, to London in the hope of finding husbands for them both during the Season.  In polite society, say at a ball, Dora's curse makes her inclined to say or do the wrong thing, but when her aunt tries to pair her off with Albert Lowe, an eligible 'younger son' who helps as a doctor in the city's workhouses, Dora's lack of feeling proves invaluable; the dreadful conditions she encounters don't repulse her, and she's able to calmly assist when needed. This isn't, of course, what her aunt had planned. Nor is a close association with the Lord Sorcier, Elias Wilder, who she meets though Albert and his investigation into a mysterious sleeping sickness spreading among the workhouse children. 

I'd expected a light Regency Bridgerton-style romcom, with a hint of faerie magic, but found something with more grit. Yes, there are balls and romance, but there are also darker undercurrents which I think made it more compelling for me. On one hand, there's the dark world of Faerie which threatens to trap Dora, just as everything seems to be going well for her. On the other, the work of Albert and Elias among the poor exposes the very real conditions of 19th century workhouses, and also the lack of concern shown by much of society for anyone unfortunate enough to end up there. Neither Bridgerton nor Austen's works concern themselves much with the world beyond 'society', but here the reader is forced to see beyond the fancy ballgowns and marriage market, and encounter complacent attitudes which seem very common today.

I understand there are further books planned in this series, and I'm intrigued to discover what they're like. 


Thursday 9 June 2022

The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk

 Abel Cloudesley is a renowned maker of clocks and mechanical marvels in 18th century London. Left devastated by the death of his wife in childbirth, he tries his best to bring up his son Zachary with the help of a wet nurse, Mrs Morley, and occasional interference from his wife's eccentric aunt Frances, but an accident in the workshop leaves six year old Zachary blind in one eye, and everyone agrees that Aunt Frances's country house with its weird collection of birds and animals would be a better place for a young inquisitive boy.

Zachary has always been wise beyond his years, and able to randomly forecast future events. Now, seemingly aided by an artificial eye created by Abel's most skilled assistant, he seems able to read thoughts and hopes, and when his father is lost on a government mission to Constantinople, Zachary is the only one who believes he's still alive and in need of rescue.

I'm trying hard to not give away the whole plot, but this is one of those books that seem difficult to give a feel for without doing so! Part historical fiction, part fantasy, it wasn't quite as I expected (I had hoped for a greater fantasy element), but I still enjoyed it immensely. From Abel's workshop to the crowded streets and luxurious palaces of Constantinople it's a very atmospheric read that will cast its spell over you; it's not one to dash through, but to sink into and savour. The cast of characters are equally numerous and varied, from Abel's old school friend now up to something shady in the British government to the black eunuch in charge of the seraglio, who's possibly the real power in Constantinople. I particularly liked the inclusion of LGBTQ characters as people just getting on with life and love, being accepted by others for who they were without any fuss. 

It's an adventure story but also one about love and the ties that bind family, friends and lovers. One I would say for lovers of Alix E Harrow's The Ten Thousand Doors of January or Claire North's novels.