Thursday 22 December 2022

The Weather Woman by Sally Gardner

 Neva is born with an unusual ability - to predict the weather. At first she assumes everyone can do this, but as the frozen Thames ice starts to break under the frost fair of 1789, even little Neva can see that she's the only one to have foreseen the event. As she grows, she comes to understand how strange and unique her talent is. Using a mechanical figure made by her adoptive father, she disguises her abilities as being those of the automaton, the Weather Woman, and becomes a success in London's salons and soirees. 

But  Neva is frustrated that as a woman, she isn't taken seriously by the scientific experts of the day, and creates herself a male alias, Eugene Jonas, who can go where she can't. However, when Henri Denoue, an exiled French count, meets first Neva, then Eugene, he falls in love - perhaps with them both.

This is a lovely, fairly lightweight, but eminently readable, historical novel with a thread of fantasy or magic running through it. Neva's ability is never quite pinned down, but, as one of my daughters has a synaesthetic condition whereby she sees music as colours, that's rather how I understood Neva's visualising of clouds and colours. It doesn't quite matter to the plot which is one of thwarted romance, and adversaries who want to get hold of the Weather Woman for their own use. 

As with Gardner's teen/YA books, there's a fantastic capturing of the period. Neva is very different to Austen's heroines, or the marriageable daughters of Bridgerton, not wanting to settle quietly into marriage and child-bearing, but to further her scientific curiosity, and her story explores the difficulties facing her.

Contrasting with the quiet domestic setting of Neva's adoptive family, are the grand houses of the 'bon ton', dingy lawyers' offices, seedy boarding houses, with characters to match - in fact a whole slice of Regency London from the high to the low. 

Thursday 15 December 2022

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez

translated by Megan McDowell

As a child from a poor background and with serious health issues, Juan is 'adopted' by the wealthy Bradford family, ostensibly to give him the care he needs but actually to exploit him and his 'magical' abilities - for behind the facade of respectability and money the Bradford family are members of a strange cult, known as The Order, participating in demonic, horrific rituals, and Juan is a natural medium, able to make contact with the Darkness they worship. 

As he grows up, he falls in love and marries into the family, but when his son, Gaspar, is born, Juan is determined that The Order will not manipulate another generation, and he begins to lay plans to ensure Gaspar's safety.

This disturbing book is hard to quantify - part horror, part political tale with parallels to Argentina's military regime, part a story of love between father and son, and the lengths one will go to to save the other. Overall though I'd say it's an examination of the corruption that too much power and wealth can bring. 

It's told in sections, moving backwards and forwards in time, and the Bradford/Reyes family emerge as an untouchable clique, acting beyond moral or legal restraints, with a total disregard for anyone outside the family; imprisoning, torturing, and executing them with impunity.  There are definitely echoes of Argentina's troubled past here. 

Be warned - it's not a book for the squeamish. The rituals are bizarre and grotesque, full of blood-letting and mutilation.  At the time of reading, I found them so disturbing that I wondered whether or not to continue, but I'm glad I did, as the story is about more than the horrors people can inflict on each other. In retrospect, I'd go so far as to say it's life-affirming; that such cruelty is now in the past, and won't be allowed to infect the future.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Sorcerer’s Edge by David Hair


Review by The Mole

This book is the third and final book in his The Tethered Citadel trilogy and, for my sins, it’s also the first of them that I have read.

The book starts with a brief resume of books 1 and 2 before continuing the story. As we meet each character we are filled in as to who they are and a brief history to keep us in the loop.

This is not a fantasy where we confuse the good guys with the bad guys (and there are good and bad factions) and we know who we’re rooting for from the off. Sometimes we want a complex plot, sometimes we want one that jiggles about but is easy to follow – this one jiggles a lot.

Very well written and extremely addictive, this book is fabulous fun and I enjoyed it immensely. Yes, I knew who would prevail and peace would reign, because it's that kind of story, but that didn’t change a thing for me. 

I really would recommend this to both established fantasy readers and new readers alike.

Clearly, if I attempted to summarise the plot it could give spoilers to anyone with plans to read books 1 and 2.