Posts Tagged ‘Sci-Fi and Fantasy’

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard

August 20, 2017 - 7:17 am No Comments

THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS by Aliette de Bodard, Gollancz, £14.99 paperback, 351 pages. ISBN: 978-1-475-21260-2

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

So much literature, whether SF, fantasy or general fiction is set in an English-speaking world, or has its main characters coming from that background. A handful of writers are willing to step outside the box. Ian McDonald is one, having set novels on practically every continent with rarely a westerner in sight. Alastair Reynolds Blue Remembered Earth trilogy has the majority of characters originating from sub-Saharan Africa. From American authors, it is only the likes of Octavia Butler whose characters are non-white. Thus it is refreshing to have a novel set wholly in another country and whose characters do not speak English.

The House of Binding Thorns and the earlier novel The House of Shattered Wings, are set in a Paris devastated by a magical war. In this world, the Fallen were once angels and have immense power. In The House of Shattered Wings the conflict between the rival houses of Silverspires, headed by Lucifer Morningstar, and Hawthorn, headed by Asmodeus, ended with carnage and the diminution of Silverspires. The House of Binding Thorns centres on Hawthorn.

Asmodeus became the head of the house by staging a bloody coup twenty years previously. Now he reclaims Madelaine from Silverspires, where she took refuge at the height of the coup. As his dependent, she has his protection as long as she is loyal and useful. He sends her as part of a delegation to the Annamite, or dragon kingdom which lurks under the Seine. She has visited before but this time notices the decay and shabbiness. Too many of the inhabitants have become addicted to angel essence, a drug made from the bodies of the Fallen and which slowly destroys the user. Madelaine knows as she is an addict herself. Ngoc Bich, ruler of the underwater kingdom, is herself under siege from rebels and is willing to form an alliance with Hawthorn. To seal the pact, a marriage is to take place between Asmodeus and Thuan, prince of the dragons and former spy in Hawthorn, a factor which immediately produces tensions.

Threads from the past weave consequences that emerge in the complex situation. Ngoc Bich’s rebels are being aided by House Astragale. Ciseis, who should have been heir to Hawthorn except for the coup, has taken refuge there and gradually set plans in action to take back the house from Asmodeus.

Another consequence of the magical war amongst the Fallen was the need for workers. Many of these were conscripted in Vietnam, the original home of the dragons under the Seine. Many of them still live in Paris, many are Houseless (not under the protection of any of the Houses of the Fallen). They are poor, living amongst the ruins of the city. Among them is Berith, Fall-sister to Asmodeus. She lives alone – a House of one – with her lover Françoise (not her birth name as the Viet names are difficult to pronounce and they tend to adopt French ones). Françoise, like many of her compatriots, is able to use the magical khi currents that permeate the elements. She is also pregnant.

Phillipe is another Annamite who was once attached to Silverspires and who feels responsible for the death of the Fallen, Isobelle. He knows that the Fallen can be resurrected and has vowed to bring her back. Much of his part in this novel is directed towards this.

The plot is complex, weaving together a number of strands, most of which have their origin in politics and the inter-House conflicts. In the first novel, much of the focus was on Morningstar and the Fallen of House Silverspires. Here attention

gives a wider picture of this Paris, encompassing a different set of passions. It is beautifully constructed and written. The characters are multi-faceted but it is worth keeping in mind that the Fallen are dangerous and ruthless, but like the angel essence that can be made from their bodies, they are addictive. A worthy sequel to the award winning The House of Shattered Wings.

THE EMPRESS GAME: CLOAK OF WAR by Rhonda Mason

June 9, 2017 - 7:38 pm No Comments

THE EMPRESS GAME: CLOAK OF WAR by Rhonda Mason. Titan Books, London, UK. £7.99 paperback. 391 pages. ISBN: 978-1-78329-943-0

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

There have been a number of series recently where the protagonists have to compete in games and the winners are those that survive. The best known of these are probably The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series. Attempting to join their ranks is Rhoda Mason’s The Empress Game – volume one in this series. It wasn’t a straight-forward contest as the power-seeking competitors cheated. Though Kayla, by impersonating the real contestant Isonde, wins victory she finds herself deep in politics that affects her home world.

Cloak of War is the second volume and Kayla has to continue to impersonate Isonde as the princess has been poisoned with a paralyzing toxin. Other events from volume one also have lingering consequences. Isonde has enemies who know of the deception and are not afraid to use it as blackmail. There were, undoubtedly, a number of strands in The Empress Game which are picked up again here. Kayla’s home planet (of which she is royalty) is one where psi powers exist and an unscrupulous scientist of the Sakien Empire had kidnapped her family to experiment on. They are now, she believes, on the way to safely. The man she has fallen in love with is an IDC (the Empire’s secret service) agent, and a friend of Isonde’s betrothed. Meanwhile, back on her home world, rebellion is brewing.

There is nothing wrong with this author’s ability to write and tell a story. The action sequences are believable but I found it difficult to engage with the characters. This might be a consequence of this being the middle book of a trilogy. Perhaps the in-depth characterisation and descriptions are all in volume one as it was difficult to picture the settings and in places it felt more like fantasy rather than Science Fiction. The first ninety pages or so, stick fairly closely to Kayla and the people she interacts with so it is a surprise when it suddenly switches location to characters that although having (probably) been in The Empress Game, don’t have a direct effect on the main thrust of the plot. This structure jolts the reader out of the flow of the novel, introducing unfamiliar characters. It is possible that the series has a coherence that is not tangible here. Probably this is a case of don’t start from here. Try volume one first.

THIS SAVAGE SONG by V.E. Schwab.

March 2, 2017 - 8:22 pm No Comments

THIS SAVAGE SONG by V.E. Schwab.

Published by Titan Books, London, UK on 7th June 2016

£7.99 paperback.  ISBN: 978-1-7856527-4-8

407 pages.

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.

Over the years there have been various novels where some kind of disaster has occurred in the past and the story is set in the aftermath, the characters having no knowledge of exactly what happened. In the case of Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the cause is some while in the past and everyone has forgotten. In others, the cause is closer in time to the action and may be something like nuclear war or disease. The effects though are the same with characters coping with the results. A more recent incarnation of this theme involves an arrival of a supernatural event.

In This Savage Song the implication is of a far future setting when the United States has been reshaped into Ten Territories. One of the largest is Verity, in the centre of which is Verity City. Verity is populated by monsters. Twelve years previously the Phenomenon happened and the monsters began to appear. They were formed out of violence, shadows taking a life and form of their own. There are three kinds. Corsai are mindless hunger machines, living in the dark and killing anything that moves; Malchai are more intelligent and can be trained and enslaved as killers; Sunai are rarer and kill with music but only feed on the souls of sinners. Verity is divided into two. North of the dividing Seam in Harker territory. Callum Harker rules it with fear and the Malchai. South is Flynn territory. Henry Flynn has taken the Sunai into his family and uses them to dispense justice. Currently there is a truce.

Kate Harker is Callum’s teenage daughter. He banished her to school outside the city but she is determined to return home and burns down a chapel to achieve her wishes. August is the youngest Sunai and appears the same age as Kate. As tensions grow between the two parts of the city, August is detailed to watch Kate and is sent to the same school as her. Despite being enemies, they form a connection and when Kate is attacked, he comes to her aid. They realise that it is the Malchai, led by Sloan, her father’s aide, who has engineered the situation, planning to kill Kate and have it blamed on August in the expectation that war between Harker and Flynn will ensue, giving the Malchai the opportunity to take over. Kate and August flee.

This is a Y/A horror novel and the two youngsters have to face their natures in order to survive, especially as they begin to realise that those they thought they could trust are working against them. The plot is unusual, the characters are well drawn with their emotional range fully explored. It is a novel about expectations, limitations and hope as well as the need to face fear. It examines the nature of monsters. Not all monsters are totally evil, some have humanity; not all humans are kind, some are monstrous. The problem is working out which is which. The only thing I would take issue with is a matter of scale. Although, the Territory of Verity is made up of four Midwestern States, there is no sense of distance while they are travelling away from the city. The pace, though, is tremendous and the jeopardy Kate and August are in feels very real. It is a book to be recommended.

The Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison

January 6, 2017 - 10:51 pm No Comments

The Bastard Wonderland by Lee Harrison

Published by Wrecking Ball Press on 27th October 2016

376 pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

Warboys spent most of his young life working on the ships, getting a chartership, is too much like hard work so he gets by without one until the night their king abdicated and the country was under Martial law. Wanting to unite the whole continent, General Malvy takes over the running of the country and brings in conscription.  Not wanting to fight, Warboys tries to go on the run and with his dad Bill find a flying machine. Unfortunately, they did not get very far and end up getting caught, however this just the start of an epic adventure, an adventure that finds Warboys up against an ancient cult, slave masters and living flying machines.

Warboys was a loveable rogue who at the beginning was only looking out for number one, but as his adventure continues his caring nature starts to come out especially towards Nouzi Aaranya. Spending the time with his dad had a good effect on him and he starts to mature, the father/son relationship at times was comical and they did have a Steptoe and son feel about them. One scene in particular was when they were discussing take-aways and invented fish, chips and mushy peas.

From the 1st word you are transported into a perilous journey, be it marching through a desolate countryside or drinking and fighting at Junkers the scrapyard. This book had it all, action, comedy and adventure, with a mixture of steampunk, fantasy and sci-fi this should please a lot of readers. I was surprised to find out that this was the author’s first novel and this was so well written. The ending was gripping and does give scope for further adventures for Warboys. I for one hope that there will more books for me to read.

Snowed by Maria Alexander

December 26, 2016 - 7:44 am No Comments

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press on 2nd November 2016

259 Pages

Reviewed by Yvonne Davies

 

511nz3llvzlCharity is a 16-year-old genius this has caused her to be an outcast at school. What hadn’t helped is she was the founder member of the Sceptics Club due to her non- religious ideas.  Aidan is a homeless boy that Charity’s mom bought home, talking like he has stepped out of a Jane Ayre novel, he will not tell anyone about his family and where he has come from. There is an instant attraction between them but when one of Charity’s bullies turn up dead, Charity and Sceptic club start to investigate and find out more about Aidan and his evil father than they expected. Adding to Charity’s problems is also her drug dealer, regular bad boy brother Charles, who blames everyone else for his wrong decisions.

I took to Charity straight away, even though she was constantly bullied, she stuck to her beliefs and didn’t change herself to fit in. It was a pleasant change to have a girl who was into robotics and science. All her history made her a natural born leader that was admired within her close nit of friends. Aidan character came across as a really sweet and you can understand why Charity’s mom took him in. I enjoyed how he took to modern technology and embraced the simple tasks of learning to ride a bike and to get a part time job. One of my favourite characters was Michael keeping himself to himself, I loved his one liners and I enjoyed how the author developed these characters throughout the book, telling us more about their stories

Even though, throughout the book there were hints of who Aidan’s dad was. The way the author wrote about this Jekyll and Hyde character, I ended up doubting my suspicions as I could not just believe it, so when Aidan’s story came out, it was still a surprise.

This book is tagged as a children’s story, but I would say that this story is great for adults and teenagers alike. I tend not to read books with a Christmas theme, but I am glad I read this. This story has everything for a YA fantasy read, action, with a touch of romance and you get the horror element from Aidan’s brother and sisters. I got so into the story that I could not believe that it ended on a cliff-hanger, but after I read the acknowledgements I was pleased to come across the epilogue which I thought would complete the story. How wrong I was, it just made me yearn for book 2. My first book from this author but will definitely not be the last. A good read Christmas or not