This is something I’ve been cooking up for quite a while – I’ve been reading and collecting some of the hottest recent stories based on Arthurian myth! I love all the diversity that these authors have brought into medieval legend, and I’m sure you will find something that intrigues you!
A honorable mention needs to go out to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, which will be published later this year. This modern take on the Arthurian legend features a black heroine, a secret society of descendants of King Arthur and his knights and magicians calling themselves Merlins! I have been excited for this ever since it was first announced, but sadly haven’t been able to read it yet. Pre-order via Book Depository.
So. King Arthur, in space. But make it gay. This is the basic premise of the wonderfully quirky Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy. Ari, who in this incarnation happens to be a girl, finds out that she is actually Arthur reincarnated when she pulls Excalibur out of a stone in an intergalactic amusement park, leading to a romp through space, a fight against an evil corporation, and, of course, the wooing of Queen Gwen. A thoroughly modern take on the legends, this reinterpretation nevertheless features many of the classical elements of the Arthurian tales, while packaging the quest as a space heist with a queer ensemble crew. I loved it! Get yourself a copy from Waterstones here!
In this just-published sequel to Once & Future, Sword in the Stars, Ari, Gwen, Merlin and company are on the run again and this time they are going native: back to the time of the original King Arthur! But of course, traveling through time and space does not go as planned, and the group gets separated, shaking up the dynamics of the team again. Many shenanigans ensue, and our crew of queer heroes shake up the Middle Ages and shape Arthurian legend into the story it should always have been. Sword in the Stars is a great conclusion to the duology, and I devoured every page. Full of twists and turns, these books are inclusive, fast-paced and thrilling story-telling as it should be. More of this kind of writing, please! This lovely book is available from Portal Bookshop here.
Kiersten White is one of the greats of current YA, especially when it comes to retellings. After having had her go at Vlad Dracul (the And I Darken trilogy) and Frankenstein (The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein), she has now turned her attention towards Arthurian myth, with a trilogy starting with The Guinevere Deception. A mysterious girl posing as Guinevere is to marry Arthur, sent by Merlin to protect the young king. Lancelot is an outcast, and a girl, which I really do hope is a hint for queer stories to come in the sequels. The story starts off slow, but does pick up towards the later parts and poses more questions than it answers. The Guinevere Deception is a decent start to a new trilogy, and I am curious to see where the second book takes the story, although I am not as in love with the series as I was hoping to be. You can get yourself a copy via Hive!
Written by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by comics legend Frank Miller, Cursed is the book incarnation of what is intended to become a franchise. Announced from the start as a Netflix show (slated for release this year) as well as a book, I imagine this version of Arthurian legend focusing on Nimue will work better on TV. Nimue and her people are fey, hunted due to their race by the tyrannical Uther and friendly with young Arthur and Morgan. It is grand, and written in a manner that puts its weight on images and plot, rather than character development and prose. I have to admit that I struggled to get through the book, as I could not connect to the writing or the characters. I do hope that the change of medium will help the story find its audience, as I think Nimue could be a fascinating character if given enough development. If you are interested, you can get a copy via Hive.
Published in March of this year in the UK, Lavie Tidhar’s By Force Alone is a period-set mashup of Arthurian myth. This Arthur is brash, young, and power-hungry, expanding his influence out from a small band of men based in London. If I’m being honest, I struggled a lot to get through this book, although I had been looking forward to reading it – it took me almost three months to finish it. It is fast paced, and the language used is rather crass and modern, breaking the illusion for me. This led to a disconnect between story and characters, and I was unable to immerse myself in the novel. While I do not usually mind authors taking creative license with historical source material, having dialogue that is clearly twenty-first century in a book set in the early medieval period does not work for me. I do see this being a personal preference, and I’m sure that By Force Alone will be a book that is great for a different type of reader! If you are interested, you can get a signed copy via Forbidden Planet.
April Genevieve Tucholke’s Seven Endless Forests is a very loose retelling of Arthurian myth, including as many elements reminiscent of Norse stories as English. It is a companion novel to 2018’s The Boneless Mercies, which loosely retold a feminist Beowulf. Tucholke’s novels are slow, deliberate and infinitely poetical. They are quiet books reminiscent of medieval epics, centering on women shamelessly concerned with seeking glory and pursuing their personal aims, ignoring society’s conventions and expectations in favour of those. Here, the central element taken from Arthurian legend is the true ruler’s sword, with greatness thrust not on the most willing but the chosen one. Tucholke’s take is nuanced and special, and I am in love with her books. Get this one from Waterstones!
Giles Kristian’s Lancelot approaches the Arthurian myth from the viewpoint of the eponymous Lancelot, warrior supreme. Following along from Lancelot’s childhood to his time with Arthur past his clash with the legendary king. More historical novel than fantasy, Lancelot nevertheless contains some elements of speculative fiction – anything else would be hard in Arthurian legend with characters like Merlin! It is well written and compelling, and makes the men behind the legends come to life. Very recently, Giles Kristian has published a sequel, Camelot, featuring Lancelot’s son Galahad as the first-person PoV. Order a copy of Lancelot via Hive.
It’s a bit late this month, but it’s here: June’s most amazing new releases! And there are some great books coming out in the next few weeks – I can’t believe I’ve been doing these posts for six months now. I’ve already reviewed the wonderful Court of Miracles, so I’m not including it again here, but it’s out on the 4th!
So, one book that I’m super excited for, and that I’ve had pre-ordered for ages is Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee. Dark forest atmosphere, spiders and shaman magic? Yes please! There also seems to be a focus on friendship rather than romance (though I haven’t gotten to read this yet), which sounds promising, as well as comparison to Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard, two authors I adore. I suspect that I will devour Forest of Souls and fall for Lori’s dark and inventive world. And just look at that beautiful cover… Out on the 23rd of June, you can pre-order Forest of Souls from Hive.
Mermaids/Sirens meet Black Lives Matter. Never more crucial than right now, A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow mixes fantasy with social justice and politics. From the synopsis: “But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.” It sounds incredibly intriguing and I can’t wait to read it as soon as possible. A Song Below Water is out on the 2nd of June, and you can get a copy via Amazon (sorry it’s the only place I could find in the UK!).
Another dark and twisty book, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown is a tale of necromancy and betrayal inspired by West African folklore. It also has an incredibly stunning cover featuring a black girl! Publishing has done ok for once. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin promises to be an exciting enemies-to-lovers fantasy, perfect summer reading while I should be working on my dissertation instead! I’ve been loving African-inspired fantasy, so I’m looking forward to reading this debut and getting lost in its world. This one is also out on the 2nd of June, and you can order it from Hive.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the only one on this list that I actually have an ARC for – although I have not managed to read it yet. This is a Gothic horror novel set in a 1950s mansion in Mexico, featuring ghosts, madness and family secrets. Like all of the books on this list, it has a stunning cover. It sounds like a psychological thriller meeting a locked house mystery crossed with magic, so I can’t wait to get stuck into it. Look out for my review in the next couple of weeks! It is out on the 30th of June, and you can get yourself a copy pre-ordered via Hive!
Um, have you ever read a book and throughout felt like the luckiest person ever? That was me with The Once and Future Witches. I loved every page and I think getting to read this super early might be one of the highlights of my blogging days so far. It is the queer, witchy, feminist historical book of my dreams. I will buy and read everything Alix E. Harrow writes & I am incredibly grateful to Orbit and Netgalley for sending me an eARC of this wonderful book.
RELEASE DATE: 13/10/20
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶ (or, like ALL THE STARS)
SUMMARY: In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be. (from Orbit Books)
OPINIONS: This is a grandiose book. Wonderfully written, full of issues that matter without ever being preachy, great, complex characters and a story that packs a punch. Alix E. Harrow managed to snag a Hugo nomination for her debut The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which came out last year, and already won one for her short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” (which you can read here) last year. So it comes as no surprise that her sophomore novel manages to immerse the reader in the world of the Eastwood sisters and their quest to return witching to the modern era.
All three of the sisters are unique and captivating characters that the reader will fall for. They all have their strengths and, importantly, their weaknesses and flaws, none of them anywhere near infallible. But more than anything, they are interesting. To me, that is more important than any other quality. I wanted to know more about what makes these women tick and spur them into action. James Juniper, riotous rebellion leader. Agnes Amarath, fierce mother and protector. Beatrice Belladonna, sapphic librarian and guardian of knowledge. Each of them made me fall for her in turn. The secondary cast is no less enchanting. And the villain of the story, Gideon Hill, is so damn creepy because he is so believable. He is the kind of man every woman, even now, has encountered in her life, who has made life difficult for those who don’t just accept him as their superior leader. But then you find out that there might be more to him than meets the eye…
The story of The Once and Future Witches focuses on the return of magic to the world in a period historically associated with the quest for suffrage. It shows women banding together in secret to overcome obstacles and create a world more open and tolerant. It is ultimately a story of hope in the face of adversity, something which is crucial at this particular moment in time. And it is so well written. It is full of stories within a story, crafting together a world of magic evolving over the centuries, culminating in a coherent and complex system that makes sense. There are rules, there are traditions, and there is a history to it all. It is wonderful.
As you can see, The Once and Future Witches is an absolute treat, and is one of my new favourite books of all time. I will probably be getting myself all kinds of special editions as soon as they are announced, but until then, you can add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it from Waterstones here and Book Depository here.
Long time no read! I’ve been occupied with a migraine for the past week, so I haven’t managed to write up any reviews, but I do have some fun things planned for the days to come! I’m hoping that I can catch up over the course of the next few days given that I will be home rather than going to New York for BookCon (SOB – good for my wallet and bookshelf but I’m upset about missing out on the trip, NYC and all the BOOKS). But I’ve still been reading a lot during lockdown, much of it medieval-inspired – can you tell that I’ve started on my dissertation? One of those books was The Ghosts of Sherwood by Carrie Vaughn.
Thank you so much to Tor.com and Netgalley for providing me with an eARC of this novella in exchange for an honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 09/06/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Everything about Father is stories.
Robin of Locksley and his one true love, Marian, are married. It has been close on two decades since they beat the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a diverse band of talented friends. King John is now on the throne, and Robin has sworn fealty in order to further protect not just his family, but those of the lords and barons who look up to him – and, by extension, the villagers they protect.
There is a truce. An uneasy one, to be sure, but a truce, nonetheless.
But when the Locksley children are stolen away by persons unknown, Robin and Marian are going to need the help of everyone they’ve ever known, perhaps even the ghosts that are said to reside deep within Sherwood.
And the Locksley children, despite appearances to the contrary, are not without tricks of their own… (from Macmillan)
OPINIONS: The Ghosts of Sherwood is a really short novella. Even for Tor.com standards, it is a slim volume – their website says that the print version is just 128 pages. So it’s a very quick read, and I’m happy to say that it’s sequel will already be released in August, which means that there shouldn’t be too much of a wait in between volumes.
This version of the Robin Hood legend takes the story as we know it for granted, and uses it as a building block to put its own twist on the legend. Robin has grown up and become respectable, and built a family with Marian, as well as sworn fealty to King John. Many of the Merry Men known from the various stories are mentioned, though not quite all of them have turned respectable with Robin, leading to the mysterious Ghost of Sherwood Forest… It is interesting how this novella deals with the legendary nature of its characters within the text itself. While the Locksley family is very much aware of the stories and tales, it seems that Robin is trying his best to distance himself from who he used to be and re-brand himself a respectable man, someone to be taken seriously within Anglo-Norman society.
The Locksley children are adorable, and I enjoyed reading about them, and their different personalities. Mary, John and Eleanor are all interesting in their own way, and I’m not sure I could pick a favourite between feisty Mary and clever, underestimated Eleanor. However, the plot is a bit too deus-ex-machina at times, which is likely due to the extremely short format of the novella. A few thousand extra words of space would have allowed the story to develop more organically and helped add another layer to The Ghosts of Sherwood.
All in all, I really enjoyed my brief visit to medieval Nottingham in The Ghosts of Sherwood a lot, and I do recommend you pick up this novella if you feel like time travelling too! Add it on Goodreads here, and pre-order it from Blackwell’s or your local indie of choice.
Fierce, blade-wielding women? Deals with the devil? Opulent French-set novels? Now if only this was set in the Middle Ages instead of the seventeenth century it would tick all of my boxes!
The Devil’s Blade was on my most anticipated list for April and I actually read this just as it was released – and somehow forgot to review it! One of those books that I was convinced I had already written about until I checked my list, so off to the review machine I go. Many thanks to Will O’Mullane from Gollancz for sending me a review copy!
RELEASE DATE: 02/04/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: A group of men tried to sacrifice Julie in a ritual. However, things did not go as planned, and instead, young Julie ended up making a deal with the devil in order to take her revenge.
Today, she is famous as Julie d’Aubigny, opera singer, duelist, raging bisexual and woman who flaunted all convention of her time. But in this story, all she wants is to kill the men who tried to kill her, and fulfill the terms of her own deal with the devil.
OPINIONS: The devil is a woman! Or at least she presents herself as such in The Devil’s Blade which is a deliciously refreshing turn of events and one of my favourite twists. Cunning, deceptive and entirely devoid of emotion, Alder’s devil is not the dark and twisted creature of popular imagination, but an elegant and nuanced antagonist, fighting her battles with intelligence. I loved every bit of her scences.
The book is full of similarly surprising characters. Standing out, apart from Julie, are Monsieur, the King of France’s brother (Philippe, the Duke of Orléans), who prefers to dress as a woman, and Charlotte-Marie, Julie’s aristocratic lover, whom she meets while trying to enact her revenge on one of the men who tried to kill her. While the book is excellently researched in terms of historical detail, it is never overloaded with it, and uses that background as a playground for the breaking of gender-based stereotypes – there is a wonderful scene where Julie is in danger of being executed due to having broken dueling law. However, as the law states that men are prohibited from dueling, she ends up being set free on the technicality that she is, indeed, a woman wearing men’s clothes. While that is of course not historically accurate, it makes for great storytelling, which I believe is the most crucial quality of a novel. [EDIT: The author has just informed me that historical Julie has indeed been let off dueling charges for being a woman, so there goes history surprising me!]
The Devil’s Blade is smart, seductive and a treat of a novel. I wish these kinds of stories centering little-known historical women and giving them grand narratives were more common! Another aspect of the novel I thoroughly enjoyed was its framing in the format of a play in acts and scenes, with scene descriptions. This worked exceedingly well, especially given Julie’s operatic aspirations, and added an extra layer to the story. For those familiar with the classical three-act structure it adds expectations and anticipation about the coming scenes, which for me personally made the reading all the more delicious.
However, I need to end my review on bad news: while The Devil’s Blade very much reads like the first book in a series and ends on an epilogue that to me reads as “TO BE CONTINUED…”, Mark Alder has stated that, as of now, there are no plans for sequels. This leaves the story somewhat unfinished, and I do hope that there will eventually be a continuation.
A novel about isolation far timelier now than it was when Laura Lam wrote it, full of defiant women and space hijinks. I am thrilled to present my stop on the blog tour for Goldilocks today. Do check out the other stops on the tour to read what my co-bloggers have to say!
Many thanks to Wildfire and Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for having me and providing me with an eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
RELEASE DATE: 30/04/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Ravaged by environmental disaster, greed and oppression, our planet is in crisis. The future of humanity hangs in the balance – and one woman can tip it over.
Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.
It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.
But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi starts to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realises time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared…
OPINIONS: I did not know much about Goldilocks before I started reading, sucked in by the beautiful cover and wanting to branch out into outer space for a change from COVID-times. Little did I know that Goldilocks would turn out to be an incredibly timely novel dealing with themes of isolation, loneliness and close confinement (yes, I, a supposedly smart person, did not make the connection between social isolation and long-distance space travel). Laura Lam looks at the social dynamics of being cooped up over long periods, and the ensuing change in relationships and developing tensions in a nuanced and poignant way, and it was a treat to look at our current lives from such an estranged perspective.
A group of women hijacking a spaceship set to go to a new planet light years away from Earth, in a society biased against women’s rights, makes for an interesting story in the best of times. Add in intrigue, a dying earth, ethical conundrums and a deathly plague, and you have a story you cannot put down.
Goldilocks was incredibly well written and consistently fast-paced. Although I usually prefer books that are a bit slower, it worked well in this instance, and kept tension high throughout. The details were well-crafted and the characters personable and strongly motivated. It shows that Laura Lam knows what she is doing, and without spoiling anything, I loved the intricacies of the story and the moral dilemmas facing the characters. The one thing that didn’t quite work for me was the framing device – it felt anti-climactic, and unnecessary. I would have preferred it if Naomi’s story could have stood by itself, although to a certain extent the framing shows the greater progress and impact of the story.
Add Goldilocks to your Goodreads here, and order yourself a copy of this excellent novel via The Portal Bookshop, my favourite indie (it’s sold out lots of places, but the lovely folks at Portal Bookshop have secured copies!).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Lam is the author of several science fiction books, including Radio 2 Book Club selection False Hearts. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in anthologies such as Nasty Women, Solaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, Scotland in Space, and more.
Originally from California, she now lives in Scotland with her husband, and teaches Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University.
You can find her on Twitter as @LR_Lam.
Years ago, I devoured Robert Muchamore’s C.H.E.R.U.B. series about a group of kid spies, until I believed myself too grown up to read children’s books as I grew older. Now, supposedly adult and wise, I am happy to report that I have gotten over myself and LOVE reading children’s books again! No pretensions here, I unashamedly read whatever entertains me, I have read enough smart books to last me a lifetime (unless, of course, I want to read them for fun). And now that I am writing a dissertation on modern retellings of medieval legends, I get to claim that reading books like Robin Hood: Hacking, Heists & Flaming Arrows counts as work!
RELEASE DATE: 02/04/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Locksley City has been on a downward spiral since the last car plant closed. Schools and hospitals are falling apart, abandoned houses get trashed by vandals and the Police Department is controlled by local gangster, Guy Gisborne.
When Robin Hood’s dad speaks out against corruption, he’s framed for a robbery and thrown in jail.
Twelve-year-old Robin finds himself on the run. The only place to hide is Sherwood Forest, which stretches hundreds of kilometers, from Lake Victoria to the Eastern Delta. It’s a dangerous place, where the bears and snakes are almost as scary as the human population of bandits, terrorists, cultists and biker gangs.
Robin wants revenge on the people who threw his dad in jail. But first, he must learn to survive in the forest. (from Robert Muchamore’s website)
OPINIONS: In terms of story elements, this is a fairly close retelling of the classic tales of Robin Hood, although seamlessly transplanted into a twenty-first century setting. The only concession to the medieval origin of the legend made is Robin’s talent for archery, which he cultivates even in a time when this is rather unusual (this is even featured on the cover). As the book is based on the transposition of medieval legends onto a modern story, many of the characters are largely grounded in stereotypes of good and evil, black and white. This lack of space for gray areas is further cemented by the fact that this is a middle grade book, allowing for less nuance than adult or even YA would.
Nevertheless, it is a thrilling, fast paced read featuring a pair of charming heroes, eponymous Robin Hood and his companion Marion Maid, who is rather formidable in her own right. There is some rather interesting backstory to the villains, and I am looking forward to seeing how that is going to be explored in the coming sequel(s). In typical Muchamore fashion, there is no shying away from a bit of violence, but also a fair share of humour, and some arrows hitting in …rather unfortunate places.
I very much enjoyed returning to Muchamore’s imagination after probably almost a decade away, and I encourage you to give his latest a shot! Add it on Goodreads here, and order it from Hive or your indie of choice directly. Remember, Robin would want you to support the little people!
So I had originally planned to write about a completely different book today. But then I went back to read some more of The Court of Miracles yesterday and completely got sucked in and fell in love with Nina and Ettie and their world and now I need to yell at all of you about how great The Court of Miracles is immediately.
Thank you so much to Kester Grant and Harper Voyager for providing me an eARC of this book, all opinions are entirely my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/06/20
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
1828 and the citizens of Paris still mourn in the wake of their failed revolution. Among them, in the dark alleys and crumbling cathedrals of the city, the most wretched have gathered into guilds of thieves, assassins – and worse. Together they are known as The Court of Miracles.
Eponine has lost more than most. When her father, Thénardier, sells her sister to the Guild of Flesh she makes a promise to do anything she can to get her sister back, even if that means joining the Court of Miracles, the very people keeping her sister a slave.
Eponine becomes perhaps the greatest thief the Court has ever known, finding a place among them and gaining another sister, Cosette. But she has never forgotten the promise she made, and if she’s to have any hope of saving one sister, she will have to betray the other. (From Harper Voyager)
OPINIONS: THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD YOU NEED TO READ IT IMMEDIATELY. I always say that I rarely ever give out five star ratings as I have to fall in love with a book, although I’ve had quite a good handful this year already – there’s a strong batch of books being published! It took me a little while to really get into The Court of Miracles. I started reading it a few weeks ago, and then got distracted by more pressing review copies, and didn’t pick it up again until yesterday, when I absolutely devoured the rest of it. There were moments when I almost threw my Kindle across the room from pure glee and excitement. I fell in love with Nina, got exasperated at the various men in her life making things difficult, felt for Ettie and her troubles and could not put the book down.
I can’t quite believe that this is a debut novel – it is incredibly well developed into its details, every single character is frustratingly multi-dimensional and driven by intrinsic motivation, and few things are as they seem. This has been taken on as the lead title for Harper Voyager for Summer 2020, and The Court of Miracles deserves all the hype it gets! There’s various special editions announced, it looks like it’ll be featured in an awesome bookbox (hint hint, check out Illumicrate’s June theme)… I’m also extremely glad that it is the first in a trilogy because that means MORE NINA and more of KESTER GRANT’S WRITING in my future! Also, Nina is dark-skinned in a traditionally super white setting, which I love, bringing in much needed diversity and it’s written by a British author of colour, of which there are way too few, making this a book extra worthy of support. I am so glad that this is being pushed so hard in the current publishing climate!
To end April on an exciting note, I am thrilled to be part of the Random Things Blog Tour for The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis, published by Flame Tree Press today! An epic grimdark fantasy set in a country at war, focusing on a healer rather than a warrior, reminding me of nothing more than a Dungeons and Dragons campaign where the players have taken over.
Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours and Flame Tree Press for having me and providing me with an advance copy of the book!
RELEASE DATE: 23/04/20
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: After a warlord slaughters her patients, Sister Alessia quits the cloister and strikes out on her own to heal the victims of a brutal dynastic conflict. Her roaming forest camp unwittingly becomes the center of a vengeful peasant insurgency, raiding the forces of both sides to survive. Alessia struggles to temper their fury as well as tend wounds, consenting to ever greater violence to keep her new charges safe. When they uncover proof of a foreign conspiracy prolonging the bloodshed, Alessia risks the very lives she’s saved to expose the truth and bring the war to an end. (From Flame Tree Press)
OPINIONS: If you are looking for a fun romp through gritty fantasyland, The Heron Kings might just be what you need. Featuring a ragtag team bumbling through a land at war, trying to survive between enemy factions while healing, plundering and tricking their way to survival and accidentally landing themselves in deeper waters than they expected, this really does remind me of the dynamic of a D&D campaign where the DM has lost control and the players have taken over. While entertaining, it does make it a bit hard to follow at times – but then, I read an advance copy and the signposting could easily have been fixed in final edits.
I thoroughly enjoyed Alessia’s character holding up the story – it is not often that a healer is put front and centre, and especially one that starts out with lofty morals but soon grows a pair and becomes adept at weathering the challenges of uncertain times. She is a refeshing main character for the genre, and I hope to read more women like her in the future! Her companion, Ulnoth, is less pleasant – I hated the bastard, even though I thought he was intended to be more of a hero-type. To me, he often acted incongruously, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The secondary characters often only pop up once or twice, or stay otherwise non-descript. I feel fleshing them out more could have given the book more substance and elevated it.
In general, there were some stellar scenes – I remember one featuring a whore very fondly – while the book as a whole seemed to never quite find the true heart of its story. There was a lot of violence, much of it not strictly necessary for the plot or character development (think random bodies found with mutilated genitalia and it being made clear that mutilations had happened as a means of execution), which made me personally roll my eyes, as I feel that the genre has moved past that in recent years. I do think a lot of what I didn’t like as much about The Heron Kings is down to its nature as a debut novel and a bunch of smaller issues that are due to reading a digital ARC that I am confident will have been fixed in the final version.
All in all, I do recommend The Heron Kings as a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening in lockdown, and read a tropey, epic, grimdark fantasy that will take you away from everything that is shitty in our world! Get yourself a copy from Hive (hardback/paperback), or your indie of choice!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day Eric Lewis is a PhD research chemist weathering the latest rounds of mergers and layoffs and still trying to remember how to be a person again long after surviving grad school. In addition to subjecting his writing to one rejection after another, he can be found gathering to himself as many different sharp and pointies as possible and searching for the perfect hiking trail, archery range of single malt Scotch. Don’t ask where, because he’s never lived anywhere for longer than five years.
His short fiction has been published in Nature, Electric Spec, Allegory, Bards and Sages Quarterly, the anthologies Into Darkness Peering, Best Indie Speculative Fiction Vol. 1 and Crash Code, as well as other venues detailed at ericlewis.ink. THE HERON KINGS is his first novel.
I know this is one that you’ve been waiting for – I’m sorry it’s arriving later than usual, April has been an insane month! I’ve had some uni-deadlines, and the anthology I’m editing is heading towards the finish line, which is all exciting, and publication dates moving around haven’t helped either. I’m confident that the books I’ve included here are all actually being published in May as of now & I hope I can motivate you to support some of these authors in this crazy time.
The first book I want to mention doesn’t actually get published until the 26th, so the very end of the month. Out Now is the follow up to All Out, and it’s an all queer YA short story anthology. Whereas All Out featured stories throughout history, Out Now focuses on experiences of contemporary teens, and I’m pretty damn excited. I loved All Out so much I bought copies for multiple friends, so I’ve been hyped up for this new anthology ever since it was first announced! Get a copy from Book Depository or your indie of choice.
Another queer book I’m super excited for is Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea, out on the 5th. A genderfluid pirate MC, adventures at sea, witches… all things that get me like a moth to the flame. I can’t wait to read it as soon as I get my grabby hands on it! Get it from Book Depository or your indie of choice.
Out on the same day is The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly. I’m not usually a big contemporary girl, but I’ve been reading a bit more throughout the quarantine and enjoying it and you bet I’ll make an exception for anything medieval-themed. Set in a medieval-themed restaurant, Kit fights for her right to be a knight rather than the wench her gender would assign her to be. This promises to be a sweet, feminist story with hints of medievalism, and I’m sure I’ll love the distraction. Pre-order from Book Depository or of course your indie of choice!
One of the fantasy novels I can’t wait for is House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess, out on the 12th. I do have to admit, this is mainly due to the EPIC cover art – I keep forgetting what it is actually about! But look at the pretty swords, how can you not desperately want to read a book with such amazing swords on the cover? It sounds like a great multi-PoV story, focused on a competition for a throne and is comped to the Breakfast Club, so there’s bound to be humour and unlikely camaraderie. All in all, a total package. Pre-order this one from Book Depository or your local indie!
This last one might have had its physical release moved to later in the summer, but the eBook version is still coming out on the 5th! Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn is this month’s entry into the 2020 series of queer French revolutionary books and I AM SO HYPED for it. This is also UKYA which makes it even better (and rumor has it a certain book box has early bound copies…). A band of outcasts trying to make their way through Paris while avoiding getting their heads chopped off by the guillotine, with magic? What’s not to love? Get this one from your favourite source of eBooks, or persuade your indie of choice to order it for you in summer!