Happy book birthday to The Damned by Renée Ahdieh! After being lucky enough to get to review an ARC of the first book in the series, The Beautiful, last year, I got to read this one early again. However, it felt a bit like the parts that I was on the fence about in The Beautiful were much stronger in this second book, which made it drag on a little for my taste.
Many thanks to Kate Keehan, Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for this honest review!
RELEASE DATE: 07/07/20
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Following the events of The Beautiful, Sébastien Saint Germain is now cursed and forever changed. The treaty between the Fallen and the Brotherhood has been broken, and war between the immortals seems imminent. The price of loving Celine was costly. But Celine has also paid a high price for loving Bastien.
Still recovering from injuries sustained during a night she can’t quite remember, her dreams are troubled. And she doesn’t know she has inadvertently set into motion a chain of events that could lead to her demise and unveil a truth about herself she’s not quite ready to learn.
Forces hiding in the shadows have been patiently waiting for this moment for centuries. And just as Bastien and Celine begin to uncover the danger around them, they learn their love could tear them apart. (from Goodreads)
OPINIONS: While this sequel isn’t set immediately after the end of the first book, it does very strongly knit onto the end of it. If it has been a while since you read The Beautiful, I recommend you reread it before starting The Damned, as I ended up rather confused at the start, having forgotten some of the details of the fast-paced ending. While much of The Beautiful was slow-to medium paced over the course of the story, which I really enjoyed, The Damned kept up the pace of the last part of it, and was consistently fast paced. This will work very well for many readers, but was not ideal for me personally. I preferred getting immersed in the world of the vampires of New Orleans, their society and customs, and getting to know the characters.
To me, it felt like The Damned was trying to do too much in too short a time frame. It solved a number of overarching mysteries, introduced many new ones, but did not leave much space for character and relationship growth through its focus on action and plot. Especially given that this is Renée Ahdieh’s first longer series, I believe that saving some of what happened in The Damned for the next volume would have helped with these issues.
Ultimately, I felt disconnected from the characters due to the pacing. I wanted to know what happened, but I didn’t truly care, not like I did during The Beautiful. I hope that will change again in the next book, as for me that is one of the most crucial elements of a novel. But as I said, this is all due to my personal tastes, and I do believe that many people will love and enjoy The Damned just as much as they did The Beautiful.
Today I have a very special blog tour for you: my very first audio book review! Bad Love by Maame Blue is part of one of the most exciting publishing projects of this year, Jacaranda’s #Twentyin2020 campaign. The indie publisher has vowed to publish twenty books by Black British writers this year, which Audible will be exclusively producing as audio books. Already released under the #Twentyin2020 campaign are: Lote by Shola von Reinhold, Through the Leopard’s Gaze written and narrated by comedian Njambi McGrath, The Space Between Black and White written and narrated by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith and Under Solomon Skies by Berni Sorga-Millwood, narrated by Damian Lynch. Bad Love is narrated by Vivienne Acheampong, an actress and comedian, best known for featuring in Death in Paradise (2011), The Trap (2015) and Turn Up Charlie (2019).
Many thanks to Amber Choudhary from Midas PR for inviting me on this tour and Audible and Jacaranda for providing an advance copy of the audio book of Bad Love.
RELEASE DATE: 18/06/20
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Bad Love tells the story of Ekuah Danquah, a London-born Ghanaian who is 18 years old when she falls in love for the first time. As both narrator and protagonist now in her 30s, she delves into her memories of angst and confusion that dismantled her experience of that first, impactful romantic relationship. It meets none of her rigid expectations and instead shines a light on other significant relationships in her life, especially the marriage of her parents, something she had long considered an unhappy pairing.
First of all, looking at the breathtaking cover makes me rather upset that I only got to review an audio book and not a physical copy so I could stare at the cover for hours instead of actually reading and reviewing it. But I have to say, I loved the experience of having an audio review copy – I’ve been binging audio so much recently that I absolutely flew through Bad Love.
Ekuah is a great leading voice throughout the book, and it is lovely to have a book narrated by a character so clearly rooted in London and the Arts. As someone who predominately reads SFF, Bad Love has made a welcome change and shown me once again that contemporary fiction can be incredibly powerful. Growing up with Ekkie throughout the course of the book resonated with me as a woman in my mid-twenties, struggling with some of the same issues that she is facing. Between the UK, Ghana and Italy, Ekkie discovers who she is and what she wants, through and despite the relationships in her life.
Bad Love is incredibly well-written, and audio book narrator Vivienne Acheampong brings it to life just as well. It approaches the intangible and complicated subjects of love and relationships with grace and nuance, and refuses to paint a rosy picture. Love is shown to be just as toxic, heart-breaking, beautiful and exhilarating as it is in real life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maame Blue is a Ghanaian Londoner, writer, and project manager for not-for-profit organisations. As well as co-hosting Headscarves and Carry-ons – a podcast about black girls living abroad – she regularly runs social media campaigns for www.bmeprpros.co.uk and sporadically blogs over at www.maamebluewrites.com. In 2018 she won the Africa Writes x AFREADA flash fiction competition for her story Black Sky. She has since been published in AFREADA, Afribuku, and Memoir Magazine; with stories forthcoming in Storm Cellar Quarterly and Litro Magazine.
There are so many great books coming out in July – we’re hitting that first wave of COVID delays being published! I had to really limit myself to get to a manageable list, and it’s a really diverse one this month that I’m quite excited about. I hope you love the ideas behind these books as much as I do and decide to check them out!
The first book on this list is Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. I reviewed an ARC of this a while back (click here for my review) – and I’ve already snagged myself a shiny finished copy from Fairyloot. This lush, Persian mythology based story centres a morally grey princess who discovers her bisexuality and struggles with doing the right thing. It is compelling and wonderful, and I love it so much. It’s finally out on the 7th of July after being pushed back, and you need it in your life. Pre-order it from Waterstones!
Also out on the 7th of July is The Book of Dragons edited by Jonathan Strahan. This volume collects stories based on world mythology from some of the best contemporary fantasy authors – think R.F. Kuang, Zen Cho, Sarah Gailey… to name just a few of my personal favourites in the lineup. Every entry is also accompanied by a piece of artwork, and have I mentioned that it draws from all sorts of cultures? I love short story anthologies, and this promises to be an extraordinarily excellent one! Pre-order DRAGONS from Forbidden Planet.
One of my top three books of 2020 so far is The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, a book about witches fighting the patriarchy. So I’ve been intrigued about Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching ever since I first heard of it. Out on the 21st of July, this is a book about witches in a puritanical society, dealing with race politics and religion. Immanuelle sounds like my kind of dark and spirited witch, fighting for what is right, and I already love her, even before reading the book. You can pre-order this one from Forbidden Planet.
To cap this list, also out on the 21st of July, we have Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson. Black girl magic in alternative history meets assassins falling in love, set in late Jazz-age NYC. Phyllis, the MC is a white-passing Black woman, working as an assassin for a mob boss and features both a magical love story and an exploration of racial tensions. It sounds like a wonderful read, and I can’t wait to get my greedy hands on it next month! Pre-order it from Hive (though the UK release isn’t until August, sadly).
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Branwen has a secret powerful enough to destroy two kingdoms.
Her ancient magic led to a terrible betrayal by both her best friend, the princess Essy, and her first love, Tristan. Now this same magic is changing Branwen. Adrift in a rival court, Branwen must hide the truth from the enemy king by protecting the lovers who broke her heart—and finds herself considering a darker path.
Not everyone wants the alliance with Branwen’s kingdom to succeed—peace is balanced on a knife’s edge, and her only chance may be to embrace the darkness within… (From Imprint)
OPINIONS: I originally was not going to review Wild Savage Stars on the blog, as I have quite a few books I am already planning on featuring in June. But I just finished reading it and I am blown away. Sweet Black Waves was good, but Wild Savage Stars is so much better. It is a character-driven YA fantasy based on medieval legend and culture, using outside conflict as catalyst for growth rather than taking easy, story-led paths out. Much of what happens is unexpected but entirely in character and justified and shows great craft on the part of Kristina Pérez.
Branwen, Marc, Ruan, Tristan and Eseult are some of the most frustrating, complex and human characters that I have read in YA recently. Their behaviour and actions are heartbreaking and believable, and I could not put the book down. After Sweet Black Waves had Branwen fall in love and set up a story, Wild Savage Stars dared to tear it all down and go in a new direction, have its heroine face her darker side and come out stronger. One of the aspects that is thoroughly refreshing, is seeing her take a lover for the pleasure of it, something which I think is far too rare in YA, still hung up on the concept of the ‘one true love’ as a teenager and the purity of virginity.
What gives the story an additional dimension is that Kristina Pérez is intimately familiar with the period and literature as someone who has a PhD in medieval literature. Her knowledge shines through without overburdening the reader at any point, making Wild Savage Stars a pleasure to read throughout.
If you are intrigued, Sweet Black Waves and Wild Savage Stars are out now and available from Waterstones here and here, and the trilogy’s conclusion, Bright Raven Skies, will be published in August and is available for pre-order from Book Depository here. You can add them all on Goodreads by clicking on the titles!
Bunny bunny bunny. They dominate our culture in very specific ways, be it around Easter, or in regards to the Fibonacci sequence. But what if they actually gained sentience and joined our society? Jasper Fforde’s The Constant Rabbit interrogates exactly that question. Known mainly for his Thursday Next series featuring a book-travelling special agent, which starts with The Eyre Affair, Fforde is no stranger to the absurd and satirical. While some of his work can be very hit or miss, I was very excited to pick up this newest foray into a Britain full of human sized rabbits.
Many thanks to Hodder and the Bookfairies for the ARC in exchange for this honest review.
RELEASE DATE: 02/07/20
STAR RATING: 3.5/5 ✶
There are 1.2 million human-sized rabbits living in the UK.
They can walk, talk and drive cars, the result of an Inexplicable Anthropomorphising Event fifty-five years ago.
And a family of rabbits is about to move into Much Hemlock, a cosy little village where life revolves around summer fetes, jam-making, gossipy corner stores, and the oh-so-important Best Kept Village awards.
No sooner have the rabbits arrived than the villagers decide they must depart. But Mrs Constance Rabbit is made of sterner stuff, and her family are behind her. Unusually, so are their neighbours, long-time residents Peter Knox and his daughter Pippa, who soon find that you can be a friend to rabbits or humans, but not both.
With a blossoming romance, acute cultural differences, enforced rehoming to a MegaWarren in Wales, and the full power of the ruling United Kingdom Anti Rabbit Party against them, Peter and Pippa are about to question everything they’d ever thought about their friends, their nation, and their species.
It’ll take a rabbit to teach a human humanity . . . (from Hachette)
OPINIONS: So, The Constant Rabbit is insanely funny. I kept laughing out loud while reading the book, and I don’t do that very often – I’m much too awkward as a person. It also holds up a mirror to society, and it is not a pleasant image to see. The anthropomorphised rabbits are not very different to humans at all, but they are not accepted as part of society, and completely ostracised. Once a family does move into a space reserved for humans, and break these invisible barriers, all hell breaks loose, and the humans who refuse to participate in the institutionalised hate suffer the consequences just as much as the rabbits do.
In that respect, it is a very timely novel. More timely now that when it was written, to be honest. It is a satire on xenophobia, using allegory heavy-handedly to underline the very real problems that do exist in contemporary Britain. But it is still a Jasper Fforde novel, which means it is very, very weird, and tends to drag at times. There is a focus on plot over character relationships, which I tend to have trouble connecting to. This is a pattern that is visible throughout his writing, and still I keep going back for more. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn, but his concepts are always incredibly intriguing!
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.