• Reviews

    XX – Rian Hughes

    This is something quite different from my usual review fare. I had to ask myself, ‘almost 1000 pages. Are you sure?’ and just like that I knew I’d relish the challenge. And I was not disappointed!

    Many thanks to Black Crow PR for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 20/08/2020 (HB) / 19/08/2021 (PB)

    STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: At Jodrell Bank a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin has been detected. Artificial intelligence expert Jack Fenwick thinks he can decode it. But when he and his associates at Hoxton tech startup Intelligencia find a way to step into the alien realm the signal encodes, they discover that it’s already occupied – by ghostly entities that may come from our own past. Have these ‘DMEn’ (Digital Memetic Entities) been created by persons unknown for just such an eventuality? Are they our first line of defence in a coming war, not for territory, but for our minds? XX presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history. As compelling as it is visually striking, Rian Hughes’ first novel incorporates NASA transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, fictitious Wikipedia pages, undeciphered alphabets, and ‘Ascension’, a forgotten novelette by 1960s counterculture guru Herschel Teague that mysteriously foreshadows events. The battle for your mind has already begun. (from Pan Macmillan)

    OPINIONS: Weighing in at just under 1.2 kg, this book is not one to approach lightly. And not just because it’s a doorstop of a volume. Like it’s subject matter – a mysterious signal from space – it is an artefact, a palimpsest of words, fonts, and layouts. The narrative follows Jack Fenwick, who describes himself as being on the autistic spectrum and having ‘a propensity for spotting patterns, repetitions, a knack for seeing through large volumes of raw data to the underlying equations.’ The book itself seems to be a glimpse into his world: a place of signs and archived web-pages worth any conspiracy buff’s cork board. A topography of the mind.

    Rian Hughes’ XX is unlike anything I have ever read. Even the word ‘reading’ doesn’t seem to fully encompass what passed between me and this book. It has such a presence in the room! It is part concrete poetry, part algorithm, raising the ever-present questions: where does consciousness arise? and what forms can it take?

    I certainly did not find it a light read (in both senses of the word), but a very stimulating one. It tackles the possibility of consciousness that is profoundly inhuman in a compelling a varied way. And I hesitate to even comment on the storyline’s development, because, like the signs that permeate the book, it feels open to interpretation. If you feel inclined to tackle the big questions – this one’s a must!

    Add XX to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).

  • Reviews

    The Rookery – Deborah Hewitt

    Please welcome Anna to Libri Draconis with her very first review!


    I was ready to return into Deborah Hewitt’s alternative London, full of mystery and flocking with soul-birds. But the second instalment of The Nightjar duology left me wanting something more.

    Many thanks to Jamie-Lee Nardone and Stephen Haskins of Black Crow PR for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

    RELEASE DATE: 05/08/2021

    STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶

    SUMMARY: After being plunged into the world of mysterious soul-birds and magical legacies in the first instalment of The Nightjar duology, Alice Wyndham returns to confront her powers and her past in The Rookery. Having discovered she is a daughter of Death, Alice goes back to the Rookery, an alternative magical London, to learn more about what ties her to the city. But the discovery of secrets is never a comfortable business, as Alice realises not only her life, but the very foundations of the Rookery are at risk. Adversaries turn into allies, and friends – into foes, while Alice struggles to reconcile her magical gifts and her heart.

    OPINIONS:

    I had a mixed experience with this one. Returning to the world of the Rookery was an excellent chance to explore the world in more detail. But, unusually, I found myself wishing that it were smaller. In The Rookery, Alice tries to build a life for her newly-discovered magical self while still struggling with her identity as the daughter of Death. She is aided by the allies introduced in the preceding novel, The Nightjar, and a whole host of new characters, which both lent the world a whirlwind richness and made it more difficult for me to form strong attachments to anyone beyond Alice and her romantic interest, Crowley.

    The tension between Alice and Crowley, as she both yearns for him and struggles to forgive his deceit, is expertly executed. It also bolsters the overall theme of Alice’s free will versus the circumstances outside her control that pervades the narrative. Echoes of it are found in Alice choosing the Rookery over her life in ordinary London, and her deliberation over joining House Mielikki, whose legacy she possesses. Unfortunately, I found the theme of free choice and chosen family undermined by how much emphasis is placed on Alice’s biological heredity. I think this could have been done differently.

    Hewitt’s choice to infuse her world with magic inspired by Finnish mythology lends it a striking uniqueness. However, barring some names and allusions, there isn’t much that actively situates the magic system as Finnish. Which is a great shame; I’d read the heck out of a book set in magical Helsinki. The elemental and spiritual magics also feel ill at ease in a city cobbled together out of forgotten bits of London. A deep dive into London’s abandoned byways could have made The Rookery a very different novel, but that is not what we have here. The cosiest place, and the one I imagined in most detail, is Goring University, Alice’s workplace, and I found myself hoping more of the city was treated in the same manner.

    The Rookery reads like many excellent ideas contained in too restrictive a narrative. I’d have loved to read about all of them in separate books, but maybe not together. You can decide for yourself by adding it to Goodreads here or picking up a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).