If you’ve been reading my Monday Minis you might think I haven’t been enjoying the books I’ve been reading (I certainly have been getting that impression from myself!) – but I’ve also been reading some true gems. I loved Only A Monster by Vanessa Len, which isn’t out for another few months. I devoured this while I was at Fantasycon, sneaking chapters whenever I could. This is addictive YA fantasy as it should be written.
Many thanks to Kate Keehan and Hodderscape for the eARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 22/02/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Don’t forget the rule. No one can know what you are. What we are. You must never tell anyone about monsters.
Joan has just learned the truth: her family are monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers.
And the cute boy at work isn’t just a boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to destroy her family.
To save herself and her family, Joan will have to do what she fears most: embrace her own monstrousness. Because in this story… she is not the hero. (from Hodder)
OPINIONS: Damn this is a good book. It’s exactly the kind of YA fantasy I adore. I raced through this one, sneaking chapters whenever possible and found it so addictive – I’ve been struggling to keep focused on a single book recently but this one managed to grab all my attention. I was pulled in by the V.E. Schwab comp (I’m a basic fangirl) but I stayed for the complex morality, compelling characters and fast-paced story.
I think my favourite element of the book was the magic system – the so-called monster families are able to steal time from other people, which they then can use to travel through time. And that presents them, and the readers, with interesting moral questions. Joan, the main character, isn’t truly aware of the extent of her family’s machinations and powers, and so she discovers what she and others can do along with the reader. There are still a lot of open questions by the end of the book, but it is open-ended enough that it looks like it will continue on and there’s plenty of space to continue on in later books. It’s definitely one of those books where morality isn’t quite so clear cut and no one is sure if they’re really on the right side, and I really appreciated that.
Another thing I really liked is that romance isn’t at the centre of this story. All too often YA focuses on romantic pairings over everything else, and this one doesn’t. It’s about Joan, her family and saving the future (and the present). It’s a book where teens are actually teens despite being faced with problems far bigger than themselves and overwhelming odds. Only A Monster is a good one. One of the best YA fantasies I’ve read this year, so definitely one I’d recommend.
Marissa Meyer’s books have a special place in my heart. I once did a casual cosplay of Scarlet from the Lunar Chronicles with a few friends for a con, and I remember how me and one of my best friends scoured every single English language bookshop in Rio de Janeiro for the new Marissa Meyer book that was supposed to come out the week we were there. We did not find it, but we had a great time. So to say I was excited to read another fairy-tale inspired book by her is an understatement – I love retellings and have been on a binge recently so this came at a perfect time.
Many thanks to Bethany at Faber for sending me a shiny ARC (she is the most wonderful ARC packager, they are always wrapped amazingly!). All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 02/11/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Long ago cursed by the god of lies, a poor miller’s daughter has developed a talent for spinning stories that are fantastical and spellbinding and entirely untrue.
Or so everyone believes.
When one of Serilda’s outlandish tales draws the attention of the sinister Erlking and his undead hunters, she finds herself swept away into a grim world where ghouls and phantoms prowl the earth and hollow-eyed ravens track her every move. The king orders Serilda to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold, or be killed for telling falsehoods. In her desperation, Serilda unwittingly summons a mysterious boy to her aid. He agrees to help her… for a price. Love isn’t meant to be part of the bargain.
Soon Serilda realizes that there is more than one secret hidden in the castle walls, including an ancient curse that must be broken if she hopes to end the tyranny of the king and his wild hunt forever. (from Faber Children’s)
OPINIONS: I really really enjoyed this one. Serilda is a fantastic YA heroine – she is a storyteller first and foremost, and most definitely not the meek and obedient type. She is unashamedly herself, even when it brings her into situations that aren’t the most comfortable. She talks big game and then is stumped when she actually has to follow up on her words and that makes her so damn charming – we don’t see girls like her enough. That kind of talking confidence is all too often reserved for guys. But she breaks those stereotypes, and ends up making deals with a king and a demon that have her in over her head.
And despite all of this, she is smart. All that she can rely on are her wits, as she doesn’t really have anything but that. And somehow, she needs to get out of that situation she talked herself into. Gilded is a compelling story, and while yes, it is inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, it is also something wholly its own. Meyer takes this story and crafts it into something both modern and ethereal, perfect for the boom in retellings we are currently experiencing and hitting on a lot of elements that work well for the older YA audience.
I can see Gilded doing really well once it is released next month. It is not a perfect book – I thought the pacing wasn’t quite right, and some parts were a tad too long and started dragging a bit – but it is a very solid one with characters I fell for. I am already looking forward to rereading it. If you’re into retellings, character-driven fantasy and smart-talking girls, then this one is for you.
This is a somewhat special post. The Cheltenham Literature Festival is running from the 8-17 of October 2021 and has a fabulous programme full of interesting events around books and literature. To get the word out, Midas PR invited me and a whole bunch of other bloggers on a huge book tour to spotlight a surprise book from one of the authors featured at the festival! You can see the full schedule for week one of the tour up top – it’s a two week tour.
I was sent the wonderful Grimwood by Nadia Shireen, who will be doing an in-person event at the festival on Saturday 9th of October, showing readers how she draws the characters from her book and doing a bit of a reading. You can get tickets for what is sure to be a very fun afternoon here. I loved the book so much and am already plotting how to get it into the hands of children I know.
Many thanks to Sofia Saghir at Midas PR and Simon and Schuster for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
SUMMARY: Fox cub siblings Ted and Nancy are on the run from Princess Buttons, the scariest street cat in the Big City. They flee for Grimwood, expecting to find refuge in the peaceful countryside. Instead, they are met with thieving eagles, dramatic ducks, riotous rabbits and a whole host of unusual characters. Grimwood is… weird. But when Princess Buttons tracks them down, Nancy and Ted and the animals of Grimwood must unite in a mind-bending race against time… (from Simon and Schuster)
OPINIONS: Grimwood is absolutely delightful. It is laugh-out-loud funny, adorable and just a fantastic children’s book. I devoured it in a single sitting and it massively improved both my day and my mood and I want to throw this at every single child I know. The story follows fox siblings Ted and Nancy who are sweet and charming, crafty and prone to mischief as they get themselves in and out of trouble. An unfortunate incident with resident mean cat Princess Buttons sees them running to Grimwood where they meet new friends and get into many new adventures – and ultimately have to face their enemy again.
This is probably good to be read to kids five and up, and easy enough for young readers getting comfortable reading on their own to understand and read. It is highly illustrated throughout in black and white, which further enhances it and makes Grimwood a lovely packaged book. This is definitely one to watch and I can see Nadia Shireen being a major new children’s author for years to come.
If you have children in your life in any way, they’ll probably enjoy this. I think it’s best suited for ages seven to nine, but grown-up me loved it too. You can experience the magic of Grimwood by adding it on Goodreads here or ordering it from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
You’ve probably all seen my gushing review for The Cabinet from last week – the book that basically sent me on a binge of translated fiction. So when I had the opportunity to review this adorable book – The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa, translated by Louise Heal Kawai – that featured books and cats – two of my very favourite things in the world – I quite literally jumped at it. I also did a silly and didn’t take a proper picture before I left the UK (I’m finally visiting my family in Switzerland) which means you have to make do with the cover image. However, it does not do it justice at all, the final cover is SO MUCH PRETTIER – it’s got this gold foil sprinkling that is so gorgeous… that alone is worth getting it!
Many thanks to Alice at Picador for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 16/09/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Grandpa used to say it all the time: books have tremendous power. But what is that power really?
Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.
After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone… (from Picador)
OPINIONS: This is such an adorable book. I don’t quite know how to categorise it – it’s not a children’s book, but you wouldn’t go amiss reading this with an eight year old. But at the same time, an elderly litfic aficionado would get just as much out of it as a young genre reader. I think this might be the kind of book that has universal appeal to people who love books (and probably cats) and that’s pretty much all of us. A love letter to books, bookshops and the magic that comes with them. And that is quite something.
The one thing that did irritate me a bit was how it seemed to be so oriented towards Western literature. It is sprinkled full of references to French and English classics and I was just sad that all the touchstones it used seemed to be so outside of what the world it was set in was – though I’m not sure to what extent that is standard in Japanese fiction. And maybe this was influenced by being read in such close succession to The Cabinet, which made no concessions towards Western readers, which made the contrast seem much starker than it actually was.
But as a whole, the book was absolutely wonderful. I think part of why I connected so much with it is because Rintaro inherits this bookshop from his grandfather, it is this sentimental place that reminds him of his favourite person. And for me, my grandma is my favourite person. She is that touchstone. And I am very lucky to still have her around – I actually get to spend some time with her right now – and she loves books and cats (especially cats) just as much as I do. So I guess it reminds me of her.
So like, if you like a hug in a book, this is the one to get. And if you love cats and books and wonderful and adorable, this is the book you need to read. Add The Cat Who Saved Books to your Goodreads here, or order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
This book could not be more timely than now! A powerful read about survival and morality under threat of extinction. Many thanks to Sarah Mather at Titan Books for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 21/09/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Environmental disasters and AI armies have caused the human population of Earth to flee. They lie scattered across space stations and colonies, overcrowded and suffering. The Earth is cut off by the Interdiction Zone: a network of satellites that prevents any escape from the planet. The incredible cost of maintaining it has crippled humanity, who struggle under the totalitarian yoke of the Sol Commonwealth government. Many have been driven to the edge of society, taking any work offered, criminal and otherwise, in order to survive. The crew of the Arcus are just such people.
Through the Interdiction Zone, a world of priceless artefacts awaits, provided anyone is crazy enough to make the run. With fuel running low and cred accounts even lower, the Arcus’ survival might depend on taking the job. Yet on arrival on Earth, the crew discovers that what remains of their world is not as they have been told, and the truth may bring the entire Sol Commonwealth tumbling down… (From Titan Books)
OPINIONS: Reading Stolen Earth against a backdrop of newsreels on resource poverty, environmental degradation, and the ultra-rich’s space tourism, makes it seem less like science fiction and more like science possibility. ‘What if this is our future?’ I wondered halfway through the book. Well, the protagonists are not lying down to take it. The stark, claustrophobic spaces of spacer life, conveyed through minimalistic but punchy descriptions, bring to the fore the interior lives of the characters. In diametric opposite to something like a sprawling high fantasy novel, the world of Stolen Earth is pared down; there is no lush background to recede into, only the crew of the Arcus in their daring bid to reach Earth and return. And it works perfectly for a novel that deals with resource scarcity and the dilemma of ensuring your own survival or doing the right thing.
I was a bit thrown by encountering yet another Soviet-coded bruiser with a penchant for violence raised by a criminal cartel where children are forced to labour in the mines. It’s not this character, Leo Federov, in particular, but just how often that trope occurs, that has given me pause. But ultimately, his heritage and his occasional Russian expletives can be ignored and have no significant bearing on the story.
Finally, I loved Nicholas’ treatment of incomplete solutions: outcomes are negotiated, characters misunderstand or mistrust each other, there are plenty of invested parties, each pulling in their own direction, but… that’s what makes the world of Stolen Earth so compelling and so timely.
Best known for their Beyond series, the writing team of Bree Bridges and Donna Herren known as Kit Rocha, do what they do best in their new series Mercenary Librarians: create an engaging cast of three-dimensional characters that form a tight-knit, found family within a richly developed and diverse world. Their plots are fast-paced, action-packed, and rife with steamy Romance that is artfully balanced with non-romantic plots. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 28/07/2020
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Nina is an information broker with a mission–she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process… Or they could do the impossible: team up.
RELEASE DATE: 31/08/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.
In Deal with the Devil, we are transported to a new part of the post-apocalyptic, dystopian North America introduced in the Beyond series. Instead of the outskirts of Eden, Mercenary Librarians takes place in Atlanta in 2086, which has experienced a completely different evolution since the Flares. Here, humanity is controlled by TechCorps. The massive corporation has a monopoly on everything from food to basic tech. Genetic engineering and cloning is rampant and used to enforce their control through super-human soldiers, tech geniuses, and walking memory banks. The first book is foundational, establishing the world and the core cast of characters that make up the found family, and planting the seeds for multi-book plot arcs.
What I especially appreciated about this inaugural book is its premise and how that premise ties into such a uniquely balanced main character. Yes, our FMC Nina is a genetically constructed super-human soldier. But her real power comes from the community she has helped build and care for in her little corner of Atlanta. She retrieves books and media that have been abandoned or hidden, since much of the content has actually been destroyed, copying and distributing it to the masses. She doesn’t stop with books, though. Food, clothing, help fixing basic tech – Nina, Dani, and Maya are serving their community in defiance of TechCorps. Nina is inarguably “strong,” but she’s also one of the most loving and tender FMC’s I’ve read, bringing a depth and authenticity to the plot that’s quite powerful.
The series really amps up the pacing and energy with the second installment, The Devil You Know. Our two found families, now united as a single unit, are expanding their goodwill in service to their community when conflict strikes again on multiple fronts. Gray’s implant is failing, and there is nothing anyone can do about it; without the help of a TechCorps medic, Gray will die. A the same time, the team finds out that rogue genetic facilities are cloning and trafficking children, and a ghost from their past suddenly arrives clearly on a mission to end them all. Maya’s character arc is powerfully transformative. Over the course of the book, she evolves from someone fearful of her gifts to someone who understands and embraces her true self, and this transformation is truly inspiring. There are a lot of plot strands to contend with, making this book an incredible page-turner.
It’s obvious that The Devil You Know is really the launching point for this series. Nina and Knox have established their family and leadership, and there’s a fantastic quote that sums it up: “Just a proud mom and dad overseeing their misfit band of rogue supersoldiers, fugitive criminals, evil clones, and one random superkid.” The end of the second book presents the climax against the big bad that’s been developing since the beginning of the first, and a coming-together of various factions to support them in the hopes of taking on TechCorps and protecting the people of Atlanta. How these threads all converge makes for an extremely satisfying ending, and you can see how carefully the authors wove the plot strands together to create the launching point for the series.
Fans of the Beyond series will recognize Kit Rocha’s special brand of characterization. Their ensemble casts are diverse and unique drawing from myriad backgrounds, races, gender identities, sexual preferences, professions, and styles in a way that is never contrived or artificial, but flawlessly natural. No flat, one-dimensional characters here! Each member of this found family has a deeply constructed history and personality that has been masterfully developed to create unique individuals. One of the things I appreciate most about their writing is their use of POV in support of the ensemble cast; the majority of each book consists of the two POVs of the romantic couple, but then is augmented by special chapters sprinkled throughout each book that are the POV of one of the ensemble cast members. This technique broadens the experience of each book and creates a solid foundation for future installments in the series.
Fans of Kit Rocha will not be disappointed – Mercenary Librarians brings their unique brand of pulse-pounding, steamy SciFi-Romance to an entirely new set of readers via traditional publication. You do not want to miss out on the opportunity to get get in on this gripping series right from the beginning!
If you only read one translated book this year, make it The Cabinet by Un-su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert. This is probably the most unique book I’ve ever read – at least the most unique book I remember. It is truly something special and hits that sweet spot between speculative and literary fiction.
Many thanks to the wonderful Caroline at Angry Robot for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 12/10/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Cabinet 13 looks exactly like any normal filing cabinet. Except this cabinet is filled with files on the ‘symptomers’, people whose weird abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species.
But to Mr Kong, the harried office worker who spends his days looking after the cabinet, the symptomers are just a headache; from the woman whose doppelganger broke up with her boyfriend, to the man with a ginkgo tree growing from his fingertip. And then there’s that guy who won’t stop calling, asking to be turned into a cat… (from Angry Robot)
OPINIONS: This is a mind-blowing book. I’ve been raving about it at everyone who would listen for the whole time I was reading it, which, for my standards, has been a very long time. This isn’t the kind of book you sit down and devour in a single sitting, it is the sort of story you savour slowly, over the course of weeks, which you digest bit by bit and come back for more again and again. It is truly something special, something absolutely weird and wonderful. If you only read one translated novel this year, make it this one – not that you shouldn’t read far more translated fiction than that. I’m reading a few others at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it. I think The Cabinet is inspiring me to seek out more Asian speculative writing, which is really the highest compliment I can give a book.
In this, Un-su Kim unashamedly writes away from what we consider Western conventions of story-telling – it is easy for me to say that The Cabinet is utterly unique – it certainly is from my perspective as a European reader, but perhaps that is also showing my ignorance of Korean literary conventions that he is moving within. I can say that it is a very special book though. It is the story of a man, a sort of mash-up between curator and janitor, tasked with taking care of Cabinet 13, the titular cabinet, which contains files on all sorts of weird and wonderous occurrences, showing where the magical intersects with the mundane. These vingnettes intersect with the framing narrative, and paint a vivid picture of a world where anything is possible. In some ways, it is reminiscent of the Russian fantastic literature of the sort written by Gogol, vaguely remembered from the early semesters of my literature degree, but not quite.
The Cabinet is a work of speculative fiction, but not one that will appeal to every reader of genre fiction. It skews more literary and requires a different sort of reader than the sort of epic fantasy novel likely to hit bestseller lists. It is an intellectual book, one that requires the right mood – but one that is worth every second you invest in it. I think it is one that I will be returning to again and again, one that will be staying on my mind for a very long time.
In general, I’m not the biggest fan of science fiction. But the wonderful Caroline over at Angry Robot tempted me to read this duology by telling me that it is not only written by an autistic author but features an autistic main character. As I am of the firm opinion that we need more neurodivergent leads in fiction, I could not resist and dove in head first – and I was not disappointed!
Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me review copies of these books. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 11/06/2019 (The Outside) / 13/07/2021 (The Fallen)
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
THE OUTSIDE: Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy – if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust: the gods and their ruthless post-human angels, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.
THE FALLEN: The laws of physics acting on the planet of Jai have been forever upended; its surface completely altered, and its inhabitants permanently changed, causing chaos. Fearing heresy, the artificially intelligent Gods that once ruled the galaxy became the planet’s jailers.
Tiv Hunt, who once trusted these Gods completely, spends her days helping the last remaining survivors of Jai. Everyone is fighting for their freedom and they call out for drastic action from their saviour, Tiv’s girlfriend Yasira. But Yasira has become deeply ill, debilitated by her Outside exposure, and is barely able to breathe, let alone lead a revolution.
Hunted by the Gods and Akavi, the disgraced angel, Yasira and Tiv must delve further than ever before into the maddening mysteries of their fractured planet in order to save – or perhaps even destroy – their fading world. (both from Angry Robot)
OPINIONS: So, as mentioned above, the best thing about these books is that they are written by an autistic author and feature an autistic lead. Pure catnip for me. And she is so well-written. Yasira isn’t a caricature or a broken person – she is a scientist who faces an added set of challenges due to her disability. It’s brilliant that she is not only the lead in the series, but she is given a romantic storyline with her girlfriend Tiv, showing that autistic people aren’t incapable of love as it is often (VERY WRONGLY) said.
This is packaged in a thrilling story of angels, so-called Gods and survival in space. The books are compelling and keep you up late reading as the characters undergo trials and struggles, and face betrayals from unexpected places. The duology mixes fun space opera with smart science fiction, and blends them to create something unique that really stands out. In the richly-built world, the humans have engineered their own overlords through AI gone wrong, and Yasira and her team have to work to retain their independence and survive.
Fast-paced, queer, diverse and unique, what more could you want from books – and The Outside and The Fallen have convinced even me, the most reluctant science fiction reader, to be more open to reading far more of the genre (and I am reading quite a few at the moment and have since I read those!). Definitely recommend checking these books out if they sound even the slightest bit interesting to you.
It is rare that a book is as purely delightful as Campaigns & Companions by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, edited by Alex de Campi and illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt. A short, highly illustrated book which imagines what would happen if pets were facing some of the more stereotypical situations Dungeons & Dragon players find themselves in on a regular basis.
I also loved the amazing influencer box that the book came with – made me feel all fancy (yes, this is the first time I ever received something like this, Hanna at Rebellion is truly the best). So huge thanks to Rebellion for the review copy, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 16/09/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?
If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure!
It’ll be great!
…unless your pets are jerks.
OPINIONS: I think this might be my favourite parcel I’ve ever received from a publisher. This is the kind of book that is basically like a cup of tea (ideally drunk out of the amazing cat-in-a-box promotional mug) – it cheers you up and makes everything better. If you’re one of those lucky bastards who has a bathroom that doesn’t get damp, this makes for the perfect bathroom book, one that visitors to your outhouse can pick up and flicker through at leisure while there, as each double-page spread features a new situation with brilliant accompanying illustration. And I’m saying this not because this is a book that needs to be relegated where the sun doesn’t shine, but because – at least in the circles I move in – it is a popular place to keep books that people should see and where more readers will see the brilliance!
This is the kind of book that could easily have been terrible. But the execution of the concept of having pets playing D&D is as brilliant as the idea itself. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it is clear that the authors know their way around roleplaying and have put a lot of thought into the little vingnettes and the illustrations enhance the text really well. Just like real players, the pets in the book put character before player logic in many situations – which of course leads to hilarity. As an avid D&D player and DM I feel that – I have done and seen many dumb things that I knew were dumb when I did them, but made complete sense for the character and their perspective. So if that necromancer cat keeps reanimating the dead mouse to catch it again, or the dog tries to get through the door with a stick in his snout… that does make sense to them.
So tl:dr – you need this book. ASAP. Whether you’re a grown-up who likes D&D or you have kids you want to entertain or anything in between. This will make you giggle out loud. Add it to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Amy Jeffs’ Storyland recreates a history of stories, building a culture through a shared mythology of Britain at the edge of the world. 24 stories, all illustrated with linocuts and using various medieval sources to tell these foundational stories of Britain. This is a wonderful treasury of legends, and as the lovely publicists at riverrun sent us a sampler of the first four stories in the book, Anna and I (Fabienne) decided to use our medievalist backgrounds to give you something of a first impression reading of each of the stories.
This is Anna‘s verdict of the sampler: A stylish and evocative collection. The style is flowing and refined, painting in evocative strokes the emergence of Britain. Alongside such excellent retellings of British myth and folklore as The History Press’ Folk Tales series, Jeffs’ collection reinvigorates tales of old for a modern audience. And that’s a lengthy way of saying that I really enjoyed it.
And Fabienne‘s verdict is that she desperately needs to get her hands on a full copy of the book – it is a wonderful treasury of stories, both for readers with a general interest and for those with a particular medievalist focus. It is a beautiful edition, and thought-provoking both through its illustrations and commentary. A real gem.
1 – The Giant’s Dance
These giants came from Africa, before the Biblical flood. They wandered North, carrying stones and eventually built a temple, until they were washed away by the flood.
Fabienne: This story talks of giants carrying stones, wandering, of finding a new home and creating a potential legend for Stonehenge. I love how Jeffs name checks so many medieval writers and their opinions on the topic in her commentary on the story. It also shows how the origins of Britain are diverse down to the very beginnings.
Anna: Storyland reads like a response to Tolkien’s plea for a ‘mythology for England,’ with the exception, of course, of being for more than just England. And there is something powerfully Tolkienesque about the Giants’ journey from the scorching climes of Africa to the mist-bound islands of Britain. This first story in the anthology brings up the very bones of the land, and names them.
The explanatory notes that accompany each tale offer a deeper understanding into how these stories arose and for what purpose they were used throughout history.
2 – The Naming of Albion
Around the time of the flood, the Syrian king was blessed with many daughters. The eldest of these was called Albina. However, his daughters conspired to kill all of their husbands. The youngest told on them, and her sisters were exiled to life at sea. They eventually landed in a new land, and had children with devils, who became the giants of Albion.
Fabienne: And once again, Britain is presented as a country of immigrants. I love how much the founding legends emphasize that. Though not a fan of the monstrous portrayal of women… Even if it is a stock trope that was repeated again and again in medieval literature, sadly.
Anna: As a former student of Medieval literature, I thoroughly enjoyed Jeffs expanding upon ‘the stock … character of the female Saracen’ as a convention in medieval romance and commenting on how the reading of the Syrian Albina and her sisters has changed over time. Although this is a mythology of Britain, Jeff makes sure to situate it on a global stage.
3 – Brutus Founds Britain
The giant Gomagog rules over the island of Britain. The Trojan Brutus is prophesied to build a ‘new Troy’ in Britain by Diana, an analogue to Aeneas for the British. So he travels to the island, fights Gomagog, defeats the giants, founds London and lends his name to Britain.
Fabienne: I love this story – it’s so weird and wonderful. Gerald of Wales has a version of it in his Irish works which he uses to give the British claim over Ireland as well, which is slightly insane, but that is medieval writing for you. I also really like that this version includes Diana – and I agree with Anna, this illustration is simply gorgeous! No wonder they chose this one for the cover of the book as well. Honestly, this story has so much that one could dive into – just like this whole book!
Anna: This one contains my favourite illustration out of the ones I’ve seen so far – the goddess Diana manifesting to Brutus, her figure pushing at the confines of the frame, tendrils of smoke or hair or grasses spilling across the double page spread. She is without her typical attributes of bow, deer, or crescent moon, but that, in my opinion, makes her more powerful, more universal.
Diana, or maybe a sense of the numinous she embodies, presides over the rest of this section, casting even the mightiest of human heroes into perspective as very small actors in a very big world.
4 – Scota, First Queen of Scots
In around 1500 B.C. there was a Greek prince Gaytheles who married an Egyptian princess Scota. Together they travelled to Spain, where they built the city Brigantia. But the nomads were still unhappy, so they kept searching for their happy place and went into the Atlantic, ultimately settling in Ireland with their sons Hyber and Hymer as Gaytheles died.
Fabienne: It’s interesting how this story is so different from Gerald of Wales’ account of the same – he uses it to show how the English should have supremacy over Ireland, whereas this account is more concerned with sovereignty and national identity. It is a great example to show how medieval tales were just as concerned with propaganda and establishing the correct view of the past in order to further political aims as modern media is, which is often overlooked. Goes to show that studying the past really is very relevant to the present.
Anna: This tale, out of the four so far, deals most closely with nationhood and national identity. Weaving it together with a Christian perception of the world, the tale has been used as an argument for Scottish sovereignty. It also makes easy to remember the commonly overlooked fact that the Scots were originally from Ireland.
The minimalistic illustrations that are not bound by a particular time period and do not crowd the page with anachronisms remind us how pertinent some of the issues of the tales.