Welcome to a true team effort! Three out of four members of Team LD have banded together to bring you today’s blog tour for Once Upon A Winter from Macfarlane Lantern Publishing! Add it to your Goodreads here, and then see what we have to say about the stories here!
RELEASE DATE: 23/11/2021
SUMMARY: Once upon a time stories travelled from place to place on the tongues of merchants and thieves and kings alike. Under the blanket of night they were exchanged between children, and passed on to their children, and their children after them. Details were altered from one generation to the next until thousands of tales existed where once there were few.
In the spirit of these age-old stories comes Once Upon a Winter, a seasonal anthology of folk and fairy tales from 17 authors across the globe. It covers the Gothic, the romantic, the whimsical, the frightening and everything in-between, and features both intriguing twists on classic tales and exciting original stories. (from Macfarlane Lantern Publishing)
Fab: The Biting Cold by Josie Jaffrey
While this isn’t my favourite story in terms of content – it is ultimately rather bleak and I prefer my stories a bit more whimsical – I was very impressed with the writing. This story of survival against all odds – and not only human survival – is told in close second person present, which I found an unusual choice but one that worked very well, drawing the reader into the story and its world.
The Match Girl by Rebecca F. Kenney
I absolutely loved “The Match Girl” by Rebecca F. Kenney – this is a reworking of the tale of the little girl selling matches, freezing to death, but with a magical, and may I say demonic twist. It is delightful and wonderful and heartwarming, giving her the ending that she deserves.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town by Bharat Krishnan
This story is about the Bale Na, an Indian witch who comes at Christmas and is somewhat of a vengeful spirit. I loved learning about her, but I struggled with the framing of the story. It is set in a small-town US community, and there is a big focus on the HOA making the Indian family’s life difficult because of their different traditions around Christmas, and the story is told through the perspective of the twelve-year-old white friend of the family’s son, who is frankly, growing up into a racist. And that is just not really something I enjoy reading about.
A Pea Ever After by Adie Hart
“A Pea Ever After” is probably my favourite story of my batch. It is just wonderful. And it made me cry. It takes so many ideas from traditional fairy tales and rewrites them into a fun, modern story about a witch who accidentally gets taken into a competition for a prince’s hand – which definitely doesn’t go how the fairy godmother orchestrating it expects it to. There are several tender romances blossoming – with, and without, the prince in question, and a new subject for the fairy godmother to focus on. It is well-written, and I wish there was so much more of it.
The Snowdrop by H. L. Macfarlane
While this was an adorable story about a boy who met a tiny girl living in a snowdrop flower, it ultimately felt a bit too simple – it was very predictable and it had more of an air of a children’s story, which to me caused a bit of a disconnect with the other stories in the anthology. I liked it, but I just couldn’t get over my feeling that it didn’t quite fit in.
Silverfoot’s Edge by Ella Holmes
This is a cute little story, although it felt a bit non-descript – I think I might have been a bit biased after “A Pea Ever After”. I really liked the setting in the Silverfoot forest, and the flowery writing – one to sink into again on another day I think!
Anna: The Storm Hags by Caroline Logan
The Snow Hags are a refreshing take on the fantasy saviour narrative, concluding that though kingdoms fall, people stay, and that’s what really matters. Having said that, I’ve struggled with this one. The hags themselves are wonderfully evocative of Hecate, the three-in-one goddess of the crossroads, but the short format makes it difficult to root for the protagonist who loses her loved one but then is able to get him back in fairly short order. I’ll leave it up for other readers’ judgement.
The Boggart of Boggart Hole Clough by Jake Curran-Pipe
I’m not one for horror, but The Boggart of Boggart Hole Clough is gripping, like the hands of the creature itself. The story follows Jordan through a brief but maddening encounter with a boggart, or, perhaps, the consequences of his own actions. Fear, guilt, and resentment are all mixed into one milk-curdling concoction. Curran-Pipe has excellent command of the local colloquialisms to give the story a sense of rootedness.
Around the Hawthorne Tree by Jenna Smithwick
Now, this is a story to be told by the fire, when the year draws to a close and people tell fortunes for the one ahead. A sweet tale about promises fulfilled and fair rewards, featuring folk magic, helpful robins and the Fae. The first person narrative lends itself to the storyteller essence of the protagonist, who outwits the faeries and faces her own doubts to bring hope to an overwintering village.
The Best Girl this Side of Winter by Laila Amado
Now, this is the embodiment of how you wish it felt going on holiday in winter, when every little thing is suffused with magic and that faint scent of mulling spice. And even as the magic gains a sinister edge, it loses none of its allure. Weda, a school-girl preoccupied with being popular among her peers, is sent to spend the winter holidays in a distant town of Wintervale, and discovers a role much more precious than that of ‘Best Girl’.
The Snow Trolls by S. Markem
‘In fact, one might say that life was pretty dull for an average faerie’ – this story begins much like it intends to carry on, with a whimsical levity that distinguishes the protagonists by the colour of their boots and declares winter the invention of a bored king. Compared to ‘The Biting Cold’ and ‘The Match Girl’ which open this anthology, this tale is certainly on the lighthearted side, and provides a wonderful counterpoint to the more serious stories that suround it.
Lord of the Forest by Katherine Shaw
I’m delighted that I’m finishing with this tale. As an avid fan of anything horned, hooves, or claiming the title of Lord of the Forest, I was immediately taken by this story of Anca’s encounter with a Leshii, a guardian of the wild. It is a powerful rendition of a simple message – that there is wonder and abundance in the natural world, if only we stop fearing it long enough to see it. I genuinely teared up at the end.
Sun: Queen of the Snows by Joyce Reynolds-Ward
This is a very ambitious story that ultimately fell a little flat for me as it tries to cover a lot in a relatively small amount of words. The Queen of the Snows is attempting to bring together her court in response to a request for help and faces an unexpected obstacle. There are lots of references to lore and names and the story switches between the modern world and a more archaic traditional fantasy before coming back again. It does however feel very wintery especially since the weapons have names like Icestar and Iceshatter.
Long Meg and the Sorcerer’s Stones by M. J. Weatherall
Having spent a fair bit of time near the Rollright Stones and learning about their legend I really enjoyed this story about how a coven of witches are anchored to a stone circle and why. Although they’re called the Sorcerer’s stones, he’s just a bit part with the focus being on Long Meg and the narrator of the story and it’s just a satisfying story that embodies both winter and folklore easily.
The Frost of Mercy by A. J. Van Belle
This is a story about two dryads that are the last of their family, and grove. One is getting sicker and the other, rather than having to watch her die and be the last watcher seeks out an alternative. I really liked this one. The contrast be between the acceptance of Forsythia and the frustration and fight of Azure is really well written and the ending manages to honour both.
Wintercast by R. A. Gerritse
This is an interesting take on the “spark” of inspiration and whether following your dream or what you believe to be your purpose is always the right course of action. Many of us feel like if we just keep pushing despite not getting results it doesn’t mean it’s not right, just that we have to try harder. This story is a nice antidote to this message and balances the story lore with the message effectively.
You Can’t See Me by Kate Longstone
You Can’t See Me is a very sweet tale of a little girl that rescues a snow pixie. While it has some of the same elements of The Snowdrop the underlying feeling is different This story is one of friendship and accidental coincidences, of how brief meetings can have long-lasting effects. Additionally like others in this anthology, it shows how a tiny spark can create a lifelong interest in and desire to conserve and protect nature.
I absolutely loved Year of the Reaper – in fact, I started reading the eARC and clicked with it so much I immediately begged for a physical copy. So I’m thrilled to share my stop on the Hodderscape blog tour today. This is a delightful medieval-inspired fantasy that values learning and cleverness, so totally up my street.
Many thanks to Ollie at Hodder for sending me a review copy and inviting me on the blog tour. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 09/11/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Three years ago, Lord Cassia disappeared in the midst of war, on a mission entrusted to him by the king. Since then, a devastating plague has swept the land, leaving countless dead and the kingdom forever altered.
Having survived a rotting prison cell and a merciless illness, Cas, now eighteen, wants only to return to his home in the mountains and forget past horrors. But home is not what he remembers. His castle has become a refuge for the royal court. And they have brought their enemies with them.
When an assassin targets those closest to the queen, Cas is drawn into a search for a killer… one that leads him to form an unexpected bond with a brilliant young historian named Lena. Cas and Lena soon realize that who is behind the attacks is far less important than why. They must look to the past, following the trail of a terrible secret – one that could threaten the kingdom’s newfound peace and plunge it back into war. (From Hodder)
OPINIONS: Year of the Reaper is a wonderful and compelling YA/crossover fantasy. It is one of those books that you simply can’t put down once you’re immersed in them – though I should add that it is set in the context of a Black Death-like plague, so it might be triggering for some to read in the current climate. At its centre is the recent political marriage between two countries that have historically been at odds – and Cas returns home from captivity to find his king married to a princess from the country that abducted him, his brother installed close to the couple and somehow, ends up rescuing the couple’s newborn – and thus also finds himself in a place of honour as he tries to navigate this new situation, the return to normal life and the threat to all of them.
And then there is Lena. A woman after my own heart. The king’s sister, but more interested in writing the country’s history in her grandfather’s footsteps. She is strong-willed, does not really conform to any sort of mold that may be expected from a woman of her status and yes, I may have been slightly in love with her. As you can tell, The Year of the Reaper has wonderful characters – not just Cas and Lena, but the whole cast is nuanced and they really explore what is right and wrong in difficult situations.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but this is really one of the most fun YA books I’ve read this year. It’s clever and it respects all of its characters – there is no reduction to stereotypes found anywhere here, which is wonderful to see. And no damsels in distress. This is one that I will keep recommending to people. Add Year of the Reaper to your Goodreads here, and order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
I adore books about witches and those inspired by mythology, especially from cultures that I’m not as familiar with. So I was thrilled when Laura Smythe and Zephyr invited me on this tour, and sent me an ARC of Lionheart Girl by Yaba Badoe. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 14/10/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Born into a family of West African witches, Sheba’s terrified of her mother who is deadly dangerous. But like mother, like daughter – magic runs through her blood and Sheba discovers powers of her own.
Her touch can unravel people’s innermost thoughts; their hopes, their fears – their secrets. Sheba too can shape-shift. Through the communion of ancient magic, blood and friendship, she slowly uncovers the murderous truth about her stolen childhood and steels herself for the future. She must protect the hunted from the hunter – her mother. (from Zephyr)
OPINIONS: Lionheart Girl is a gorgeously told fable of a girl growing up in a culture where oral storytelling is the centre of life. Sheba is a young girl growing up in a family of West African witches, one that functions almost like a clan, where everyone cares about everyone. Through its setting in a small village, removed from the outside world, the story seems almost out of time, though I’m fairly certain it is contemporary-set.
It is hauntingly written, in a way that wouldn’t be amiss if told while sitting around a campfire. And as some of my very favourite memories are from sitting around a campfire in Tanzania, chatting to my loved ones, that made the story feel incredibly comforting to me. It is the kind of book that transports you into a different world, and introduces you to a whole new set of stories and mythology. And that makes it a win in my opinion. It is also character-driven, rather than a sweeping adventure, which made me really enjoy the narration and writing more.
I also really enjoyed that this was a YA book, but one aimed at the teen demographic rather than the upper YA that is prevalent these days. It is a book that is just as appropriate to read for an advanced ten or eleven year old as it is for a fifteen-year-old. And thus, it is one that is especially well-suited for school libraries! So, if you like slow-burning stories with a strong voice and a mythological slant, this is one for you.
Hi, in case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a medieval nerd. So I jumped at the chance to read The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings early. This is a beautiful edition of a medieval story, translated from an early twentieth century Latin edition by Dan Jones (to call him the author of the story is a bit misleading, as this is a story put down in writing by an anonymous monk in the fifteenth century). A wonderfully gloomy story to keep you chilly while curled up with a blanked and a hot drink inside.
Many thanks to Head of Zeus for sending me a review copy and having me as part of the blog tour! All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 07/10/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.
Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, his mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences…
First recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk, The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings was transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist M.R. James in 1922. (from Head of Zeus)
OPINIONS: Beautifully produced edition of a medieval text including both the translation accessible for the lay reader and the Latin original for medievalists – yes please. I wish there were more books like this, and I hope this does really well so Head of Zeus considers making this sort of book a series and publishing them in regular intervals, because this is exactly why I fell in love with medieval writing back in undergrad and I think many more people would if they had easy access through stories like The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.
In terms of the story itself, this is a wonderful example of how wild and wacky medieval literature gets – This is just such an odd little story that makes little sense in itself and is largely a morality tale in the end. But it’s a wonderful story to read while curled up this time of year. I was particularly amused by the fact that the manuscript had been altered to hide the name of the ghost as he was likely someone of importance whose relations one did not want to offend. Obviously now the nerd in me really would like to know who was named, and when the name was removed…
All in all, this is a delightful little book and if you enjoy quirky stories and a bit of history with your reading I recommend you pick this one up. I might make it an autumn tradition to read it with a hot chocolate on a cold night, ideally when there is snow, in honour of Snowball, our poor tailor. You can get your own copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Happy book birthday to A.M. Shine and The Watchers! Today’s my turn on the Head of Zeus blog tour for this creepy horror novel set in the forests of Galway – one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, though of course my experience of the area was very different to the story told in this book…
Many thanks to Lauren and Head of Zeus for the review copy and having me on the Blog tour, and superstar agent John for ensuring we all get to read this wonderful story.
RELEASE DATE: 14/10/2021
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: This forest isn’t charted on any map. Every car breaks down at its treeline. Mina’s is no different. Left stranded, she is forced into the dark woodland only to find a woman shouting, urging Mina to run to a concrete bunker. As the door slams behind her, the building is besieged by screams.
Mina finds herself in a room with a wall of glass, and an electric light that activates at nightfall, when the Watchers come above ground. These creatures emerge to observe their captive humans and terrible things happen to anyone who doesn’t reach the bunker in time.
Afraid and trapped among strangers, Mina is desperate for answers. Who are the Watchers and why are these creatures keeping them imprisoned, keen to watch their every move? (from Head of Zeus)
OPINIONS: I’ve gotten really into horror this year, and especially the kind of horror that creeps you out rather than splatters you with gore. And The Watchers is exactly that. Uncanny, thrilling and creepy. Set in the wonderful area of Galway in Ireland – which made me love the book from the get-go as I spent one of my favourite ever trips there – this story is very atmospheric, which adds so much to it. I adored the setting and premise, which are really characters in their own right. I would say that this is definitely one for readers who like to be scared a bit while reading and enjoy books on the creepier end of the spectrum. It’s not merely a suspenseful thriller – more of a slower paced story that might keep you up at night. It would not surprise me if this one will get nominated for all the awards next year.
I don’t want to say too much about the story itself as knowing too much will take away from the effect, but the concept of the watchers is *chef’s kiss* and the characters slot into the narrative structure and the atmosphere perfectly. And the plot definitely did not go where I thought it would. So a very excellent book. I don’t often get actually creeped out by reading a story, and this did have that effect on me, which made me love it even more.
It is a slightly slower paced story than many in the genre. This builds up tension more thoroughly in my opinion, focusing on the uncanny and the atmosphere rather than packing in as many events as possible. While this worked really well for me personally, I can see that this might put some readers off, so do check out a sample if that is something that tends to bother 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).
‘Tis blog tour time again! The Wisdom of Crowds is the final book in Joe Abercrombie’s The Age of Madness series, an epic Grimdark trilogy featuring revolution, betrayal and politicking. I’ve reviewed book two, The Trouble With Peace here, and was part of the readalong for the series in the leadup to the publication for this last volume (you can find my chunk of book one, A Little Hatred, here). So I was of course thrilled when Gollancz asked me to be part of the propaganda machine for this final installment and see what Leo, Savine, Rikke and co were up to. And don’t the three hardbacks look great together?!
Many thanks to Will O’Mullane and Gollancz for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 14/09/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Some say that to change the world you must first burn it down. Now that belief will be tested in the crucible of revolution: the Breakers and Burners have seized the levers of power, the smoke of riots has replaced the smog of industry, and all must submit to the wisdom of crowds.
With nothing left to lose, Citizen Brock is determined to become a new hero for the new age, while Citizeness Savine must turn her talents from profit to survival before she can claw her way to redemption. Orso will find that when the world is turned upside down, no one is lower than a monarch. And in the bloody North, Rikke and her fragile Protectorate are running out of allies… while Black Calder gathers his forces and plots his vengeance.
The banks have fallen, the sun of the Union has been torn down, and in the darkness behind the scenes, the threads of the Weaver’s ruthless plan are slowly being drawn together… (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: Whelp, that was ending to a series, yes. I don’t think I’ve read a full series quite as grim as this one in a while! I’m actually surprised at the amount of characters that ended up making it to the finish line mostly intact, bodily or in regards to their dignity. I loved the amount of focus the book laid on Savine – she is my favourite bitch – such a complex character and one who gives zero fucks for what anyone else might want. She is ambitious and determined and will make this work her way. Just like the first two books, expect The Wisdom of Crowds to be fast-paced, action-packed and full of betrayal. The story definitely does not take any prisoners and will not go where you expect it to head.
Consider this setting as similar to the eighteenth century. So still quite rustic in many ways – there are first instances of large-scale technology but still wars are fought largely by men running at each other with swords. Communication is slow, which means machinations need to be carefully planned and betrayal lays rife. And of course the setting is ideal for the spark of revolution to catch on quickly. This is really the big arc of these books. The seed of revolution to the aftermath. And all the steps in between, all the different layers of society affected by the changes brought about, the ones driving change, the ones swept up in it and the ones who suffer when people more important than them decide to change things.
Joe Abercrombie does really well to zoom in and out of focus in his work – he doesn’t just show the perspective of one or two characters or one layer of society. Where his work really stands out is in sweeping scenes showing the impact of larger events on a whole city, a whole camp. This gives the story a really plastic character beyond just the machinations of a few elite members of society, which I really appreciate. The Wisdom of Crowds is a very good conclusion to the series set up in A Little Hatred and The Trouble With Peace. If you’re not opposed to Grimdark and you like your fantasy on the grittier end of things, I do recommend you give this trilogy a shot.
Sometimes books surprise you. And The Winter Garden was one of those in the very best ways. I fell for this wonderful story within just a few pages, and devoured it so quickly. Think of this as Lady Trent mixed with fairy tale vibes and featuring an aromantic heroine. This is just such a delightful, cosy book that I want to shove into everyone’s hands.
Massive thanks to Del Rey for sending me an ARC and having me join the blog tour. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2021
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.
Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.
Now all she has to do is win. (from Del Rey)
OPINIONS: I love Beatrice. She is such an amazing leading character – not without flaws and struggles, but determined and real. She reminds me a lot of Isabella, Lady Trent from Marie Brennan’s The Natural History of Dragons – except instead of being motivated by dragons, Beatrice is motivated by her search for a magical garden full of wonders – the titular Winter Garden. She is explicitly written as aromantic and asexual – though far from cold or frigid. She loves her friends dearly and is determined to make her own way in the world. Rosa, the other PoV character in the story, is just as interesting and complex. She initially gets everything she dreams of – but soon learns that this might not be exactly what she thought it be like. A brilliant inventor of clockwork creatures, she finds herself in a loveless marriage with only her mechanical birds for protection. And she too is determined to carve out her own path.
Enter the Winter Garden. While Beatrice had been hunting for it since childhood, Rosa only heard about it through Beatrice. But as both women settle into adulthood and their own struggles, they are invited to participate in a competition for a wish and have to decide how far they are willing to go for the ultimate prize. All in all, this is such a delightful and wholesome book – the perfect comfort read as the days are getting shorter and it is time to curl up under a blanket with a hot drink and a good book. I haven’t fallen so hard for a book in ages – and been so positively surprised. I’d gone into reading this with no expectations, as I asked for it forever ago and didn’t even read the blurb before I dove in last weekend and then just fell for it within a few pages and started recommending it to everyone who would listen. I even considered staying up very late to read it in a single sitting (I ended up managing half).
So, very highly recommend this delightful book if you’re looking for some escapism, and like some whimsy in your stories. Add The Winter Garden to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Happy Tuesday (and apologies for the lack of Monday Minis, the migraine demons got me…). Today, I’ve got a blog tour for you, for Earthlings: The Beginning by Ray Star. Thanks to Midas PR and Chronos Publishing for the review copy and for having me. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 12/08/2021
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Peridot has lived a sheltered life. Raised on a remote island off the coast of England by an over protective mother, Peri has never left the comfort of her home, or met another child before. Until the night of her thirteenth birthday, when a strange boy appears at her window, filthy and malnourished, claiming to have escaped captivity from the mainland.
Her mother insists that the ways of the world are to remain concealed until her sixteenth birthday, but she unveils why they live in hiding, the mainland isn’t safe for their kind – they are born of magick. Not magic from stories and fables, but real magick from the days of old. The power to control earth, air, fire, water and spirit; an Elemental.
Peridot finds herself thrown into a world she wasn’t prepared for, caught amongst an ongoing battle between those trying to save humanity and the tyrants seeking to keep them enslaved. Struggling to command magickal abilities she doesn’t fully understand or know how to control. Her abilities may be the helping hand needed to save humanity from an awful way of life, but at what cost? (from Chronos Publishing)
OPINIONS: There are a lot of interesting things about this story. For example, the opening chapter made me chuckle so hard, and I love myself a grand scale struggle of epic proportions, with ancient magic, healing powers and a cause greater than the individual. Peridot is your average YA heroine – sheltered upbringing, surprisingly powerful and thrown in the middle of a conflict and left to her own devices. The concept of having animals stand up to humans in light of the bad treatment they endured over centuries is unique, but ultimately lacks conviction. There are multiple parts where characters are e.g. scared witless of a chicken (including the opening scene) and the writing failed to convince me of the threat being real.
And that is a general problem with this book. It reads as a draft, and would have needed some heavier editing – and a lot of what I struggled with really does come down to editorial choices. A main issue I had throughout is that the animals speak the same way humans do. And have the same sort of names that humans do. Which means, if you as a reader miss a small context marker at the beginning of a scene, you quite likely will not be able to tell whether there are humans or animals speaking, until you hit something particularly jarring. To me, that just does not make sense. If animals somehow did take over, there is no way they would be using the exact same syntax and naming conventions as the humans, and a clear distinction between animal and human characters would have improved my reading experience a lot.
So, as a whole, this was quite a mixed bag for me. I can see potential in it, but I don’t think the book is at its best in this form. I’m not sure I’d want to pick up the sequels and keep reading the series.
If you want to check out Earthlings for yourself, you can add it to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Bookshop here (affiliate link). The author is planting a tree for every book sold which is super cool.
Apparently I can’t review without the pressure of a blog tour this week… But hey, two blog tours make for content too. And there might be a special surprise in the works for tomorrow! But anyway. The Hand of the Sun King. Pretty straight-forward epic fantasy, fun, a hint of darkness. I’d say it’s pretty good. My colleague and friend James over at Grimdark Magazine reviewed this far earlier too and agreed – he’s even quoted on the back cover! Read his review here.
Massive thanks to Will O’Mullane at Gollancz for having me on the tour and sending me a copy of the book for review. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 05/08/2021
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: My name is Wen Alder. My name is Foolish Cur.
All my life, I have been torn between two legacies: that of my father, whose roots trace back to the right hand of the Emperor. That of my mother’s family, who reject the oppressive Empire and embrace the resistance.
I can choose between them – between protecting my family, or protecting my people – or I can search out a better path… a magical path, filled with secrets, unbound by empire or resistance, which could shake my world to its very foundation.
But my search for freedom will entangle me in a war between the gods themselves… (from Gollancz)
OPINIONS: I feel like The Hand of the Sun King is the kind of book that will be universally appealing to fantasy readers. This isn’t to say that it’s bland or anything, but if it were a food, I’d compare it to french fries – addictive, more-ish and enjoyed by pretty much everyone. It’s not something that I think will stand out for me in the long run, but it’s definitely something that I enjoyed and that I will recommend to friends, especially friends that are maybe newer to the genre or have a background of reading big name books rather than more diversely.
The story is set in an Asian-ish world – and I use the term in a loose setting. If I had to try and localise it more, I’d say it’s probably inspired by some amalgamation of East Asia and then fictionalised. But The setting is more window-dressing than anything else. Most of all, The Hand of the Sun King is a fun story about the ups and downs of politics, about the machinations behind a throne and what happens to those trying to keep an emperor in power.
Wen Alder, or Foolish Cur, is an interesting character, torn between the two sides of his legacy. The story is told from his perspective, as something of an autobiography. While his father’s side gives him a path to the emperor, to traditional power, his mother’s side of the family is connected to the resistance, leading to a deep-seated schiism within the man. And within all of this, is a desire for magic. A great adventure, wrapped up in manipulation. I look forward to following his story in the upcoming installments of the series.