Review: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins by Aiki Flinthart (Ed)

 

 


Title: Relics, Wrecks and Ruins

Author: Aiki Flinthart (Editor}

Published: 31st January 2021

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy the editor

++++++

My Thoughts:

It’s not often that I respond to a Twitter call out but Relics, Wrecks and Ruins caught my attention for several reasons. Of course I’m always eager to support Australian authors, several of whom are contributors to this anthology, and I’m trying to include more fantasy and science fiction in my reading, but I was also moved upon learning that this was to be the final project for Australian Sci-Fi novelist and the editor of this anthology, Aiki Flinthart, who has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour, and that the profits from sales will fund a mentorship program for emerging writers in her name.

Relics, Wrecks and Ruins is an impressive collection of 24 short stories penned by a stellar range of authors including Australian writers Garth Nix, Kate Forsyth, Kylie Chan and international authors, Juliet Marrilier, Jasper Fforde, and Neil Gamain, among others who generously donated their work to the publication. The tales are loosely connected by the titular themes, exploring the relics, wrecks and ruins of the past and future, in this world and others. The stories cover almost every sub-genre of speculative fiction including horror, sci-fi fantasy, and dystopian.

As such, I think Relics, Wrecks and Ruins has something for everyone. There were several story’s that particularly appealed to me from both familiar and unfamiliar authors. Juliet Marrilier’s ‘Washing the Plaid’ is a charming, whimsical introduction to the anthology about a book lover discovering magic. A unique punishment devised by a future society features in 16 Minutes by Jasper Fforde. Fans of Julie Kagawa will enjoy Mary Robinette Kowai’s story, American Changeling where a human/faerie teenager is called upon to save the Seelie Queen. Lee Murray’s The Wreck of the Tartarus sees a submarine full of US sailors caught under a rockfall waiting for rescue. Readers familiar with Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor Trilogy will appreciate a Red Sister Story featuring Nona, Rulin and Clera called Thaw, and horror fans won’t want to miss Six Stringed Demon, where a rock band fights to exorcise a young boy in a hell of a battle by Sebastian de Castell. Aiki Flinthart has the honour of finishing the collection with a poignant story about birth, death, and humanity’s legacy.

Aiki Flinthart has successfully put together an exciting and powerful anthology with Relics, Wrecks and Ruins. A legacy to be proud of, it has my enthusiastic endorsement.

+++++++

Available worldwide in ebook via books2read

Or in paperback direct from Aiki Flinthart

Review: The Stranger Times by C.K. McDonnell

 



Title: The Stranger Times

Author: C.K. McDonnell

Published: 14th January 2021, Bantam Press UK

Status: Read January 2021 courtesy Bantam Press/Netgalley

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The premise of Caimh McDonnell’s novel caught my attention because as a teenager I discovered a UK magazine called The Fortean Times, which reported on ‘weird news’ (and still does as far as I know) and went to great trouble and expense to have it imported by my local newsagent for a year or two.

“Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences, using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.”

Similarly, the titular ‘The Stranger Times’ is a weekly newspaper devoted to the weird and wonderful. When Hannah Willis, newly separated and desperate, answers an ad for a position at The Stranger Times she has no idea what it may entail, but she is not expecting to find a man threatening to throw himself off the roof, a wannabe reporter named Simon lurking by the entrance, and then for her new boss, Vince Bancroft, to set fire to his office and shoot himself in the foot during her interview. Still, Hannah needs a job and this is the only one on offer.

“We aren’t reporting the story as fact; we’re reporting the existence of the story as fact.”

Though Hannah doesn’t believe in the litany of the strange and implausible that The Stranger Times reports on that’s all about to change when, after Simon is found dead at the base of a construction tower, the staff of The Stranger Times becomes the target of a killer, who has a vicious beast at his command.

“Because, sweetheart, you ain’t never met a short-arsed slaphead quite like me.”

The Stranger Times is an entertaining urban fantasy novel. Set in Manchester, McDonnell introduces a shadow world that lurks amongst ours, where folk hide in plain sight. One of these folk has gone rogue, breaking a centuries old Accord, and the staff of The Stranger Times gets in the way of his plans for murder and mayhem. But no matter what happens, the paper still needs to go out.

The staff of The Stranger Times are an eccentric bunch, editor Vince Bancroft is a barely functioning alcoholic in a permanent bad temper, flatmates Ox and Reggie are feature writers, specialists in the supernatural and extraterrestrial, Stella is a teenage runaway, and pious Grace is the paper’s office manager. I loved their unique personality’s, and their group dynamic which is delightfully dysfunctional.

Though it gets off to a bit of a slow start I was quickly caught up in this witty, weird and wonderful romp full of magic, mystery and monsters. Read all about it in The Stranger Times!

++++++

Available from Bantam Press UK

Or from your preferred retailer via HiveUK I Book Depository I Booko

Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

In Garth Nix’s new fantasy title, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, eighteen year old Susan Arkshaw moves to the city in search of her unknown father. With almost nothing to go on she begins by seeking out a man she knows only as Uncle Frank, but before she can question him she witnesses a young man turn him to dust with the touch of a silver pin. Susan has every intention of calling the police but when a giant louse, and then a malevolent black smoke attacks, she instinctively follows the man, who introduces himself as Merlin, out of the window.

Susan soon discovers Merlin St Jacques is a left-handed bookseller, as opposed to a right-handed bookseller like his sister Vivian, one of many agents who are tasked with keeping the Old World from unduly affecting the New. Nix has created an unique setting in an alternate timeline, the details of which unfold as the story progresses, combining archaic myths and magics, and exasperated police, a devious Ancient Sovereign with a swag of mind-controlled minions, and, of course, booksellers who are more than they seem.

Just like the booksellers, Susan too is more than she seems, though nobody is exactly sure what that is. It is clear she is being targeted by someone with inimical intent, and Susan, Merlin and Vivian find themselves fleeing a series of attacks providing plenty of fast paced action and excitement as they dodge, amongst other things, magical creatures, zombiefied kidnappers, and the odd bullet. There’s both humour, and a little gore, to amuse, and increase tension.

I really liked the main protagonists. Though Susan’s acceptance of the existence of the Old World seemed a mite too easy, I was quite happy to that Nix avoided the usual drama of denial and self doubt. As a left-handed bookseller, the androgynous Merlin is the brawn, wielding swords and guns, while his sister, being right-handed is the brains, and capable of basic magic that is useful in a tight spot. The three of them develop an easy rapport, and there’s even a little romance.

Imaginative and entertaining, though The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is aimed at a young adult audience, it will also appeal to adults who enjoy light fantasy. While the story is complete, there’s obvious potential for a series I’d be happy to continue with.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$24.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository i HiveUK

Review: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Title: Dead Man in a Ditch {The Fetch Phillips Archives #2}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: 24th September 2020, Orbit

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

“But Sunder City makes a few things without fail: hunger in winter, drunks at night and trouble all year round.”

Picking up a few months after The Last Smile of Sunder City ended, nothing much has changed for Fetch Phillips ‘Man For Hire’, but he is about to learn that his beloved adopted home, Sunder City, has been changing around him in Dead Man in a Ditch, the second urban fantasy novel from Luke Arnold.

When Fetch is asked by the police to examine a dead body in the Bluebird Lounge, and stunned to find the man has been killed with magic, since it’s been seven years since The Coda vanquished all magic from the world. Fletch believes the magic is lost forever, and he’s determined to prove it… but what if he’s wrong?

After establishing character and world building in the first novel, Dead Man in a Ditch has more action as Fetch moves between a variety of investigations, most of which lead him into trouble, from searching for an errant husband, to tracking the origins of a dangerous new machine, battling with a crazed unicorn, and hunting down a killer wizard. All roads eventually lead to a company looking to make their mark, and a battle to save the City.

That’s not say Arnold doesn’t continue developing both the world and his characters. New characters are introduced, most notably a grifting werecat named Linda Rosemary, but it’s the unexpected return of Fetch’s former mentor, Hendricks, that has the most impact on the plot. Suffering from the effects of Magic’s withdrawal Hendricks is not the man, in body or spirit, that Fetch remembers, putting the two on an inevitable collision course.

Though perhaps a little long, the story is fast paced, with an entertaining mix of drama and dark humour. The City, and Fetch, are still rather dirty and bleak but there is a little light breaking through.

An imaginative and enjoyable sequel, I’m looking forward to Fletch’s next adventures in Sunder City.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Review: Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

 


Title: Ink & Sigil {Ink & Sigil #1}

Author: Kevin Hearne

Published: 25th August 2020, Orbit

Status: Read August 2929, courtesy Hachette Australia

 

+++++++

My Thoughts:

 

I owe Hachette Australia a huge thanks for sending me Ink & Sigil. I very rarely make a direct request of publishers but upon learning that Kevin Hearne was authoring a spin-off of one of my favourite urban fantasy series – The Iron Druid Chronicles, I asked on the off chance, and Hachette generously responded with a finished copy.

Ink and Sigil is set in the same universe as The Iron Druid Chronicles, though some time after the events of the final series book, Scourged. Here Hearne introduces us to Aloysius “Al” MacBharrais (pronounced Mac-Vare-Ish), who appeared in a short story in Besieged. A Sigil Agent based in Glasgow, Scotland, he is one of just five worldwide helping to manage and enforce the conduct of all manner of otherworldly creatures, spirits and deities who want to visit Earth, with the creation of magical binding contracts. In his early sixties, Al, who is human, maintains a print shop as cover, employing Nadia, a goth battle seer as his manager/accountant/bodyguard/muscle, and a receptionist known to all, except his customers, as Gladys Who Has Seen Some Shite. Al’s a fabulous character with a Scottish brogue, a love of fine whiskey, and not one but two curses on his head, one of which requires him to use a text to speech app to communicate, as extended conversation with anyone causes them to form an irrational hatred of him.

The mystery begins when Al’s apprentice, is found dead, having choked on a raisin scone (which Al later finds is not because raisins don’t belong in scones, but because of his second curse). Inside Gordie’s flat, Al discovers a caged hobgoblin and learns that his apprentice has been trafficking fae, a serious breach of the treaty between fae and humans, and making use of Sigils and inks he should not yet know. Determined to put a stop to the trafficking and learn who had been sharing secrets with Gordie, Al takes custody of the hobgoblin, who introduces himself at Buck Foi, and begins an investigation that leads to an ugly conspiracy. I liked the premise of the mystery, but unfortunately I did feel the execution was a bit weak, with not a lot of suspense or intrigue.

Nevertheless, I delighted in almost every other aspect of the novel. Hearne merges the mundane with the magical well so that the story feels grounded in the here and now, helped by a few pop culture references, yet the magic system overlays convincingly. The humour, though occasionally puerile, regularly made me snicker, and the insults are creative. I enjoyed the sprinkling of Scottish brogue and appreciated Hearne’s guide to pronunciation.

Without a doubt I’m looking forward to further adventures with Al, Buck, and Nadia, and answers to the few threads left unfinished in this novel. Funny, fabulous and fantastical, Ink & Sigil is the start of something promising.

 

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Also by Kevin Hearne reviewed at Book’d Out

 

 

Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: January 28 2020, Orbit

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Imaginative and entertaining, The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in an urban fantasy series from debut novelist Luke Arnold.

“The magic had vanished and the world that magic had built was tearing itself apart…”

Six years ago, a war between The Humanitarian Army (representing the humans) and The Opus (representing the world’s magic creatures) destroyed magic. Known as The Coda, the event resulted in catastrophe in Sunder City. Without magic to sustain them, Elves rapidly aged and died, Were’s were left as half-transformed freaks, Vampires withered as they starved, while other creatures shed scales, or fur, or skin, and to the disadvantage of all, machinery and technology, once infused or forged with magic, stopped working. Arnold has created a bleak, gritty and imaginative world, with ‘Man For Hire’ Fletch Phillips at its center.

Fletch Phillips embodies the traits of a traditional noir P.I. in that he is a morose, down-on-his-luck, functional alcoholic who sleeps on a fold down bed in his dingy office. An orphan who lost his parents in horrific circumstances, Fletch once lived in a caring but closed community which he fled at eighteen to explore the wider world he half-remembered. He is terribly flawed, but not quite yet irredeemably, and I found him quite likeable. His journey from curious runaway teen, to guilt-ridden Man For Hire sporting three significant tattoo’s on his arm, is the subject of several flashbacks through the novel, which also eventually explains his role in the death of magic.

It’s not (metaphorically speaking) a blonde bombshell that walks into Fletch’s office to launch the story, it’s the headmaster of a local school searching for his friend and colleague – a centuries old, and ailing vampire. Fletch’s search leads him through the seedy streets of Sunder City, occasionally getting in they way of the police, (whom mostly despise him), and generally making more enemies than friends. I thought the mystery was fairly well plotted, though not particularly complex, and I would have preferred Fletch investigate more actively than he seemed to. I was also perhaps a little disappointed with the lack of action in the plot overall, but am prepared to forgive that given the need for Arnold to create the foundation of both the setting and character.

The Last Smile In Sunder City is a robust beginning to what I believe has the potential to be a popular fantasy series. I found it to be an easy and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

Read an Excerpt

Review: Chosen {Slayer #2} by Kiersten White

 


Title: Chosen {Slayer #2}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: January 7th 2020, Simon & Schuster Australia

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Chosen begins a few weeks after the finale of Slayer, in which Nina successfully averted an apocalypse, but accidentally killed her (sort of) boyfriend/watcher, Leo, and was deserted by her twin sister, Artemis.

With the castle they call home being repurposed as a Sanctuary for Slayers and demons in need, Nina should be focused on their new mission, instead she’s distracted by grief, and the dark edge she feels to her newly restored powers. But with a new ‘big bad’ rising, Nina hasn’t got time to wallow if she’s going to save the world – again.

The storyline feels as if it would fit well within the Buffyverse. It’s nicely paced with a good dose of action and humour. I was delighted by the cameo’s from Clem and Oz, Buffy and Faith make an appearance in Nina’s dreams, and there are references to other characters such as Harmony, Angel and Spike, as well as events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. As a fan, I love these canonical moments.

Unfortunately Nina is no less whiny in Chosen than she was in Slayer, and while she has good reason to be upset, I found the angst a touch too repetitive. Meanwhile Artemis has completely lost the plot as she schemes with Honora, and Nina is about to be blindsided by another betrayal. Cillian, Rhys’s boyfriend, has a larger role in Chosen, as does Coldplay fan demon Doug. There are a handful of new characters introduced too, including a teleporting demon child named Tsip, and refugee Slayer, Maricruz.

I’m a little thrown by the Epilogue which could indicate White has decided not to continue the series, I hope that’s not the case though as I’m enjoying it. Chosen is a quick and an entertaining read.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

 

Also by Kiersten White reviewed at Book’d Out

 

Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

 

Title: Slayer {Slayer #1}

Author: Kiersten White

Published: February 1st 2019; Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read October 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a Chosen One. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and forces of darkness; to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number. She is the Slayer.”

When browsing for a book to serve as a nod to Halloween (which isn’t really a ‘thing’ here) I quickly zeroed in on Slayer by Kiersten White. I haven’t been interested in the graphic novels that picked up where the ‘original’ left off, but I am a huge fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, it’s the only box set I own, and I binge watch it at least once a year.

Comparisons between Slayer and the ‘original’ are inevitable for fans, and honestly, my expectations here were quite low, so I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this.

Slayer is set after the end of the television series, and (so I’ve been lead to believe) fits with the canon developed in the graphic novels. If you are a fan, you may remember that the Watcher’s Council was all but eliminated during an explosion orchestrated by Caleb, the creepy Preacher. In Slayer, the few Watcher’s who remained have gone to ground in Ireland, and have essentially been in hiding ever since. Athena ‘Nina’ and her twin sister, Artemis, are the sixteen year old daughter’s of Council member Helen Jamison-Smythe, and the late Merrick Jamison-Smythe who was Buffy’s first watcher, and died protecting her.

The story unfolds from Nina’s perspective when, after a lifetime of being sidelined by her mother and overshadowed by her sister, she is imbued with the power of the Slayer. Nina is horrified given that she holds Buffy responsible for almost every wrong in her life, and is further devastated when both her mother and Artemis make it clear that they think it’s a power that Nina isn’t capable of wielding. Nina herself might have her doubts, but she’s determined to prove them wrong.

“Being chosen is easy. Making choices will break your heart.”

Though a touch angsty for my taste, Nina is a typical teen in that she is somewhat self centered, insecure, and short sighted. Her relationship with her mother is very complicated, and while she has a close relationship with Artemis, it’s not as equal as she likes to think. Denied the opportunity to apply for a position as a Watcher, Nina has carved out a niche for herself as a medic for what’s left of the Academy, but being Chosen changes everything.

I enjoyed the storyline which is fast paced with plenty of action that begins when Nina kills a hellhound on the trail of a runaway demon. Doug, the aforementioned horned demon who secrets a substance that gives humans a high, alerts Nina and her friends to the presence of a monster fight club in nearby Dublin, and inadvertently exposes a traitor, or three, in their midst.

“How evil can something wearing a Coldplay shirt be?”

One of the major elements of Buffy’s appeal is its humour, often sarcastic occasionally slapstick, there are very few episodes that don’t raise a snigger. There are lines in Slayer that raised a smile, and one or two that made me chuckle, but it didn’t quite have effortless wit or banter I was hoping for.

Of course I loved the references to familiar characters and events from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from a dig at Buffy’s relationships with Angel and Spike, to the betrayal by Gwendolyn Post, and even a cameo by Faith. Buffy even makes an appearance or two in Nina’s dreams.

For me, Slayer was a easy, fun read which pays appropriate homage to the Buffyverse while also forging a new direction for White to exploit further. I’m looking forward to reading more in Chosen, due to be published in Feb 2020.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

 

Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

 

Title: Sorcery of Thorns

Author: Margaret Rogerson

Published: June 4th 2019, Margaret K. Elderly Books

Status: Read July 2019

++++++

My Thoughts:

“Ink and parchment flowed through her veins. The magic of the Great Libraries lived in her very bones. They were a part of her, and she a part of them.”

Raised in the Great Library of Summershall, foundling Elisabeth Scrivener has grown up with no other desire than to become a Warden in service to the Collegium, to wield an iron sword, and protect the kingdom from the powerful grimoires that line the shelves of the six Great Library’s of Austemeer.

“For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque—but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.”

But Elisabeth’s dream is shattered when she is accused of a deadly act of sabotage that results in the death of her mentor, the Summershall Director. Ordered to stand trial in the Capital, she is escorted by Nathaniel Thorn, a young Magister with a fearsome reputation, and his demon servant, Silas. Raised to believe the worst of sorcery, and those who wield it, Elisabeth doesn’t expect to even survive the journey, but she will face a far greater danger at her destination, where the real saboteur waits.

“She saw no way out of the trap he had built for her. Escape wasn’t an option. If she attempted to run, he would know that she suspected him, and the game would come to an end. She would lose any chance she had left to expose him, however small.”

Sorcery of Thorns is an enchanting young adult fantasy novel offering adventure, suspense, humour, and romance.

I thought Rogerson did a great job of character development.

Elisabeth quickly sheds the innocence of her sheltered background, but not her idealism. She proves to be intelligent, resourceful and courageous, and is determined to end the threat to Austemeer, no matter the cost to herself.

Nathaniel is a bit of a tortured hero, with a tragic backstory. I particularly enjoyed his sense of humour.

The romance between Elisabeth and Nathaniel is not too rushed, and I found it sweet.

Silas, with his impeccable manners and yellow eyes, almost steals the show.

I loved the world building, the settings are easily imagined, from the home of Nathaniel to the halls, and secret passages, of the Great Library. And what reader can resist the idea of a library where books grumble, and sigh, and sing, and whisper? A book provoked, becomes a Malefict, a terrifying monster that has the potential to maim and kill. Iron and salt are weapons that keep them bound.

“Knowledge always has the potential to be dangerous. It is a more powerful weapon than any sword or spell.”

I was enthralled by the Sorcery of Thorns, though near 500 pages long, I found it a quick read. Charming, exciting and entertaining, the novel is written as a stand alone, but I’d love to return to this world.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Review: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9} by Patricia Briggs

 

Title: Fire Touched {Mercy Thompson #9}

Author: Patricia Briggs

Published: March 8th 2016, Ace Books

Status: Read February 2016 courtesy Berkley/Netgalley

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

Fire Touched, the ninth instalment of Patricia Briggs urban fantasy series featuring Mercy Thompson, begins with a naked troll released by the Fae Gray Lords, creating havoc on a Tri-Cities bridge. Leaping to the defence of the city, Mercy, Adam and the pack engage in a fierce battle to end the rampage, and wind up indebted to a boy seeking refuge from the fae.

Providing sanctuary to Aiden, a once human boy who is now something Other after having spent years in Underhill, puts the pack in direct conflict with not only the Gray Lords who want him back, but also the humans who fear a supernatural war, and the most powerful werewolf pack in the country.

In addition Adam and Mercy must finally take a stand against the members of the pack who have been unhappy about the influence Mercy wields as Adam’s mate. It’s imperative the pack is united if they are going to survive.

Action packed and fast paced, Fire Touched is another entertaining and creative story. Though some fans have expressed discontent with the focus on the fae of late, It seems as if the author is bringing this thread to a close. As always, I’m already impatient for the next adventure for Mercy, and her friends.

++++++

 

Available to purchase via PenguinRandomHouse or your preferred retailer via Indiebound

Available to purchase from Hachette AU or your preferred retailer via Booko

 

Click the image to view the Mercy Thompson series on Goodreads

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