Review: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

Title: The Last Graduate {Scholomance #2}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 28th September 2021, Del Rey Books

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Penguin /Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

A cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, The Last Graduate is an imaginative, exciting and darkly funny fantasy, full of magic and monsters.

The Last Graduate picks up where A Deadly Education left off with Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins now a senior. In just a few months she and her fellow classmates will leave Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community, forever – assuming they survive the traditional attrition of graduation day.

I was delighted to rejoin El, her allies, and enemies, at Scholomance, where navigating every activity, from bathroom visits to classroom assignments, is a matter of life and death. As a member of the graduating class, El’s focus should be on passing finals, building manna, and shoring up her alliances in preparation for graduation, but Scholomance seems determined to make her life difficult, throwing mals (monsters), and hapless freshmen, in her path. It’s some time before El recognises the school’s motive for what it is – not a curse, but a plea.

While there is plenty of action as the students prepare for the graduation day gauntlet, the lulls allow for character development. El, once friendless, now has a strong pact with Liu and Aadhya, and the support of the New York enclave, thanks in part to her somewhat complicated relationship with Orion Lake, but is still reluctant to trust others, or her self. I really like El, but I was glad to see some character growth. She remains a pessimist with a quick temper and a sarcastic wit, but also proves resourceful, determined, loyal, and a little less guarded.

I felt there was more emphasis on the themes of privilege, inequality and competition vs cooperation in this novel. The latter is of particular importance as the events in The Last Graduate suggest a twist to the prophecy that warns El, with her prodigious magical strength, will be responsible for the destruction of the enclaves.

There is no denying that the cliffhanger ending is hugely frustrating, and as it will likely be another year until the third book is released, it’s going to be a long wait, so I hope the pay off will be worth it!

++++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland


Title: House of Hollow

Author: Krystal Sutherland

Published: 30th March 2021, Penguin

Status: Read May 2021 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

“Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters.”

 

House of Hollow is a beguiling story of sisters, secrets, and shadows by Krystal Sutherland.

Iris Hollow has no memory of what happened during the month after she and her sisters disappeared from a suburban street in Scotland as children, but there is no doubt that they were changed by their experience. Not only did their brown hair turn white, their blue eyes darken to black, and each bear a half moon scar at the base of their necks, they also possessed an inexplicable sway over anyone who gets too close.

Ten years after they were found, 21 year old Grey is a celebrity supermodel turned fashion designer, and nineteen year old Vivi tours European cities with her punk band, while 17 year old Iris remains at home with their mother, finishing her last year at school, and dreaming of attending a University where no one recognises her. With the anniversary of their abduction nearing, the three sisters arrange to meet but Grey never shows.

Drawing on faerie folklore enhanced by her own creative twists, Sutherland weaves a haunting tale of mystery and magic as Vivi and Iris search for their missing sister. Following a strange trail of destruction and death flowers with a dangerous man in a horned mask stalking their every move, it’s a quest that will eventually expose the terrible truth of what happened to them as children.

I loved the grim, urban fairytale quality of this novel. Sutherland invites us to slip beneath a veneer of beauty, exposing a dark heart of rot. It’s a tale of contrasts – love and loyalty countered by lust and deception. It explores tragedy, grief, the base instinct for survival, and the spaces between life and death.

The writing is lyrical, with a rhythm that leaves you slightly off-balance as you’re drawn deeper into the story. Sutherland’s vivid imagery appeals to all the senses, evoking a visceral reaction of unease that occasionally tips into horror. There is a touch of humour too, flaring briefly in the dark.

Imaginative, atmospheric and intense, House of Hollow is a compelling read.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia 

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Review: The Rose Daughter by Maria Lewis

 

Title: The Rose Daughter {Supernatural Sisters #7}

Author: Maria Lewis

Published: 13th April 2021, Piatkus

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

The Rose Daughter is the seventh book in the Supernatural Sisters urban fantasy series from award-winning Australian author, Maria Lewis, but don’t be afraid to jump right in, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Just be prepared as you’ll want to add the rest of the series on your TBR list as I did.

The daughter of a forbidden union between an earth elemental and a selkie, Dreckly Jones was born the prisoner of the Trieze, raised by her father in a cell buried under a hill in Scotland. Since her escape she has largely heeded her father’s advice -to be careful; to hide who she is; to not be a hero. For the last eight years or so, she has made her home on a boat in Sydney Harbour, shucking oysters at the Fish Markets when she’s not putting her artistic skills to work forging identification papers for those in need.

Though she looks as if she is in her early 40’s, Dreckly is more than a century older, and the narrative alternates between her past and present. Dreckly is an appealing, well-crafted character. I liked her wit, and found her to be smart and resourceful, though not without her flaws. As a sprite, her ability gives her powerful control over air which she wields in unusual ways.

I was intrigued by her backstory, which has Dreckly travelling the world from Scotland to Hollywood, from behind enemy lines in wartime France to Africa, where she finds family, adventure and love. The ‘past’ narrative skilfully builds Dreckly’s character so that the decisions she makes in the present, make sense.

In the present, there are rumours that the Trieze, who govern the supernatural world, are abducting other supernaturals. Mindful of her past experiences, and her promises to her father, Dreckly battles with her conscience when she is asked for her help. Lewis builds the tension as the Trieze’s nefarious plans are revealed, and provides exciting action when the supernaturals take a stand.

I liked the world in which the story is set with an interesting mix of supernaturals who live alongside, but hidden, from most of humanity. Lewis succinctly explains the history and politics, and while it’s obvious there are links to story and characters from previous books, they don’t have any notable impact on this story.

Offering interesting characters, exciting action, and romance, I found The Rose Daughter to be an entertaining read. I’m delighted to have discovered Maria Lewis and I hope to be introduced to the other ‘sisters’ before the next book in the series is released.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

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

 

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