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Occasionally a silly idea seizes my brain and won't go away. If you aren't familiar with the #cockygate nonsense, this may not make a lot of sense.

Kevin the Knap: Volume 1 of the TrollBane Chronicles

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Prequel fantasy novel which works well as a standalone. The Barrenlands of the title are a magical wasteland that forms an almost impassable border territory between two countries. But where there is a border, there will be crossings, and people who make a living bringing things across that border, whether it is with or without the blessing of the governments concerned. Ehran, head of the King's Guard, will end up tangling with it more than once in his quest first to find the murderers of his beloved king, and then to find and dispose of the family of the king's brother. He's been sent on the latter mission supposedly to prevent the exile trying to seize the throne from the king's young son, a mission he rightly sees as a means of getting him out of the way of an unknown traitor within the court.

Some nice world-building here, with appealing characters and a worthwhile mystery. It's obvious from the first who the villain is, because Ehren's not stupid and already has his suspicions. But means and motive are another matter, and untangling those make for an entertaining story. A short novel offering an enjoyable way to pass a few hours.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada
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Posting well out of order since this is a review copy. I may or may not get earlier book log done...

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author through Reading Alley in exchange for an honest review.

Tobias is both a fox shapeshifter and a rifter - someone who crosses the rifts between worlds. He works as a field agent for a covert organisation that tries to control rift traffic, but he's of an independent mind even if he's loyal to the organisation. He needs a partner agent suited to him, not one chosen for him to suit others' views.

Etty's from the slums, barely earning a living by disguising herself as a boy and driving her dad's hackney carriage after he was injured. She's driving the nearest cab when Tobias needs a quick getaway one night, and her world will never be the same again.

Tobias may have stumbled upon the perfect sidekick, but first he'll have to convince the people who pay his wages. And even if he does, there's a baptism of fire waiting for the new partnership. There's a whisper of new technology that could change the rift worlds forever -- and it's in the hands of a vicious criminal.

This is an excellent fantasy thriller with a strong romance subplot. The lead characters are engaging and well drawn, and I finished the book wanting to spend more time with them. There's some good world-building, with the main setting being roughly Victorian with low key magic, but references and scenes that make it clear the rift links to worlds at different levels of social and technological development.

This is the first book in a series, and sets up the universe and series arc. It does an excellent job of wrapping up its own story without an annoying cliffhanger while still pointing the way to the next book. I've been annoyed of late by too many books that tried to force me to buy the next by not giving me the resolution to the story - this book does it the better way, by making me want to spend more time in this world.

I've only two minor criticisms; there's a scene that's flat out "beautiful blue-eyed blonde girl awes the primitive natives", and there are some formatting glitches in my copy that made two chapters very difficult to read. It's a measure of how much I was enjoying the book that I persisted through the section with scrambled formatting.

Overall a very enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US
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Hey, look - book log! Less than four months after reading the book! Posted only two months after writing the notes!

(Disclosure: I don't know the author particularly well, but I've long admired her work as an editor, and have submitted material to her publishing house in the past. This hasn't had any impact on my reaction to the book, other than I wouldn't have known about a promo deal on the new edition and run off to buy it if I didn't have her blog on my LiveJournal feed.)

Erotic fantasy novel which is quite openly inspired by Harry Potter. "Inspired by" means "loving homage", not "rip-off"; this is a worthy novel in its own right, and could be enjoyed as such by someone who's never read any of Rowling's books (or indeed any of the other speculative fiction Tan pays homage to). But it's most easily described as what would happen if Harry Potter was an American taking up a scholarship at Harvard University, and on arrival walking into the admin office of a faculty housed in buildings which aren't findable by most people on the campus, to the confusion of himself and the faculty administrators. Since we're dealing with undergraduates here, there's sex. Lots of sex. Sex for actual plot purposes, no less, and all the better for it. For there is indeed a plot, concerning the covert presence on campus of a siren, what that is, and the dangers it poses to the students. It's intertwined with various other plot threads, most of which are resolved satisfactorily while leaving openings for further stories about next year's adventures. While I think there's some room for improvement, it's well written, by someone who understands her material. I liked it a lot, enough to want to read the next one in the series (a quartet of novels plus a collection of short stories). If that brief description sounds like something you'd be interested in reading, I'd recommend you try it out -- the prologue and first chapter are available as free samples on Amazon and other online retailers.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
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Usually I make a note when I happen to know the author (or in this case, one of the authors). It doesn't normally affect my review much, but in this case -- I last read this book before Terry went public about The Embuggerance. That's coloured my recent re-read, putting an edge on the humour that wasn't there last time round. Nevertheless...

This is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and yes, that includes Terry's other output. The Bible is true on a literal level, the Antichrist has just been born and Armageddon is coming, and a somewhat shopsoiled angel and demon would really rather it didn't, thank you very much. Aziraphale and Crowley have spent the last six thousand years doing their jobs on Earth, after that unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden, and in the manner of undercover agents everywhere, have discovered that they have more in common with each other than their masters. They like humans, and they like the human lifestyle. They don't at all like the idea of returning whence they came. And so they decide to do something about it.

All of which was predicted by Agnes Nutter, Witch, who left a set of prophecies for her descendents. Very, very accurate prophecies written by someone who saw things but didn't necessarily understand what she was seeing. Her present day descendent knows that Armageddon is coming, and sets out to do something about the Antichrist.

Who just happens to be a perfectly normal English boy with a gang, and a dog. The dog is from hell, but the gang isn't, in spite of the collective opinion of the adults of the village. One too many swaps in the nursing home left the Antichrist as a cuckoo in the nest of a completely normal middle class family instead of the American diplomat's, and completely untended by satanic nursemaids to guide him in the wrong path. And thus the stage is set for a satire that mercilessly dissects all manner of things about modern life, and has enormous fun along the way.

Very much recommended.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia
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Note: I received a review copy through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

The demon Dismay/Smoke is in what turns out to be essentially self-imposed exile from his native country. He's viewed as evil by those in power in the land of his exile. That's because he answers the prayers of abused women desperate to escape misogynistic violence. There's no shortage of such women in Lutawa, a land where oppression of women is such a bedrock of the culture and law that it's a capital offence to teach a woman to read. That could be the basis of a dull political tract, but fear not -- it's a highly entertaining "overthrow the evil ruler" quest fantasy. It's also the sequel to an earlier book, but I found that it worked well enough as a standalone. Occasionally I was left wondering about some detail of the world that must have been given in the first book, but in general Nagata feeds in enough backstory over the course of the book that all is clear by the end.

The book's theme is fairly dark, and the text can be dark to the point of disturbing in places, but there's nothing gratuitous about the nastier bits. And it's well leavened by humour and character development. It won't be to everyone's taste, and the pacing does suffer slightly from it being a sequel, but I liked this one a lot.

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56) Chaz Brenchley -- Light Errant

Re-read of the sequel to the stunning dark urban fantasy Dead of Light. Ben Macallan fled abroad at the end of the first book, away from his gangster family and away from any temptation to use his supernatural abilities. But even so he finds himself in a situation where he has to intervene or watch a friend suffer. His promise to himself broken, he gets on his motorbike and heads for home.

But home isn't what it was. The city has finally found a way to defy the Macallans and their uncanny powers of life and death. Only the Macallan men have power, and their women are now hostages. Ben is sick of death and destruction, but a rescue, never mind a peace deal, may be beyond even his extraordinary talent.

It can be read as a standalone if need be, but I think is much better read in sequence with Dead of Light. That way you get a full appreciation of the growth in Ben, as he not only learns to deal with his own newly discovered talent, but convinces key members of his generation of the family to find another way to use theirs. It doesn't have quite the same impact as the first novel, because you don't have the suspense of wondering just how the Macallan clan control the city, but it's still an intense ride with a book that's well out of the usual run of urban fantasy.

Light Errant is out of print in its original paper editions from NEL, but has been re-released in ebook format by Book View Cafe, along with Dead of Light. You can find samples of both books at the BVC website. And maybe if enough of us buy them, Chaz will write a third...

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58) Jonathan Swift -- Gulliver's Travels

Or to give it its full and proper title, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships. Like many children, I had an abridged version with just the Lilliput section (probably bowdlerised), and I'd also read excerpts from the other sections. I have very fond memories, and since the complete text is available on public domain ebook sites, I decided that it was time to read the whole thing from start to finish.

I don't have the background in history to know exactly who and what Swift was lampooning without having to look it up on Wikipedia, but it doesn't matter. His biting satire is just as relevant to today's politics, even if the exact targets have changed. There are places where the modern reader will probably cringe at Swift's own prejudices, but by and large this is a hilarious take-down of bigotry, prejudice and hypocrisy that rings just as true now as it must have in 1726. The parody of the traveller's tales books popular at the time isn't quite as accessible, but it doesn't require very much effort to draw a parallel with modern writing. I found the fourth section dragged a bit, but that's partly because Swift had quite thoroughly made his point by then, and was repeating himself to some extent. But this book is a classic for good reason.

LibraryThing entry
Free public domain ebook at Feedbooks
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54) Elisabeth Beresford -- The Wombles

First in what became a series of over 20 books about the creatures living in a large burrow underneath Wimbledon Common, who make a living by collecting and re-using the rubbish left behind by careless humans.

I first met the Wombles in the form of the 1970s BBC stop motion animated series, which so thoroughly burnt itself into my brain that I kept flashing on scenes from the show as I was reading. Thus the otherwise delightful illustrations by Margaret Gordon were a little disconcerting, as the tv puppets are significantly different in appearance. Nevertheless, it was most enjoyable re-visiting the Wombles in written format.

The book is written for small children, and thus is on a relatively simple reading level. But it's by no means trite -- the stories discuss human behaviour without heavy-handed moralising, and the Wombles helped start an interest in my generation of children in recycling. Each chapter is an incident in the life of the Wombles, which can work almost as a standalone story, but there's an overall story arc throughout the book, covering nearly a year. It's primarily from the viewpoint of young Bungo, who at the start of the book has just reached the age at which he is allowed to choose a name for himself from Great Uncle Bulgaria's atlas, and then start work as a Womble considered old enough to be allowed out of the burrow on his own. It's an enjoyable quick read for an adult talking a stroll down memory lane. And short though it may be, there's some lovely worldbuilding here, portraying in light but deft strokes a very slightly alien society somewhere just out of sight of our own.

LibraryThing entry.
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46) Alex Epstein -- The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan Le Fay

Note: I received a review copy of this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme.

Young adult novel about what happened to the sorceress Morgan le Fay between the point in her childhood when her father was murdered by Uther Pendragon, and her return as an adult to trouble her half-brother King Arthur. The book opens at the council of war amongst the Romano-British leaders where Uter (as it's given in the book) first sets eyes on Ygraine, wife of Gorlois. Uter wants Ygraine enough to make war on Gorlois, enough to seek the aid of the magician Merlin -- and with the death of her beloved father, the child Anna finds herself sent to exile by her mother for her own safety. An exile so complete that she must change her name and tell almost no-one who she is when she arrives in Ireland. A safe place with a distant relative proves less than safe when the tribe loses a battle with its neighbours, and Morgan spends years in slavery, learning a little magic openly from the village wisewoman who owns her, and a great deal more magic in secret. Then there is escape, and a few months of peace and study with a new Christian settlement, and then a chance of love with a chieftain's son who can appreciate the knowledge of Roman battle tactics she brings. By the time she is eighteen, Morgan has learnt a great many things, but the one thing she has not learnt is how to let go of the need for vengeance. It has, after all, kept her alive through the dark times...

I found the book a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the rhythm of the writing I was hooked. Epstein has taken the historical period of 500AD as the basis for his story, a time when the Roman legions had long withdrawn from Britain but many of the British still thought of themselves as Roman. He's drawn on Irish mythology and blended it with modern Wiccan practice to create a believably consistent picture of magic, in a time when both Druid priests and Christian missionaries can draw on the power of the earth, and a young exile can learn to use it to protect herself and the people she loves. The result is a solid addition to the Arthurian legend, covering an area not much touched on, and giving a plausible reason for the adult Morgan le Fay to be who she is. Here she is a strong and sympathetic character, and it's only too easy to understand why she makes the choices she does.

The book's been written in such a way that it can be enjoyed both as a free-standing novel suitable for someone not familiar with any of the mythology and literature that has accreted around Arthur, and as a fascinating new contribution to that ongoing literary conversation. An excellent YA fantasy novel that should appeal to adults as well.

ISBN 978-1-896580-6-30
trade paperback at Powell's
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon UK (available now)
trade paperback or Kindle ebook at Amazon US (for pre-order)
LibraryThing entry
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Book 3)

Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.

While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There's a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there's one in graphic form.

Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they've got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).

There's some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.

In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology -- this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn't have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can't wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.

I'll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I'd agree with TPauSilver's comments on LibraryThing.

Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.

LibraryThing entry.
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Book 91

Short fantasy novel using the siege of Jericho by Joshua and the Israelites as its setting. But since this is a fantasy novel, Rahab is an ugly changeling, exchanged one night for the young brother of the Cretan exile Bard. Bard recognises that Rahab had no say in the matter, and loves her as a sister -- even when she emerges from her ugly form a year later to be revealed as a beautiful woman with butterfly wings. When Rahab disappears, Bard goes looking for her, knowing that she has probably been taken back to wherever she came from. The plot is driven by who exchanged Rahab for a human hostage, and why. There's some wonderful world-building in this book, and a page-turning story. It's all told in tight, compact prose that's a joy to read. It was the first book of Swann's I read, and I've loved it since I bought my copy some thirty years ago.

Librarything entry
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Remember that Chinese-inspired fantasy series I've been so taken with? The name on the cover is Daniel Fox, but the man behind the pen name is Chaz Brenchley, noted fantasy and crime writer, and the middle volume, "Jade Man's Skin", is now on sale. If you've read the first volume, "Dragon in Chains", you'll already know why I'm so taken with it, but if you haven't, that's still available and you should start with that one first.

buy ebooks or trade paperbacks direct from Del Ray

Jade Man's Skin
ISBN: 978-0-345-50304-6 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51911-5 (ebook)
My review of Jade Man's Skin (volume 2)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Jade Man's Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man's Skin at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

Dragon in Chains
ISBN: 978-0-345-50305-3 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 978-0-345-51346-5 (ebook)
My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
LibraryThing entry
at The Book Depository
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US
DRM-locked ebook at Fictionwise

(n.b. -- yes, those are Amazon links you see before you. In general, Amazon links are Going Away. However, I received ARCs of these books, and I feel that if I asked for an ARC, I have some obligation to make it as easy as possible for people to buy the book.)


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