Category: fantasy

Neil Gaiman reads his children’s book ‘Instructions’, with beuatiful illustrations by Charles Vess.


Changeless by Gail Carriger Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears – leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria. But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can. She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

Changeless is the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, and takes a closer look at the werewolves and Lord Maccon’s past.  Alexia is a highly entertaining character, and at the beginning of Changeless, is settling into married life, bossing the pack around and generally enjoying the freedom of a married woman.

When mysterious supernatural canceling areas afflict London, and then greater England; Alexia swings into action to investigate, hampered by her fashion-challenged friend Ivy and Alexia’s bitchy half-sister, and aided by her lady’s maid and a French inventor, both of questionable trustworthiness.

Carriger seems to regard Ivy as comic relief, but I find her annoying and barely relevant to the plot.  Ivy and Alexia’s friendship was plausible in Soulless but I had assumed it would fade with Alexia’s marriage.  Still, I can hope for less Ivy in the next book!

I still find Lord Akeldama and his drones fascinating, I’d love to know what happens when Biffy’s aristocratic father finds out he is a drone. 

The background on Alexia’s fathers life was interesting, I wonder if the coincidences have a point to them?  I still can’t work out why her mother married someone so unconventional.

Overall, I found Changeless to be fast-paced and highly enjoyable, with wonderful characters and dialogue.  Carriger’s writing has improved, with less Americanism’s, and a surer hand with the style.

The setup for the next book occurs in the last few pages and left me bemused at the sudden accusatory nature of one character, but I trust Ms Carriger to explain all in the next book, Blameless, to be released in September this year.

Other books by Gail Carriger that I have reviewed: Soulless

A Hobbit Dollshouse

Maddie Chambers has handmade a replica of Bag End (the hobbit house) from the Lord of the Rings movies.

I decided to make everything by hand – the frame, the garden outside, the furniture (as much as I could), the food and it has been a real labour of love and I have found something I truly enjoy doing. I have always been ‘crafty’ and enjoy painting etc, but this captures my imagination even more!
And so, a year later I have a nearly finished replica of Bag End. I still have quite a bit of work to do on it, but I think it can be classed as an ongoing project that I can improve over the years.




Find more beautiful photos and Maddie’s story of how she built it here.

Walking the TreeBotanica is an island, but almost all of the island is taken up by the Tree.

Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.

Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?

Kaaron Warren’s first novel, Slights, had very good reviews, but I don’t like horror, so I was happy to hear that her second book, Walking the Tree, was fantasy.

The island Botanica, almost entirely taken up by the Tree, is a fascinating place, filled with many different small communities.  Each community has adapted slightly differently to their place on the island, and I enjoyed seeing Lillah experience each new Order, and slowly picking up clues about the true nature of the Tree and the ghosts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel emotionally connected to Lillah or Morace.  I only finished Walking The Tree because I wanted to know about the Tree and the ghosts; I didn’t really care about Lillah’s journey to find her place on the island, or whether Morace’s secret would come out and he would be killed.

Regretfully, I have to say that I found Walking The Tree to be intellectually interesting but emotionally unsatisfying.

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs.

The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

But how do you find someone, living or dead, in a world where blood sacrifices are an everyday occurrence and the very gods stalk the streets?

Servant of the Underworld is the first novel by Aliette de Bodard, and was written in her second language, English. (I can’t even speak another language, let alone write in one!)

Servant of the Underworld is an intriguing murder mystery set in the capital city of the Aztec empire.  The main character, Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, is reluctant to get involved with politics, and devoted to his duty.  During the course of the investigation, he has to explore his conflicted family history and face the consequences of his avoidance of responsibility.  I really enjoyed Acatl’s emotional growth.

All the minor characters are interesting, particularly the young warrior, Teomitl, and I want to know more about Ceyaxochitl, who seems to have plans for Acatl. (What does she know that he doesn’t?)

The mystery was interestingly complicated (but then I can never guess who’s done what, so all mysteries intrigue me) and I really liked that the stakes started out high and kept getting higher.  I loved the Aztec setting, so exotic and different, and I’m always interested in characters whose culture and mindset is different to mine.  (I’m glad Acatl wasn’t the High Priest for a god who liked human sacrifice though.)

My main problem with Servant of the Underworld was that I had trouble pronouncing the names.  This was not unexpected, with the Aztec setting, but because I had to make up pronunciation for the names (and in many cases shortened them), it delayed my immersion in the story.  I recommend that the publisher add a character and pronouciation guide to the next book.  (Similar to that in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books – finally I can correctly pronouce celtic mythological words!)

I’m very much looking forward to reading Servant of the Underworld again, and I’m sorry I have to wait for book 2, Harbinger of the Storm, to be published.  (Why does it take so much longer to write a book than it does to read one?)

In addition, I think this is the first book published by Angry Robot I have read, and I really liked the way they laid out the backcover, lots of little touches that let you know what flavour of fantasy this is, and encourage you to pick it up.

[Blue+Diablo.jpg] Eighteen months ago, Corine Solomon crossed the border and wound up in Mexico City, fleeing her past, her lover, and her “gift”.  Corine, a handler, can touch something and know its history – and sometimes, its future.  Using her ability, she can find missing persons – and that’s why people never stop trying to find her.  People like her ex, Chance.

Chance, whose uncanny luck has led him to her doorstep, needs her help.  Someone dear to them both has gone missing in Laredo, Texas, and the only hope of finding her is through Corine’s gift.  But their search may prove dangerous as the trail leads them into a strange, dark world of demons and sorcerers, ghosts and witchcraft, zombies – and black magic…

Ann Aguirre’s debut novel Grimspace blew me away, and I’ve enjoyed all her books since.  Blue Diablo is the first in the Corine Solomon urban fantasy series and has a slightly different flavour from her sci-fi Sirantha Jax series.

When I first read Blue Diablo, I had just realised how unlikely it was that so many people in books get help when they need it, from people who don’t need to put themselves out to give it.   Ann Aguirre neatly explains this as Chance’s luck causes coincidences all the time (not always a good thing), and Corine always needed to know why someone was helping them. 

I liked the unusual setting of Mexico and the US border, and that Chance and Corine both find themselves out of their depth.

To be honest, our chances don’t look good.  We’re light on manpower, firepower, and every other kind of power.

I do wish we could have seen Chance and Corine’s original relationship in action instead of being told about it via remembrances and comparisons to their behaviour now.

It’s possible that I’m disapointed that  Chance and Corines’ relationship wasn’t resolved in one book, when I know romances in an urban fantasy series always takes several books.  I know ex’s can cause complicated mixed up emotions that aren’t at all logical, and certainly in Corine’s situation, it’s unsurprising her emotions swing.  I felt that their relationship was moving through some sort of growth and minor resolution but the last third to a quarter of the book derailed that and moved it backwards.

I had a strange feeling of let down at the end of Blue Diablo.  I felt that the stakes got so high and then everything was OK.  No long term consequences, no-one risked too much and lost it.  All saved, all still friends and talking (except Corine and Chance whose relationship is still up in the air)  And Corine’s final words didn’t ring true for me at all.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Blue Diablo and am looking forward to seeing what questions will be answered and what new questions will be raised in the sequel Hell Fire which is released in a week.

Computer technician Jack Fletcher is no hero, despite his unwelcome reputation as one.  In fact, he’s just been the victim of bizarre circumstances.  Like now.  His sister happens to disturb one of his nanoelectrical system experiments, and suddenly they aren’t where they’re supposed to be.  In fact, they’re not sure where they are when…

they wake up to find a woman with the reddest hair Jack has ever seen – and a gun.  Octavia Pye is an Aerocorps captain with a whole lot of secrets, and she’s not about to have her maiden voyage ruined by stowaways.  But the sparks flying between her and Jack just may cause her airship to combust, and ignite a passion that will forever change the world as she knows it.

What you expect from this book will affect how much you enjoy it.  If you’ve read any of Katie MacAlister’s books before then you’ll know that they contain zany characters, witty banter, very little angst over the romantic relationship and some plot coincidences that you just don’t want to look at too closely.

In fact this entire book doesn’t want to be looked at too closely – I could list the ways that Steamed doesn’t work, point out all the holes in the plotting, and the thin characterisation, but that would detract from what Steamed actually is – a light, funny, fast read that didn’t tax my brain.

In fact, I think the perfect analogy is to compare Steamed to candyfloss*: it looks good and goes down easy; yes, it’s insubstantial and too much is unhealthy; but as a treat, it’s just right.

* cotton candy, fairy floss, spun sugar…

I know, it’s a bit late for a Best Of 2009 list!  I had to think about the December books for a while and get some perspective on them, and I had to figure out how I defined “Best Of”.

When I find an author I enjoy, I will track down and read as many books by them as I can, so I’ve broken my “Best Of” into two sections:

  1. Awesome authors I discovered in 2009 
  2. Amazing Books I read in 2009

But first, lets look at my reading statistics – I am a scientist after all. 🙂

In total, I read 194 books in 2009 (including audio books).  I read the most in December (22) and the least in April (11).

Looking at genre, in 2009 I read:

107 fantasy books (55%)
13 science fiction books (7%)
31 romance books (16%)
16 graphic novels (8%)
21 fiction books of other genres (mystery/thriller/chick lit/whatever) (11%)
and 6 non-fiction books (3%)

In conclusion, I really like fantasy!  (Please note that some of the romance and most of the graphic novels could be also be defined as fantasy.)

Awesome Authors I Discovered In 2009

Can there be anything more fun than reading an amazing book that blows you away and then finding out the author has a backlist of books for you to glom?  I don’t think so!

  • Ann Aguirre
  • Kristin Cashore
  • Colin Cotterill
  • Jeaniene Frost
  • Linnea Sinclair
  • Nalini Singh

Amazing Books I Read In 2009

These books all have something extra that makes them stand out in my memory. (To get on this list I had to have read these books for the first time in 2009.)

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Thief With No Shadow by Emily Gee
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Eight by Katherine Neville
  • A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
  • Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
  • Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman
  • Fables: The Dark Ages by Bill Willingham

Wow – these authors and books are pretty wonderful!  I only hope that I can find some equally amazing  new authors and equally special books in 2010.

Zombie Dinosaur!

I couldn’t resist posting this picture of Harry Dresden (from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files) riding a re-animated T-Rex.  This was my favourite part of Dead Beat to read and Dan Dos Santos has produced a stunning illustration.  (As he always does – check out his site for more awesome book covers.)