book reviews by Althea

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Review: Brother’s Ruin

Brother’s Ruin
Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Charlotte knows that she has a talent for magic. She knows that her duty – and legal obligation – is to make her magic known, so that the government can train her talents to be best used for the good of the country. But it’s unsettling that street preachers rant on with dire warnings about the evils of the magical Academy, and besides, Charlotte has other plans for her life: she’s a talented commercial artist, even if as a woman, she has to take her commissions anonymously, and she has plans to marry her fiance. Magicians are required to live a celibate life: not the most enticing inducement.

However, Charlotte’s beloved father has got himself into debt, and when the suspicion arises that the debt collectors that are after him are committing serial murder, Charlotte may have to put her family’s interests before her own.

However, not all is as simple as it seems: some kind of nefarious plot is going on involving magic, and its threads are there to entangle Charlotte no matter which way she turns.

I very much enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to any fan of Victorian/supernatural fantasy. However, I’d have to include the caveat: wait until the sequel is ready. This short book really functions more as an introduction to the characters and the scenario than as a complete story. it doesn’t just end on a cliffhanger – it barely gets into the meat of the conflict! As it’s less than 200 pages; I really feel that the ‘sequel’ should’ve been bundled together with this.

Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are independent and unaffected by the source of the book.

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Review: Amberlough

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for book club.

An extremely impressive debut novel! Imagine if Ellen Kushner’s ‘Riverside’ novels were set in an analogue of 1920’s Germany?

I do think that all fans of Kushner’s ‘Swordspoint’ &c. will love this book. It also does a great job of introducing its world and characters without unnecessarily driving home the parallels between the fantasy setting and that of the Weimar Republic and the impending rise of fascism. It’s not a 1:1 correspondence; there are also elements of the Balkans, and wholly original elements of the world. All of it emerges organically from the story’s progression.

The story involves spies and double agents at a popular decadent nightclub; and the complexities and betrayals spawned by the intersection of inclination and obligation. I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic – but they were all interesting.

I will, without a doubt, be reading the sequel – which I hear has already been submitted to the publisher! 😉

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Review: Agents of Dreamland

Agents of Dreamland
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully creepy.

In this novella, Kiernan takes Lovecraftian horror elements, and transposes them into an X-Files-type setting. A government agent known as The Signalman is set to meet another operative, Immacolata, regarding the actions of a California doomsday cult. For some reason, he finds his fellow operative even more frightening than the cult; even though brutal, horrific deaths have occurred.

Meanwhile, a young woman explains how the “Children of the Next Level” gave her life the hope and meaning she’d always lacked, with its leader’s promises of transcendence and transformation. Well, transformation, of a kind, there certainly will be.

The writing is non-linear and obscure; and I wanted more from the ending… but I still loved it.

Definitely recommended for fans of VanDerMeer’s ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy, as well as anyone who’s interested by cult psychology and the weirder elements of the X-Files.

Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinion is unrelated to the source of the book.

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Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf

Hunger Makes the Wolf
Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine a grittier, more cynical, anti-corporate version of Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Crystal Singer’ series?

Tanegawa’s World is a company town. TransRift runs the mines, and interstellar government is very, very far away. In essence, TransRift IS the government, and operates without oversight – a situation unlikely to change, since interstellar travel depends on TransRift. Little of the profits of this monopoly are seen by the colonists of Tanegawa’s, who are downtrodden and exploited.

However, not everyone is willing to put up with the abuses of the company. Our protagonist, Hob, is a young woman poised to become the leader of a group on mercenaries who live on the fringes, doing jobs for pay but also protecting townspeople from more vicious groups of outlaws.

However, the precarious balance is about to be upset: a strange discovery is made in the mines; which may be related to the outbreaks of ‘witchiness’ that the miners don’t really like to talk about (or tolerate amongst themselves). Hob herself knows that she is ‘witchy’ – but she doesn’t expect that her best friend, the more mild-mannered Mag, to be arrested on charges of ‘witchiness’, on her way off-planet. For answers – and to help free Mag – she goes to the mysterious Bone Collector, a man of strange talent and unknown origin, who lives out in the desert (and whom I couldn’t picture as anything else but Carl McCoy’s ‘nomad’ character in the movie ‘Hardware.) The Bone Collector’s abilities are strangely parallel to that of the Weatherman – one of the few individuals who are capable of piloting spaceships. This Weatherman, though, is on-planet, and as the instrument of a new witch hunt, may be more dangerous than any of the colonist could have guessed.

‘Hunger Makes the Wolf’ is an enjoyable sci-fi adventure. It does show, just a bit, that this is the work of a new novelist; and I thought there was a bit too much left hanging at the end, waiting for the sequel. But I will very likely read that sequel.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.

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Review: City of Miracles

City of Miracles
City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

5 stars for all 3 entries into this trilogy. Really, this story is just so good. Complex, believable characters that the reader really cares about, great plotting, and a wonderful balance between small yet heartbreaking details and dramatic, world-shattering events – in a consistently interesting, surprising world. Everything I want from my fantasy adventure!

This story begins 20 years after the events of City of Blades. The Viking-berserker-esque Sigrud has been in hiding for all those years, staying under the radar, evading authorities, and hoping that someday the former Prime Minister Shara will use her influence to clear his name and summon him back to her side. His hopes turn out to be in vain when the news reaches him at the camp where he’s working as a lumberjack that Shara has been killed in a terrorist attack.

With nothing left to lose, Sigrud heads back to the city, regardless of all its dangers, to find out who killed the person he cared most about in this world, and to seek revenge. The plot he uncovers is not as straightforward as he expected; and much has changed during his reclusive years. Unexpectedly, Sigrud discovers he might have a cause and a reason worth staying alive for – at least for now.

Highly, highly recommended. But start with “City of Stairs” to give yourself a chance to be sucked into the history of this world and to fall in love with its people.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Crown for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.

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Review: Infernal Parade

Infernal Parade
Infernal Parade by Clive Barker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I see “Clive Barker” and I say, “Yes please!”

But in this case, I should’ve investigated further. This is another publication like 2014’s “Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium.” It is NOT a novella; it’s a collection of brief texts that were designed to accompany collectible figures produced by McFarlane Toys.

The texts (or ‘chapters’) don’t come together as a finished whole – which makes sense, as they weren’t really designed to. They simply form the premise for having a collection of gruesome and grotesque horror characters and why they might appear together: a vicious executed killer comes back from the dead, and is ‘assigned’? to collect a group of similarly depraved and tortured souls to form a kind of carnival procession of the damned. Why? To what purpose? Dunno.

As is to be expected, the segments are well-written and imaginative – but they didn’t need to be collected as a book.

Thanks to Subterranean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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Review: After the Blue Hour

After the Blue Hour
After the Blue Hour by John Rechy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Rechy’s ‘City of Night’ sort of by accident when I was sixteen (It was on the same library shelf as Anne Rice.) So, Rice’s sadomasochistic fantasies, Anais Nin’s erotica (not on the same shelf, but read around the same time) and this all got intertwined in my head. Rechy was by far the most shockingly eye-opening; the most gritty – but at the same time, his writing shares a certain overwrought drama with the other two.
I never really followed his writing after that – tried to get a hold of his memoir that came out a few years ago; but never got my hands on a copy. When I was offered a review copy of this book, I accepted it eagerly.
Reading this, I had to wonder how factual the memoir is. The main character here is a young man called, coincidentally, John Rechy, and there are plenty of metafictional musings about the nature of identity and the ‘truth’ of narratives. This, however, is definitely not a memoir. I cannot say how closely the character matches the author, or if any parallel incidents occurred in his life, but the structure here is that of a novel.
It’s much less sexually explicit than I expected. I recall ‘City of Night’ as being blatantly pornographic, but this is almost understated – sizzling and brooding with tension; putting the reader on constant edge about what *might* happen.
John Rechy (the character) is a promising young writer known for his treatment of edgy subjects (the gay underground scene, of course) who is invited by an unknown man to visit his private island. We expect a sexual assignation; but the man actually seems to possibly be interested in his writing, perhaps in acting as a kind of patron. Also on the island are the man’s beautiful mistress, his teenage son, and two odd and silent household staff. And overlaying all of it is a mass of secrets. Soon, the man’s ex-wife may be coming for a visit – and then certain things may be revealed.
I think the book, although published in 2017, has a decidedly 60’s-70’s vibe to not just the setting, but the writing. It’s an interpersonal drama about a troubled family relationship, into which a disinterested party is dragged… but the whole thing teeters right on the verge of crossing over into horror, the way the tension is maintained and developed.
I really liked it.

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unaffected by the source of the book.

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