Book cover: Tarnished City - Vic James (a chained hand points down, a Scottish castle in the background)
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8/10
Review: Tarnished City by Vic James
Reviews / November 8, 2017

Tarnished City picks up from the point Gilded Cage left off with barely a backward glance – this isn’t a sequel that makes for a good entry point to Vic James dystopian alternative Britain (or one that can be discussed without raging spoilers for the first book). Luke is in the hands of the sadistic Lord Crovan – and finds that the games the Equal plays with his prisoners are subtler than mere torture in the dungeons of Eilean Dòchais. Greeted by Coira, the untouchable mistress of below-stairs, he finds himself assigned rooms that would do an Equal proud and a smart if ill-fitting suit for dinner. It soon becomes apparent that house guests and servants alike are fellow Condemned, with Crovan running a sort of Stanford prison experiment: the golden collars around each prisoner’s throat prevent servants harming house guests and anyone harming Crovan himself, but the servants are fair game. Luke’s illusions about his fellow humans are quickly dashed, although he persists in a youthful naïveté about just what crimes they previously committed. As with any prison drama, the inmates have alternative facts about how they ended up there, which Luke largely accepts – in spite of the evidence…

Review: Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell
Reviews / October 18, 2017

Kellen of the House of Ke isn’t just a disappointment to his parents and an outcast to his people: he’s a spellslinger on the run with a price on his head. You’d think he’d keep a low profile. Maybe it’s his nature. Maybe it’s the company he keeps. But he just can’t keep himself out of trouble… Shadowblack is the sequel to the riotous joy that was Spellslinger, an unapologetically brash coming-of-age romp – so this review will inevitably be chock-full of spoilers for the first book. While you can pick up the gist by diving straight into Shadowblack, don’t do it – the context will make the second book more rewarding, and Spellslinger is a joy from start to finish. Still here? Right then. Where Spellslinger was set in the ‘most civilised’ city/culture in the world (at least according to its Jan’Tep inhabitants), Shadowblack is in the world’s equivalent of the Wild West: the Seven Sands (some of which are blue. Neat). Ferius – with her smoking reeds and drawling slang – fits right in. Kellen – well-born, well-bred and very, very wet behind the ears – really doesn’t. We rejoin Kellen and his light-fingered, short-tempered familiar Reichis trying to steal something from…

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6/10
Review: Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith
Reviews / September 4, 2017

Hannah’s world is turned upside down when her parents split up. But when the Devil wakens from a long nap to discover someone is stealing the evil deeds of humanity, Hannah and her family will be central to putting this right. For various shades of right. He is the Devil, after all. I’ve been a big fan of Michael Marshall Smith for years, and his books are few and far enough between that a new one is always a celebration (yes, there are Michael Marshall books between times, but they’re not usually quite the same). I like his narrative tone of voice, and his way of twisting aspects of the real world; I like his ability to provoke melancholy and capture heartache. So Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence had a burden of expectation to live up to – and sets its stall out from the start as being somewhat different to the rest of MMS’s body of (long-form) work. The prologue is mischievous and knowing, breaking the fourth wall and playing with expectations (if anything, it reminds me of the voice-over at the start of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). And for the first time, we get a heroine – and…

Recent News: Awards
News / July 29, 2017

Welcome to our regular update on genre awards, where we keep you up to date with all the major awards. It’s the summer season, so shortlists and awards are coming thick and fast – we’ve got the details on the latest awards and upcoming deadlines. Did we miss an award you think we should be keeping track of? Let us know and we’ll get right on it. RECENT AWARDS          LATEST SHORTLISTS          COMING SOON RECENT AWARDS ARTHUR C CLARKE AWARD Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit, Hodder & Stoughton Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit, Solaris Emma Newman, After Atlas, Roc Tricia Sullivan, Occupy Me, Gollancz Lavie Tidhar, Central Station, PS Publishing Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad, Fleet **WINNER   Mythopoeic Awards Fantasy Award for Adult Literature Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic For Small Change (Aqueduct Press) Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers (Tor) Patricia A. McKillip, Kingfisher (Ace) **WINNER Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Cycle (Scholastic) Jo Walton, The Thessaly Trilogy (Tor) Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature Adam Gidwitz, The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog (Dutton) **WINNER S. E. Grove, The Mapmakers Trilogy (Viking) Bridget Hodder, The Rat Prince (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux) Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown) Delia Sherman, The Evil Wizard Smallbone (Candlewick) Scholarship Award in…

Recent News: Awards
News / July 28, 2017

Welcome to our regular update on genre awards, where we keep you up to date with all the major awards. Midwinter is a quiet time for ceremonies, but there’s plenty of other activity underway – we’ve got the details on the latest awards and upcoming deadlines. Did we miss an award you think we should be keeping track of? Let us know and we’ll get right on it. RECENT AWARDS          LATEST SHORTLISTS          COMING SOON RECENT AWARDS GEMMELL AWARDS         SHIRLEY JACKSON AWARDS          THEODORE STURGEON MEMORIAL GEMMELL AWARDS Legend (Best Novel) John Gwynne, Wrath (Tor) Jay Kristoff, Nevernight (Thomas Dunne Books) Mark Lawrence, The Wheel of Osheim (Ace Books) Brandon Sanderson, The Bands of Mourning (Tor) Gav Thorpe, Warbeast (Black Library) *WINNER Morningstar (Best Debut) Mark De Jager, Infernal (Del Rey) Christopher Husberg, Duskfall (Titan Books) Megan E. O’Keefe, Steal the Sky (Angry Robot) *WINNER Adrian Selby, Snakewood (Orbit) Jon Skovron, Hope and Red (Orbit) Ravenheart (Best Cover Art) Alessandro Baldasseroni for Black Rift by Josh Reynolds *WINNER Jason Chan for The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence Sam Green for The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson Kerby Rosanes for Nevernight by Jay Kristoff Paul Young for Wrath by John Gwynne   Shirley Jackson Awards …

Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee (space ships in battle)
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9/10
Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Reviews / July 13, 2017

Kel Cheris, half-possessed by the ghost of notorious General Shuos Jedao, survived an assassination attempt that wiped out her entire fleet. Or did she? Physical appearances aside, it appears to be Jedao who usurps command aboard the Hierarchy of Feasts. Formation instinct compels the Kel to follow Jedao – but will he really defend the Hexarchate from the Hafn? Or will he betray them to their deaths? Ninefox Gambit was one of my favourite books last year, although not all reviewers shared my enthusiasm for its unapologetically oblique world-building and its obsession with the ethics of war. In Raven Stratagem, the core dilemma is much the same – can the ghost of the mass-murdering general be trusted? – but this time we see the action strictly through outside eyes. Enter General Kel Khiruev, tormented by her enforced loyalties to both the Hexarchate and – unwillingly – to Jedao as her superior officer. Haunted by childhood memories of her mother executing her father for heresy, it’s only Kel formation instinct that suppresses her doubts about the Hexarchate. When Jedao arrives, she can’t resist the urge to obey him even knowing Kel Command wants him dead. By contrast, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan has weak…

Recent News: Awards
News / July 11, 2017

Welcome to our regular update on genre awards, where we keep you up to date with all the major awards. The summer means ceremony season, so we’ve got a round-up on recent awards and upcoming deadlines. Did we miss an award you think we should be keeping track of? Let us know and we’ll get right on it. RECENT AWARDS          LATEST SHORTLISTS         COMING SOON RECENT AWARDS COMPTON CROOK AWARD          DITMARS         LAMMIES          LOCUS AWARDS Compton Crook Award Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit (Solaris) David D. Levine, Arabella of Mars (Tor) Kathy MacMillan, Sword and Verse (HarperTeen) Sylvain Neuvel, Sleeping Giants (Del Rey) Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning (Tor) *WINNER T.C. Weber, Sleep State Interrupt (See Sharp)   Ditmar Awards Best Novel Kaaron Warren, The Grief Hole (IFWG Publishing Australia) *WINNER Jennifer Fallon, The Lyre Thief (HarperCollins) D.K. Mok, Squid’s Grief (self-published) Angela Slatter, Vigil (Jo Fletcher Books) Gillian Polack, The Wizardry of Jewish Women (Satalyte Publishing) Best Novella or Novelette Simon Petrie, All the Colours of the Tomato (Dimension6 #9, coeur de lion) Jason Fischer, By the Laws of Crab and Woman (Review of Australian Fiction) Tansy Rayner Roberts, Did We Break the End of the World? (Defying Doomsday, Twelfth Planet…

Shattered Minds - Laura Lam (an eye with a graphic treatment suggestive of shards of glass streaming out of it)
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8/10
Review: Shattered Minds by Laura Lam
Reviews / June 19, 2017

Carina Kearney is a rising star at Sudice Inc, a gifted neuroprogrammer on a highly sensitive research project to record the lived experience: senses, feelings, memories. She’s also a cold-blooded killer. Scared of her urges, Carina flees her job and embraces Zeal addiction instead, drowning herself in drug-induced sprees of virtual murder. But her mentor Roz has ambitions far beyond brain recording, and Carina is key to her success. How can Carina escape her in a near-future California where any brain can be hacked? And can she ever escape herself? Shattered Minds is a companion novel to last year’s excellent False Hearts, set once again in Laura Lam’s Pacifica – a crime-free, poverty-free near-future California shaped by ubiquitous surveillance and bleeding edge technology. You can make Shattered Minds your point of entry to this universe if you wish: it stands alone – although spoilers in passing for the outcome of the first novel mean you’re better to read them in order. And you really should read False Hearts, because it’s excellent. So is Shattered Minds. That said: Shattered Minds requires a thick skin. Hearts beats with emotions from the first page, circling tightly around the bond between its twin protagonists, their love a…

The Space Between The Stars - Anne Corlett
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9/10
Review: The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett
Reviews / June 14, 2017

The virus had a long incubation period. By the time it started killing, it had already spread across the stars. Those who survived the second day lived. The rest burnt up, 99.9999% of the human race reduced to piles of dust. Now the few survivors – scattered across planets – must try to reconnect, regroup and choose their future. Should Jamie try to rebuild what she’s lost or choose a fresh start? The Space Between The Stars is – for me, at least – this year’s Station Eleven. I have seen more critical reviews, but it spoke straight to my heart and unstrung it, leaving me crying quietly on an aeroplane (whether that’s one better than crying on public transport I leave to you). Like Station Eleven, this is a story that uses a SF conceit to explore human nature rather than a story that is interested in its SF trappings. As such, some SF readers may feel sold short. But not this SF reader. This reader is in resonant bits. We meet Jamie on Soltaire, a remote farming planet where she has fled from her long-term partner Daniel to seek the space to heal after a devastating loss. Her flight…

Book cover: Rotherweird - Andrew Caldecott (an old-fashioned illustrated map of a town in the bend of the River Rother)
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7/10
Review: Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott
Reviews / May 25, 2017

When inexperienced Jonah Oblong is hired to teach history at Rotherweird School, the rules are clearly laid down: nothing before 1800 and nothing local. Rotherweird doesn’t welcome outsiders and is perfectly happy in its ignorance: history is something that happened to other people. Yet the Regulations stipulate the School must not go without a history teacher for more than a term – and there can hardly be a home-grown one, all things considered – so the gangly newcomer settles in to fight for acceptance. But when Jonah is told that his predecessor disappeared after inciting Form IV to dig up the past, he is tempted to investigate in spite of the Regulations. And Jonah isn’t alone: Sir Veronal Slickstone, new owner of Rotherweird Manor – and another outsider, a local scandal in its own right, however much money he has to throw around – intends to turn all the town’s Regulations upside down. And God help those who get in his way. Rotherweird lives up to its name: a quirky portal fantasy peppered with singular names (‘Vixen’ Valourhand; Sidney Snorkel; Hayman Salt), meaningful geography (Aether Way; Lost Acre, Escutcheon Place) and a plethora of specific, often hilarious local ordinances. It has the feel of a tongue-in-cheek English rural satire, all mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. It’s…