Rae Carson- Crown of Embers

Being sick is a wonderful thing.

I mean, well it isn’t, but when you’re lying in bed cuddling up to a bucket you do find that you have the opportunity to get some proper reading done. Those of you who remember me will know I am now in full time employment after graduating (yay!) and living in London (double yay!) so I’ll admit that I’ve been holding off on reading this book for two reasons.

1- When I read Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns I stayed up all night and read it in one sitting. I slept the next day. (see previous review)

2- The only way I could get away with doing the above a second time for the second book in the series would be if I had a free weekend (which I don’t) or was on my deathbed with nothing else to do. (a-ha)

So yesterday I finally got around to reading  the second book in Rae Carson’s trilogy (released this year, published by Gollancz) and I started with stupidly high hopes, hopes so high that nothing could possibly meet up to my expectations.

But Rae Carson is an amazing writer, and her second novel in theFire and Thorns trilogy matches up incredibly with her first. Having become a young Widow and Queen, Elisa is growing increasingly frustrated with the politics of her new home; the people hail her as a hero- so long as taxes stay low, and the other members of her government dismiss her as a child and don’t trust her. The only people around her who she can trust are her two ladies-in-waiting, Mara and Ximena, her stepson Prince Rosario and the Commander of her Royal Guard, Hector.

Oh, Hector. I’ve loved you since the very first book.

Not only is Elisa’s Quorum/Government doing their best to ignore her, but they’re also trying to marry her off (again). The country is unsettled and Elisa has yet to prove herself as more than a war hero, so a husband will give her the ‘stability’ she needs. Enter the dashing Conde Tristan from the Southern Territories. He’s intelligent, brave, and seems a perfect match as long as you don’t take into account that Elisa doesn’t love him… but no one is as they appear to be, and his own secret is one that has to come out sooner or later.

Not only that, but it appears Elisa didn’t quite manage to totally defeat the Invierne people in the last book, and after a rather public demonstration that involves a lot of fire, her position is weakened further by their bid to kidnap her.

And as if that wasn’t enough for the seventeen year old Queen/Widow/Mother/War Hero to be dealing with, there have also been several attempts on her life, which means she has more enemies than even Hector suspected. It might be time to start choosing some unlikely allies and keeping old friends at a more wary distance.

Everything about this story is a step up from the first; The politics are more secretive, Elisa’s enemies are more mysterious and more numerous, and the romance is more mature, more slow burning. I had a moment of horror before I began reading, wondering if, as sequels can do, this book would disappoint me, but it’s everything I hoped for and more; the plot is a continuation of the same story, but there’s new elements being introduced too. Elisa still makes mistakes, she still trusts the wrong people and still does the wrong things, but by the time this book ends she’s found her footing a little more, and she’s still that brilliant blend of surly teenager and brave young hero that made us love her in Girl of Fire and Thorns.

And now I’ve realised that the Final installment, The Bitter Kingdom, won’t be released until next year. That can’t be true. My heart won’t take it…

Fire and Thorns – by Rae Carson

I have finished with university, almost definitely for good, and I’m very very conscious of the fact that I’ve written… almost no reviews for Un:Bound since starting uni almost three years ago. I’ve certainly not written any since the big move to the new site.

For reasons best left to the privacy of my twitter account (@katheubeck) I am under house arrest at the moment and since I’m at my parent’s house, that means I’m stuck in a village with just three streets and no Co-op.

My first real foray to proper book-reading has started with Rae Carson’s debut novel, “Fire and Thorns”, published by Gollancz. It follows the story of young princess Elisa, who has grown up babied, fat and lazy. Even though she bears the Godstone, a sign that God has chosen her for a life of heroism, she has never pursued adventure and was encouraged to stay out of harms way.

On her sixteenth birthday, she’s married off to the handsome king of a huge nearby country, but finds that although she has been married off as part of a treaty, the king keeps their marriage secret, and instead openly courts the beautiful Condesa Arina. Spurred by her own thirst for knowledge, and suspicions that there is more to the legend of the Godstone than she knows, Elisa finds herself drawn further and further into an age-long war she didn’t even know was happening, a war that she is a part of whether she likes it or not.

The book is split into three parts, each following a different ‘role’ of Elisa’s as her journey goes on. In part 1, she is the intelligent but lazy scholar, trying to make the best of a bad situation. She tries to prove that she’s capable of being a Queen to her new husband whilst learning as much about the Godstone as possible… until she’s kidnapped.

Part 2 follows her survival in the desert, and the realization of her own significance as the war rages on. She becomes a tactician, and a survivor.

In the third and final part of the book, Elisa really comes into her own. She stops relying on others to carry her through, and becomes a leader, a figurehead of war.

The copy I have is an uncorrected Manuscript proof which I was given as an Un:Bound reviewer at some point last year. I need to say a big SORRY to my boss/benefactor/dictator/religious leader at Un:Bound that it took me so long to get this review done but… you know… the final year of university is supposed to be time-consuming. At least other people tell me this.

Now before I say anything else about whether I enjoyed the book or not, I want to be absolutely clear. I started reading at about midnight for a bit of a wind-down before bed. I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book at 4.30 the next morning.

I absolutely loved it, but I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t realize how MUCH I loved it until I reached the end and realized there were birds singing outside. The characters that I got to know, and their exploits that I was so much a part of took such hold of me that I wasn’t even able to THINK about the real world (by which I mean the internet) until about ten minutes after I finished the book and had let it all sink in.

In many ways this is aquite traditional coming-of-age story; a teenager is pushed from the nest and learns to fly alone, learning more about their true identity along the way. Yes, we know that story, it’s every teenage fantasy book that is already on our shelves. Except for one or two…

But the wonderful thing about this book is that it takes everything that makes those books wonderful and introduces that little bit more. Elisa doesn’t just strike out on her own; she builds on the advice others give her, she befriends those who have wronged her, she is completely aware of her own limitations and knows when she needs others around her. Elisa starts the story as a clever but lonely girl whose only friends are the two handmaidens her father pays to keep her safe. She ends the book respected, wise and loved.

As a fantasy novel with a female protagonist, told in the first person and some feminist elements, I’ll admit “Fire and Thorns” might struggle with some within the male demographic, but the sheer depth of the characters we meet will enthrall anyone who reads it, of any age or gender. Carson’s realistic but readable approach to war and politics, both at the front lines and within the government, takes the perspective of a sixteen year old and brings you into the adventure with remarkable skill.

I’m told that this is the first installment of a trilogy and I really really hope I can get my hands on the next book as soon as possible, preferably before I’m forced to storm Gollancz and take Rae Carson hostage as my own personal book-writer.

Do the right thing, Rae. Give it to me now for the good of mankind.

Rivers of London | Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London
by Ben Aaronovitch
Pub: Gollancz
Hardcover out now

It was always going to be a challenge making an impact with a London based Urban Fantasy. There are some very solid series already and Aaronovitch is pitching himself in with fans of series like Mike Carey’s fantastic ‘Felix Castor’ books and Kate Griffins novels. It was then with a blend of excitement and trepidation I returned to London through this well hyped novel.

Peter Grant is a police constable about to get his first proper placement when he finds himself taking an eyewitness statement from a ghost. Soon instead of just being a new policeman Peter is an apprentice wizard in a tiny and mysterious police department that exists through an ancient agreement. Trying to untangle a strange series of murders and prevent all out war between the followers of the various Thames deities leads Peter through an intricate and well thought out plot.

This is a quirky book, personified gods and dead actors give a slightly classical air to a modern story and Peter and the main supporting characters are well set up, though development is light through this novel. Of course the joy of a series is that you can take your time developing the individuals and focus each book on plot and action, which Rivers definitely delivers on.

It’s a good set up and a nice change that the main protagonist is actually police rather than working with or running up against them, the internal world logic seems good and there are some fresh elements to the book. It’s a very easy read, the pacing pulls you through quickly and there is a charmingly uncynical humour. I think Aaronovitch has ably lived up to the challenge of London based UF and this has plenty of potential as a series.

SFF Masterworks | The great group review

A little while ago the Yeti Stomper, Patrick invited a bunch of us to take part in a project. The idea is to review, between us, the complete SFF Masterworks series by Gollancz. Once all the books have been covered once we can keep going if we wish and provide multiple reviews of some books, but in the mean time we have committed to at least one Masterwork ever two months until the series is complete. Of course the good folk at Gollancz have complicated matters by re realeasing the series with additional books, but that will only add the fun.

Visit the site, it has complete lists of the SF and F masterworks, a little info about the contributors, including the likes of Larry from Of Blog the Fallen, Harry from Temple Library Reviews and Gav from Nextread.

My first review went up on Sunday and was of Philip K Dick’s ‘Dr Bloodmoney’. So go and visit the SFF Masterworks Reading Project and see what the team thinks of the Masterworks.

Kitty’s House of Horrors – Carrie Vaughn

Kitty’s House of Horrors
by Carrie Vaughn
Pub Gollancz
Cover: Nick Castle Design

When Kitty is asked to take part in a reality TV show with a group of other paranormal’s in an isolated location she’s concerned it might be a bad idea. When she wakes up to discover the power out and one of the guests dead she knows something is seriously wrong.

The Kitty series has tended to be among the lighter Urban Fantasy novels, well written, entertaining, with a few moments of deeper emotion to really tie the reader to Kitty and the main characters.

In house of horror’s it all becomes somewhat darker, everyone is in danger and looking to Kitty to help them survive. The paranormals are being hunted, separated and killed off but who by and why? Kitty is cut off from her pack, her friends, all her usual sources of support and help and it’s great to see Kitty having to figure it out for herself again. She has to draw on everything she has learned from her friends and keep her wolf in check if she is going to survive.

I love this series and House of Horror’s is really stepping up the game. Looking forward to seeing what happens next.

WHC 2010 – Post 1

(me and Gary McMahon)

World Horror ran for a long weekend in Brighton UK this year. I wasn’t able to make it down until Friday and left quite early on Sunday but within the slightly under 48hours managed to pack in only 4 or 5 hours sleep and a ridiculous amount of fun.

In the end I made it to 1 panel, 1 reading, 2 signings, 1 interview conducted by someone else, conducted one myself, and 1 screening and none of the parties. Otherwise it was hanging out in the various bars chatting to people, going out to eat and umm, chatting to people or wondering around, visiting the dealers room and places and well, chatting to people. I’ve left feeling that some of the friendships that began online have been firmed up and the groundwork for new friends has been done.

(Kelley Armstrong at the signing, we interviewed Kelley in Dec 08)

I arrived at lunch time friday, checked in, registered and took everything up to my room, before finding my roomshare and saying hi. I took an hour or two getting settled in and went to a reading by Michael Louis Calvillo of a new short (ish) story. Michael is a very engaging reader, pacing and quick speaking, he writes well for reading. While I was at the Con I grabbed a hard copy of Michael’s book Blood and Gristle and got him to sign it, I also had the pleasure of meeting his wife. They are completely lovely and I wish I had thought to get a pic of the pair of them, hopefully some one else will have.

(Sam Stone who’s vampires don’t sparkle and do bite)

I caught up briefly with Matt Curran who sadly was suffering a cold and couldn’t make his panel on Saturday.

Went to The Bitten Word launch and got myself a copy of the book, signed by several fantastic people including Kelley Armstrong, Andrew Hook, Gary MacMahon, Sam Stone & Donna Scott.

(Jon Weir from Gollancz)

Friday evening I went to a nice little Thai restaurant with Jenni and Jon from Abbadon/Solaris, Simon Bestwick and Steve Savile which was a very entertaining evening. (Jenni was behind the camera but I got some shots of her the next night.)

After the meal Friday night settled into drinking in the bar and chatting till some ridiculous hour.

Other highlights of the day where meeting Dan Wells and the girls from Headline (pic in the next post) and MD Lachlan author of Wolfsangel which I am very pleased to have in my TBR pile (pic of Mark in the next post too).
More on WHC later including the interview with Dan Wells, the panel on Self Promotion, and GhostWatch.

Eagle Rising – David Devereux

Eagle Rising
David Devereux
Pub: Gollancz
Cover Illus:
Genre: Thriller/Paranormal
2nd in a series

I really enjoyed the first book in this series Hunter’s Moon and consequently we interviewed Dave here and where impressed by both his writerly prowess and his awesome cooking super powers.

I have been dying to get my hands on this one but with the leaning tower of TBR threatening to topple I waited till I actually saw it in store.

I love when you are really anticipating a novel and it doesn’t disappoint, this was one of those occasions where not only did it not disappoint but it kicked ass!

Jack is sent to infiltrate a secret society bent on re establishing the third reich and using magic to do it. It’s another dirty, gritty, violent ordeal for Jack and the reader, compelling and brilliant. Devereux produced an awesome british thriller with intelligence and a darkly possible paranormal offering that allows even the most cynical to be drawn in. It also has the added fun of featuring a nasty piece of work named for the very lovely Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, I really enjoyed that.

I don’t want to say too much because I am nervous of spoilers I can tell you I resented having to put this book down for things like work and sleep and talking to my husband. I loved this book, I love this series, I love Dave’s Banana Burrow Brulee recipe and I can’t wait for more from Jack, especially with the promising empire strikes backish title of the next book “turnabout”.