This brilliantly crafted narrative – part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Torro, part William Burroughs – follows the boys from their star-crossed adolescences to their haunted adulthoods. Cargill’s tour-de-force takes us inside the Limestone Kingdom, a parallel universe where whisky swilling genies and foul mouthed wizards argue over the state of the metaphysical realm. Having left the spirit world and returned to the human world, Ewan and Colby discover that the creatures from this previous life have not forgotten them, and that fate can never be sidestepped.
If you follow my blog at all then you probably already know I am always taken in by a beautiful book cover, and Dreams and Shadows is no exception here. Featuring all kinds of mythical creatures and oddities, I knew this would be a book for me, and I certainly wasn’t wrong!
In all fairness, it did take me a little while to get into this book, mainly because from the opening pages you are introduced to a number of different mythical creatures that I had never heard of, and found a little hard to imagine. At first the chapters alternate between the story, and excerpts from a book about fairies and all their folklore, which I found a little jarring at times, and I’m still not sure if these excerpts were completely necessary or essential to the story as a whole. It soon interrupts the flow and pace of the story, but if you can hang on and persevere, these excerpts do come to an end, and you will find yourself fully immersed in this stunning world Cargill has created.
A lot of reviewers have been likening Cargill to Neil Gaiman, and yes I can see where they’re coming from, and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending this book to Gaiman fans, but I do think it’s important to say that Cargill has definitely made this novel his own, and has his own distinctive style and voice. I absolutely loved all the different types of fairies explored here, and the way they’re depicted in their truer colours – as not particularly nice beings most of the time. Cargill introduces you to the likes of the redcaps, (small fairies who must kill in order to keep their hats red and wet with blood to give them energy or they will die) nixies (water spirits ready to drown you in an instant) the Leanan Sidhe (beautiful women who take humans as lovers), and of course the almost faithful djinn (otherwise known as a genie). This is just a taster of what’s explored throughout, and you can see just how creative Cargill has been here.
You may think a novel about fairies would be pretty tame in the grand scheme of things, but make no mistake, Cargill does not hold back on his violence here. There are some rather gruesome scenes when creatures from hell come to play, making this definitely not a story for the faint of heart, or younger readers. This is not your average bed time fairy tale.
I’m really impressed with Cargill’s debut novel, and I literally can’t wait for its release so I can get recommending it to people. Dreams and Shadows surprised me in every way, and although the story leaves you satisfied with an ending, there is definitely a not-so-subtle hint that there is more to come from some of these characters, and I’m really excited to see what Cargill will write next!
Dreams and Shadows is released on 28th February, published by Gollancz. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with an early review copy.
Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.
Hattie’s is a tale of strength, of resilience and heartbreak that spans six decades. Her American dream is shattered time and again: a husband who lies and cheats and nine children raised in a cramped little house that was only ever supposed to be temporary.
She keeps the children alive with sheer will and not an ounce of the affection they crave. She knows they don’t think her a kind woman – but how could they understand that all the love she had was used up in feeding them and clothing them.
How do you prepare your children for a world you know is cruel?
You may have heard of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie already, what with the rave reviews its already garnered from various journalists and writers, and I can honestly say; quite deservedly so. I can’t say I normally listen out for Oprah Winfrey’s book recommendations, but if this novel is anything to go by, I may have to start paying a little more attention.
What struck me from the very first page is the wonderful quality of writing that shines through an otherwise heart-breaking story. For a debut novelist, Ayana Mathis couldn’t have done more to grab my attention with the way she artistically weaves her words together to create sentences that resonate all the way through you. I found myself reading the novel rather slowly, just savouring each word and taking it all in, not letting anything slip through my concentration, and it’s not often I find a book that I can do this with.
I was almost surprised to find some rather negative reviews online, particularly regarding the narrative style of the book. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different child of Hattie’s each time, and in a different year. In fact the whole novel spans from 1925 to 1980, and I thought this gave you not only a great glimpse into the whole of Hattie’s family, but also into how America changes throughout those years. However, other reads seem to have found it a rather disjointed narrative, meaning you get little of Hattie’s character as you would have liked. For me, each child took me back to Hattie and the hardships life dealt her. Everyone is connected and for me this style was a wonderful way to see how each child becomes their own person in a very large family, and how Hattie loves each one of them differently, but no less. The novel deals with everything from love, death, racial conflict, homosexuality, suicide and alcoholism, and it’s easy to see how decisions early in life can still make their presence known generations down the line.
If I could criticise this novel in any way it would only be to say that I felt the last few chapters, set in 80s America, felt a little less meaningful than the rest of the novel. They were still well written, but not quite up to the high standards presented earlier in the book.
I really adored this book. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new literary voice in their lives, and for a beautifully written story with more heart than anything I’ve read in a long time. Trust me when I say Ayana Mathis is definitely an author to look out for.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is out now, published by Hutchinson. A massive thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
- The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis: review (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis – review (guardian.co.uk)
The Investigator is despatched to a provincial town to investigate a disturbing spate of suicides amongst the employees of The Firm. But from the moment he steps off the train, he finds that everything is against him, from the hostile weather to the town’s bewildering inhabitants. Cold, hungry and humiliated, always one step behind, he finds himself in a recurring nightmare that waking cannot break. And yet his resolve never falters: he remains determined to find the only man he can hold to account – The Firm’s legendary but elusive founder.
I became a big fan of French writer Philippe Claudel back in 2010 after reading the wonderful Monsieur Linh and His Child. The first thing that struck me about his latest novel, The Investigation, was how incredibly different it sounded to his previous work, but also how deliciously intriguing it appeared to be, and I can now safely say that my first thoughts definitely did not deceive…
This is a rather difficult novel to review in some aspects, because despite how inconceivably brilliant it was, I still can’t really tell you what the hell actually happened. All we know is that a man who calls himself the investigator turns up to an unnamed town to investigate a number of suicides that occur amongst the employees of a place known as The Firm. At first he has a slightly hard time even getting to The Firm as everything you could possibly imagine getting in his way, did, and I mean from the plausible to the downright ridiculous. In fact, some of it is a little laugh-out-loud funny. But it never feels so ridiculous that you feel like you should stop reading. In fact, Claudel’s masterful writing pulls you in and leaves you dangling on a thread, tempting you with the answer to what’s really going on here, and you’re left turning page after page; desperate to get there. I’m not going to tell you how it all comes to an end, because frankly the journey there is what makes this novel so unique in a way I’ve never encountered before. Everything the investigator encounters may seem ridiculous at first, but once you delve deeper, you soon realise that everything you thought about this book may be wrong. Who is the investigator? Who is The Firm? It’s not long before the investigator begins to doubt his whole existence, and you’re right there with him experiencing it in the most unsettling fashion.
The Investigation is a dark, haunted, twisted novel that will intrigue you perhaps more than any other novel you read this year. It will make you think about the world and everyone around you in a whole new light, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be left gasping after the last page just trying to figure out what it is you’ve just read. Of course, if you’re a lot smarter I’m sure you’ll have some intelligent well-thought-out answer ready to hand. I would love to see this as a film one day, one of those low-budget indie films that can really examine the depths of this deceptively simple story. If you love a book that makes you feel unsettled to your very core and leaves you with more questions than answers then this is definitely a book for you, and one I’d highly recommend.
The Investigation is out now, published by MacLehose Press, an imprint of Quercus. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
- The Investigation by Philippe Claudel: review (telegraph.co.uk)
When journalist Cormac Easton is selected to document the first manned mission into deep space, he dreams of securing his place in history as one of humanity’s great explorers.
But in space, nothing goes according to plan.
The crew wake from hypersleep to discover their captain dead in his allegedly fail-proof safety pod. They mourn, and Cormac sends a beautifully written eulogy back to Earth. The word from ground control is unequivocal: no matter what happens, the mission must continue.
But as the body count begins to rise, Cormac finds himself alone and spiralling towards his own inevitable death … unless he can do something to stop it.
Despite trying and failing to read James Smythe’s previous novel, The Testimony, last year, I still really wanted to read The Explorer as soon as I heard about it. Space has always been a subject that fascinates me so I couldn’t say no to reviewing it, and for the most part, I’m glad I didn’t.
I started off somewhat hesitant, unsure as to whether or not I’d like it considering I didn’t get on so well with The Testimony, but what I remember most about that book is that despite all the reasons that I found for not finishing it, I can still respect James as a writer with some truly intriguing ideas. The Explorer is certainly no exception here. If there’s one thing it excels in, it’s within James’s ideas.
The idea of a space mission gone wrong isn’t exactly original, and you may even read the blurb and expect something of the sort, but nothing could possibly prepare you for the bizarre twists it takes along the way. I can’t say too much for fear of ruining it for potential readers, but it does leave you in slight awe for how even James could get his head around his own ideas, let alone us readers. You know from the blurb that this journalist, Cormac, embarks on a space mission with a crew of astronauts who one by one, begin to die. But James is exceedingly clever here, his twist allows him to explore the circumstances of each death in a way I’ve never seen done before. It’s an unsettling and claustrophobic read but you will get to a point where it becomes so intense that you can’t quite put it down. The feeling of loneliness, and complete and utter hopelessness pervades every scene in the book, and I ended up feeling terrified for this little band of people, and in particular, Cormac, who willingly embark on this journey to realise their dreams, to become nothing short of unforgettable. Sadly, they have little idea as to what awaits them, and the fact that you as a reader know this, is almost unbearable.
But despite all the wonderful ideas and themes explored, it’s not without its flaws. To begin with I started to remember what it was I didn’t like so much about The Testimony. The style of writing often feels very journalistic in a way that becomes a little irritating within a novel. Now obviously the story does revolve around a journalist, so I tried to see past it, but there really is something about his style that doesn’t quite agree with me. Like The Testimony there is also a tremendous amount of repetition that had me skim-reading for a few pages here and there just trying to get to the good stuff. There was an awful lot of flashbacks to Cormac’s past involving his wife, and I grew really, really tired of these, and felt there were far too many of them. I can understand that the story needed fleshing out a little, but I would have liked to have seen a little more space exploration rather than character exploration.
A fellow blogger told me that the ending blew him away, and I suddenly became very excited to see where this bizarre story would end and what Cormac’s fate would ultimately be. Sadly I felt nothing but frustrated by the ending, and wondered what I’d missed. I even re-read the last page just to be sure. There is a definite lack of answers and I couldn’t help but feel slightly short-changed.
Having got over most of the frustration, I am now able to look back on The Explorer and think of it as a gripping read with some great, yet bizarre ideas, that worked for the most part but failed in others. I would have even rated this four out of five if it wasn’t for the really frustrating ending. In a strange sort of way, James excites me as an author and there’s no doubt that his ideas intrigue me. I feel like he could write something really ground-breaking one day, but I have yet to say I’ve read anything of his that I’ve really enjoyed. Almost, but not quite.
The Explorer is out now, published by Harper Voyager. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.
- The Explorer by James Smythe – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Outside Space and Time: The Explorer by James Smythe (tor.com)
In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo.
Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies.
To live, you must follow the rules. But some don’t. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism.
Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside.
Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.
You may have heard of Wool already, with it already being touted as the next self-publishing phenomenon following Fifty Shades of Grey, with some articles even questioning whether science fiction is the new erotica. Wool was in fact originally self-published by Howey as a short story back in 2011, but due to its popularity he soon expanded it into a story of five parts, now published for the first time as one volume. As soon as I read the synopsis of Wool and saw its beautiful new cover, I knew this was a book for me.
With one of my colleagues absolutely loving it, and another failing to finish it, I was slightly anxious to begin and see where my own opinion would lie, and as is typical of me, I fell somewhere in between. I found Howey’s ideas of people living as a community in an underground silo, unable to go out into the deadly atmosphere of the world, really intriguing. This is where self-publishing often triumphs; and without such a tool we, as readers, would fail to come across some really great ideas, but without the help of the crucial editor, the writing can often fail to deliver those ideas in a way that lives up to its potential. I think this is probably what has happened here. Howey’s writing isn’t awful by all means, at times it’s very good, but there are a lot of pacing issues and I can’t help but feel that this novel seems like more of a character study than a sci-fi epic. The world needed developing as much as its characters, and unfortunately it never quite got there for me.
The other issue is of course that you can’t help but see it as a short story turned novel. The first ‘part’ feels like a very tight and concisely written story, and the following parts feel like they have a fair bit of padding that slows the pace right down.
Now I don’t mean to put a complete downer on this debut. All issues aside, it is a very entertaining read that had me turning page after page, desperate to find out what would happn next, who would survive and who would die. Like I said, there are some really intriguing ideas here, and perhaps the most important of all is why they are in an underground silo in the first place. I’m not going to ruin it for you of course, but I do love the way Howey slowly teases you with the answers. Lots of other reviewers have questioned the believability of it all, whether certain things would make scientific sense or not, but quite frankly I never care much for these sorts of questions. If the author can make a piece of fiction plausible, then I’m willing to believe it, and I could certainly believe in the world Howey has created here.
If apocalyptic sci-fi is your thing, and you’re looking for an entertaining read that will take you on a journey with some great characters then please do read Wool. The ideas are brilliant, but the execution could’ve used an extra helping hand. Everything is there on the page to make this a truly great sci-fi novel, I just can’t help but wish the editor took it into their own hands and gave it the make-over it needs. Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing what Hugh Howey comes out with next.
Wool is out on the 17th January, published by Century. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
- Wool by Hugh Howey – review (guardian.co.uk)
Ezekiel Blue’s father committed a crime, unleashing a deadly menace into steampowered Seattle. And his bereaved family has paid the price. Now, Ezekiel is determined to clear his father’s name, risking death and the undead in the attempt. Sixteen years ago, as the American Civil War dawned, gold brought hordes to the frozen Klondike. Fanatical in their greed, Russian prospectors commissioned Dr Leviticus Blue to create a great machine, to mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine was born. But the Boneshaker went awry, destroying downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas. Anyone who breathed its fumes turning into the living dead. The devastated city is now walled in to contain the blight. But unknown to Briar, his widowed mother, Ezekiel is going in. His quest will take him into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.
Winner of the Locus Award in 2010 for Best Science Fiction Novel, Boneshaker and the rest of the Clockwork Century books are a series I’ve wanted to read for some time now. With it just being published in the UK by Tor at long last, I jumped at the chance to review it! After all, you can’t really go wrong with steampunk and zombies, can you?
For the first 100 pages or so, I absolutely loved this book. I was completely sucked into this world Priest had created; one absolutely decimated by a machine called the Boneshaker which unearthed a deadly gas across Seattle. After a giant wall was built to contain the gas, the people are now left living on the outskirts, including Ezekiel and his mother Briar; the son and wife of the man who created the Boneshaker. But Ezekiel is on a mission to prove his innocence and he begins an adventure inside the walled town to find their old house where the machine was made in the first place. I have to admit, Ezekiel quickly became a bit of an annoying and slightly tame character who I slowly lost patience with. The best character for me was without a doubt his mother, Briar, who goes on a hunt to find him and bring him home. The book is split into alternating chapters between the two characters, and although it’s obviously a good tactic to keep up with both characters on their separate journeys, sometimes it felt a little too repetitive, and you never really get enough time to get hooked into either with the constant going back and forth.
As I read on, I began to feel that Priest had created a fantastic world here, with some really great characters; particularly those who Briar meets along the way, and she has designed all the tropes here for a really great adventure story. The sad fact is, it somehow lacks the adventure part. For most of the novel you’re either following Ezekiel through the underground passages with the constant worry that he will run out of air with his mask on, and be forced to breathe in the deadly gas, and then watch him as he runs from one pack of zombies to the next, or you’re following Briar doing pretty much the exact same thing. There wasn’t enough going on to make it a really great read for my liking, and I began to wonder exactly why it was nominated for so many awards.
So to sum up, I found Boneshaker to be a good read, but not a great one. I expected much more from a Locus Award Winner, and with such an exciting premise I expected a lot more adventure! However, I did enjoy the world Priest created and I will be reading the second in the Clockwork Century series, but I have to say this is only because I know it follows a completely different set of characters. If it was continuing with Ezekiel and Briar, I probably wouldn’t continue with it. I really do have high hopes for the second novel, and I only hope Priest delivers as much as she promises.
Boneshaker is out now, published by Tor, and a big thank you goes to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.
The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.
Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.
In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.
He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.
At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.
Shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, The Lighthouse is one of those books I probably would never have picked up if it wasn’t for all the hype surrounding it. There seemed to be an explosion of tweets raving about this novel published by indie publisher Salt, after it’s Man Booker nomination, and I thought it was about time I discovered what all the fuss was about.
If I’m honest, the blurb does very little for me. Like I said, it’s not the sort of story that appeals to me, and it’s not something I would have picked up. But as soon as you read the first couple of pages it’s easy to see why it was considered for such a prestigious award. Alison Moore’s writing is brimming with talent and a heartfelt depth I have only come across a handful of times. She creates such an overwhelming sense of suspense and dread that you can’t help but be drawn into the life of Futh, and this journey he is embarking upon. You know from the beginning that this is not going to be a story with a happy ending; that something sinister is going to occur. My main gripe is that about half way through the novel, it’s fairly easy to see how it’s all going to end, and when it finally happens, it becomes a bit of a damp squib.
For me, The Lighthouse is a brilliantly written novel, but not one without its flaws. If you’re going to build up so much suspense, then it should at least be built up towards something you don’t see coming. However, I am glad I’ve finally got around to reading it, and I will certainly be looking out for future publications from Alison Moore. The Lighthouse is almost certainly not a novel for everyone, but if you enjoy quiet, suspenseful novels full of reminiscing and ponderings on life, then this is a novel for you. If you like fast-paced, gritty adventures then this probably won’t be your cup of tea! However, like I said this isn’t a book I would have chosen to pick up, and yet I still enjoyed it and that’s all in testament to the quality of Moore’s writing.
The Lighthouse is out now, published by Salt Publishing.