Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor

days of blood and starlight cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them. And its snap split the world in two.”

I liked the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, the first in this series, much more than the second half. Conversely, I took a little while to get going with this one, spending a good chunk of the first third or so thinking this was going to be a slightly disappointing middle installment. How wrong I was!

(As ever, I can’t promise a review of book 2 won’t mention something that ‘spoils’ an e.g. survival from book 1, so you might want to leave before I really get going!)

Following the catastrophic events at the end of the first book, we find Karou living a shadowy nightmare life. Akiva’s isn’t that much better, but while his pain is caused almost solely by the separation and facade of fitting back into his old life, Karou has lost just about everything. She’s back with the chimaera, but an outsider in almost every way.

For a middle book, this surprised me. There was that point where I thought ‘how is there a third novel in this series?’ and then of course the world up-ends again. Twists and turns, darkness and more darkness – this is a gripping read, once the initial tranche of new world-building and scene setting is out of the way.

We see a lot more of the chimaera here, not just glimpses of Brimstone and Issa, or flashbacks, and we also find out more about the social order of the seraphim. Both are rather satisfying.

The ending is slightly less cliff-hanger-er than the first book, but still: roll on the final installment!

Paperback: 512 pages / 84 chapters
First published: 2012
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 2
Read from 17th June – 1st July 2018

My rating: 8/10

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84K – Claire North

84k cover

“At the beginning and ending of all things…”

In the future, not too far from now, everything has a price. Crimes are paid for in cold hard cash. Caught shoplifting? Six grand might keep you out of jail. Murder? Well, that depends on the ‘value’ of the life you took. Just don’t commit fraud against the Company – there’s no paying for that.

Theo Miller knows the value of every crime, every life. That’s what he does. Until one day a face from his past disrupts his life of quiet despair. Forced to do what the rest of the country so desperately avoids – to really look at the state of society – Theo is about to make a final entry on his balance sheet.

I have mixed feelings about Claire North’s work. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August wowed me, for instance, whereas The End of The Day was a bit… hmm. This was unfortunately a bit more towards the latter, for me, with an intriguing ‘what if’ going on but the dystopia was a bit of a downer and the lit-fic style (unfinished sentences, half-thoughts) really started to irk. I got to the end still unsure how some of the switching timelines related, too.

I wouldn’t say ‘don’t read this’ – but, I think I’m not the best audience for it, at least not right now. I felt like I slogged my way through this a little, despite the fact that the writing was, as ever, very good. My biggest interest, however, was trying to figure out the inspiration: perhaps, The Handmaid’s Tale, but with the poor being treated as disposable resource rather than women – as I said, not exactly cheery.

Hardback: 452 pages / 83 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 9th-23rd June 2018

My rating: 6.5/10

The Furthest Station – Ben Aaronovitch

furthest station cover

“Jaget said he’d been watching this documentary on TV about the way people learn to track animals.”

Set between Foxglove Summer and The Hanging TreeThe Furthest Station picks up with PC Peter Grant well into his training as a… well, magician is probably not a word he’d enjoy. Practitioner? Either way, this isn’t really a starting place for the uninitiated – you’d probably still be able to enjoy the story, but the background isn’t explained in any way here.

What we do get is a curious case that soon attracts the attention of The Folly, the magical-stuff branch of the Metropolitan Police. Ghosts have been harassing people on the Metropolitan Line, and in investigating some of the cases, Peter and his boss, Nightingale, start to wonder if there’s something bigger going on…

I would have grabbed at this to read much sooner, but quite frankly the price tag for such a short tome seemed a bit steep. Hurrah for libraries! 🙂 I actually ended up enjoying this almost more than the full-length novels in the series. I liked the focus on the single plot-line, without some of the distracting diversions that creep in to the longer stories.

I also liked the reintroduction of Abigail, Peter’s far-too-curious little cousin. She was slightly forgotten in the most recent book, but actually her ongoing story should be impacting quite a lot. I do wonder if Mr Aaronovitch is struggling a little with his plot- and time-lines, as things have been jumping around a little. Perhaps more novellas like this could help fill in the gaps that are appearing? Of course, any use of magic is likely to leave gaps in the grey matter, so…! 😉

Fully recommended for fans, even if I do think charging full price for a slim volume you could easily read in a day is a little bit of a cheek. And if you’ve yet to discover the series, absolute give Rivers of London a go first! 🙂

Hardback: 118 pages / 9 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: PC Peter Grant / Rivers of London book 5.5
Read from 10th-13th June 2018

My rating: 8/10

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

daughter of smoke and bone cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

Karou’s life is anything but ordinary. From her blue hair and somewhat mysterious lack of details on her previous life, she seems perfectly suited to being a 17-year-old art student in Prague. Her sketchbooks are filled with strange creatures about whom she has myriad stories – except, while her friends assume they of course must be fiction, Karou is only telling the truth.

Raised by chimera – creatures that seem composites of other animals, such as a snake-woman, or bull-headed man – Karou still runs errands for the gruff Brimstone, generally involving meeting less-than-savoury types to purchase teeth, of all sorts and species. Quite what Brimstone does with these teeth is only one of his many mysteries, but he pays Karou in wishes. She only ever gets small wishes, though – enough for blue hair, but not flight.

Plagued by the feeling that she’s meant to be living a different existence, Karou’s lack of knowledge about herself only deepens when one day a strange man – a strange winged man – takes a sudden and intense interest in her…

Following an enjoyment of Strange the Dreamer, spotting this first book in Laini Taylor’s earlier series in the library felt like a no-brainer. And then I realised I’d read the opening chapter as a free sample before, and decided that this was perhaps a little too ‘young adult’ for me. Which bits of it are: teen romance rarely interests me. But that aside, the rest of it made me glad I gave it all a second chance.

I do like the art student lifestyle that Laini Taylor describes, and the city of Prague is made to sound amazing. The layers of mystery slowly, oh so slowly, unfold, as we discover more about the creatures who raised Karou, the other world she can only enter through doors when someone opens them from the other side, and all sorts of smokey, ancient-feeling magics and elsewhere-ness. Very atmospheric!

As we find out more, my interest did waver a little, as we end up back with the romance plot. But, still many mysteries to keep me going – including a huge cliffhanger! Thankfully the entire trilogy is available, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

Paperback: 418 pages / 60 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 1
Read from 13th-29th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

A Column of Fire – Ken Follett

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“We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral.”

Who would have thought an almost-1000 page tome about the building of a cathedral would capture the imagination of so many readers (and viewers, with the subsequent TV adaptation)? And yet, 1989’s The Pillars of the Earth did just that, and spawned a sequel, 2007’s World Without End.

For the third part in the trilogy, author Ken Follett jumps forward half a century or so. We’re still in Kingsbridge, but now in a time of religious upheaval. The Protestant faith has grown, unhappy with the hypocrisy often seen in the Catholic leadership. Henry VIII’s announcement of himself, not the Pope, as head of the church leaves England divided. His successors are his two daughters: first the Catholic Mary Tudor – known as Bloody Mary for the number of Protestants she has executed – and then Protestant Elizabeth, who’d much rather rule over a kingdom of tolerance.

Against this background, we follow Ned Willard and a cast of characters, from Kingsbridge to France, the Netherland, and even the Caribbean. Religious upheaval throughout Europe is the cause of dramas huge and small, and this book doesn’t shy away from the gory details.

Perhaps because of the change in time period, or an over-familiarity with the era in popular culture these days, I didn’t find this book as enthralling as the first or even second in the series. In fact, the opening chapter was enough to almost have me hand the book back to the library without reading any more: “Oh great,” I thought, “another ‘woman married against her will’ history. Urgh!”

I decided to give it one more go, and slowly picked my way through the rest. The writing remains strong, the dramas told well – let’s face it, holding attention for 750 (or over 900, depending on binding!) pages is no mean feat! – but still, hmm. While it didn’t work quite as well for me as the first book, but it was a nice change of pace from my more usual sci-fi and fantasy reads.

Hardback: 751 pages / 30 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Kingsbridge book 3
Read from 6th April – 5th May 2018

My rating: 7/10

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

strange the dreamer cover

“On the second Sabbat of Twelthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.”

Imagine when the name of a city disappears in an instant – not just from history or official records, but from the every mind and tongue. A few, such as orphan Lazlo Strange, are aware of the loss – he was playing at being one of the city’s fabled warriors at the time of the disappearance. This magic haunts his imagination throughout his young life, as he escapes the monastery upbringing to apprentice as a junior librarian – what a perfect life for a person with a head full of stories!

Halfway across the world, five young people live in an abandoned city. Each has a magical gift – some useful, some terrible – and all have blue skin. They are trapped by failed magic, and fear of the past, when they were the only ones to escape a cataclysm. Surrounded by ghosts, only one can ‘escape’ – by visiting the dreams of the mortals living below.

What happened all those years ago, to end the mystery of a century? What help can a rag-tag bunch of foreigners give to the fabled city of Weep? And what place does a dreaming young librarian have in either of these worlds?

This was one of those oft-recommended books that I decided to check out on a whim, and ended up completely captivating me! I absolutely loved it! Lazlo is a perfect main character for any avid reader, living as he does in stories and myths and dreams… all of which start to intrude more than a little on his reality. Twists and turns abound, and while some are guessable, the fantastical story will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next.

Massively looking forward to the sequel – and argh that I have to wait until October!

Paperback: 532 pages / 67 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Strange the Dreamer book 1
Read from 21st March – 2nd April 2018

My rating: 9/10

Places in the Darkness – Christopher Brookmyre

places in the darkness cover

“‘Consciousness Does Not Exist,’ says Mehmet.”

Ciudad de Cielo, the city in the sky, abbreviated to CdC and pronounced ‘Seedee’. And this is the story of the seedy underbelly of what is meant to be a shining beacon for humanity’s future in the stars.

We alternate chapters from the point of view of two characters: Nikki ‘Fixx’, an ex-LA cop now Seedee security and not adverse to a backhander or eight. And Alice Blake: the new head of everything, here to root out corruption, about to get her eyes opened to the true extent of the issue.

All of which would be hard enough on both women, without the skinned corpse floating in a research lab…

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. It’s a little heavy on the exposition of the sci-fi stuff, I thought, perhaps showing the author’s relative inexperience with the genre over the mystery and crime elements of the plot. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Christopher Brookmyre’s earlier work, and sci-fi is my favourite genre, so it was a little disappointing that the two didn’t gel a little better.

That said, the world that is created here is well thought out and reasonably immersive, and the eventual plot twists weren’t what I was expecting – they were better! I did think the attempts at setting red herrings along the way were a little too obvious, but when the final reveal happened I was suitably impressed.

Hardback: 403 pages / 72 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 26th February – 6th March 2018

My rating: 7/10