Review: The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood

The Unspoken Name (The Serpent Gates series) by AK Larkwood was a gift in more ways than one. Big shouty thanks to Devin Madson for the birthday present in the form of the book, and big shouty awesomeness to AK Larkwood for the joy the story brought.

It’s hard to really box The Unspoken Name into definitive genre (apart from speculative, of course). It’s fantasy, yes. Has a shit tonne of horror (no, it doesn’t quite hit grimdark as there’s hope here). It’s part sci-fi, part portal fantasy… part space opera. Sword and sorcery, It’s a touch of everything to create something unique in its unfolding.

The world-building is wonderfully done, just enough to bring the images to incredible (and sometimes terrifying) life in our heads. The focus, however, is on the characters, their relationships, the choices they make and the repercussions of those choice – both good and bad. A lot of this book is based around choices; those we think we make and those we actually do. How relationships are not always what you think they are when you peel back those layers, when you peak behind the curtain. And not for the main character – Corswe – is this the case.

Corswe is… orc-like, although it’s not stated outright, the description of her lends it credence. As does Sethennai (Corswe’s mentor/liberator/kidnapper) is of elven appearance. As is Corswe’s nemesis, Tal – I loved his interactions with Corswe. Tal is crass, snarky, belligerent to a fault, and has very little boundaries… and conscience, really. He’s such a great character, and I’ve no doubt he was a blast to write.

The Unspoken Name

Thing is, we see growth in all of the characters in the book. Sure, not all of it is good, but as we spend most of our time with Corswe, we are her cheer squad. And when she finds what she suddenly understands is love when she meets Shuthmilli. The gentle way this moves from friendship into the more romantic is everything. There’s queer-love in this book and it is wonderfully and beautifully done.

There’s so much to rave about – magic and gods and portals and dead worlds, necromancy, revenants, fight scenes, loyalty, love, sacrifice… it’s… READ THIS BOOK!

I’ve been stupidly lucky that all the books I’ve read this year have been amazing, and AK Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name is no different.

Five out of five stars, plus a bonus star for the pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book… so SIX OUT OF FIVE STARS!

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow

There are books that sneak up on you, teasing you with glimpses of the fantastique, of possibilities within possibilities, shaded with darkness and radiating light. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow is a tale that defies expectation, folds in on itself in a compelling origami, creating shapes and stories and Doors both beautiful and terrible.

I didn’t know what to expect from the book; I had little idea of the plot or the characters or the path the story would take… and that discovery as I turned each page was the best way to step through the Door Alix Harrow opened into January’s world.

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My partner, who’s had to put up with me reading to the wee hours while he’s trying to sleep, asked me what it was about. I explained it woefully of course, because words – my words – don’t do it justice. A book within a book within a book, and magic and love and adventure and Doors and self-discovery and self-belief. It breaks the fourth wall and fifth wall… and god, all the walls. It shows the good in people and the evil, the struggle of trying to find your place in the world and of the worlds. It’s knowing you’re different, that you don’t quite fit, that an in-between girl has a foot in each world but stands in none. Defiantly so.

It’s words. Not just words upon the page (although the narrative is divine) but the power of them, the way they twist and turn and shape themselves and those around them and those who gaze upon them.

January Scaller would have the right words, and they would be beautiful. It’s her story… and the story of beginnings and middles and not-quite-ends. Even thinking of it now, I’m smiling. There’s hope, even in the darkest lines of the pages, and that spark lights January’s way… with her ever-faithful dog (I love him).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January goes onto the top shelf of my bookcase, alongside other tales that will stay with me for a very long time, and each time I walk past, I will think of Doors and magical places… and oh the possibilities.

GET THIS BOOK IN YOUR EYES!

Ahem.

Eleventy stars out of five.

 

(Oh, and a special shout-out for the cover — much pretty, such sigh.)

Review: The Poison Song by Jen Williams

It’s been a while since my last review, but I entered a bit of a reading slump about halfway through Jen Williams’ The Poison Song because… well… <gestures at everything>. The upside of this is that it stopped me from leaving a world and characters I could spend forever reading.

So, in keeping with my short-arse reviews this year, I give you whiny bitch:

Why? Why is it over? Whhhhyyyyy… WHHHYYY? No, nope, na-ah <shakes head vigorously>.

Ahem.

The Poison Song

It’s damn clear I loved not only The Poison Song but the entire The Winnowing Flame trilogy (which now sits top shelf in my bookcase with other books that tore out my heart and handed it to me). Oh, how I will miss Vintage’s wit and optimism, Berne and Aldasair’s deep love, Noon’s bad-assery, and Tor being, well, Tor. The relationships between them all, and how they just make each other better without wanting to make the others better.

I could go on and on about the world-building and the divine prose, the connections between the characters and their war beasts, but I could never do it justice. Read this trilogy, like go right now and buy them, order them from your library… whatever you need to do to get it in your eyes.

I will miss hanging out with Tor and Noon and Vintage and Aldasair and Berne, and what I wouldn’t give to see Kirune, Vostock, Helcate, Jessen and Sharrik soaring through a Sydney sky (Jure’lia notwithstanding, of course).

Eleventy-hundred stars out of five.

Why are you still here? Go. Buy. The. Books. G’orn, get.

Review: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

There’s a lot to be said about book recommendations from friends, they know your reading habits, but they also know when you need a change of pace, a change of genre, and something they know you’ll enjoy because the writing and the story are just so damn good. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch hit all those marks for me.

In keeping with my short-arse reviews, let’s get to this!

It’s part police-procedural, part murder-mystery, a whole lot of magic and mythos, and violence and horror and humour. And ghosts. And demi-gods. And whole other worlds that exist on the edges of this one. Sometimes those worlds overlap, and this is where the main character, Constable Peter Grant comes in. Drawn into this world of ghosts and gods and ghoulies, where magic is a stalwart, Grant comes at it with science, practicality, and sometimes just pure dumb luck. His partner in crime (or former partner), Lesley May, creates good balance when it comes to how the two tackle the serial murders and general brou-ha-ha they find themselves entangled in. And Grant’s mentor, Thomas Nightingale (and his secret society) is a bit of a stubborn enigma, but his teaching habits seem to work. They make for quite the trio.

The characters are great, and the friendships developed throughout set this up really well for the next books in the series. There’s a lot going on, but Aaronovitch layers this world and its characters with enough information for you to connect with its players while leaving just enough unexplored to want you coming back for more.

Rivers of London

The mythos surrounding the rivers of London, and how it all links together in control of the rivers and lakes and ponds and even the sewers was masterfully done. And the horror that woven through it was right up my alley. Add in the humour peppered throughout, and I was hooked.

Those familiar with London are surely going to love all the references within, and while I am unfamiliar with the ins and outs, I never once felt lost. This book was a whole lotta fun, and while the main plot was tied up nicely, there are threads definitely being explored in future books (there are eight so far).

Rivers of London wasn’t ever on my radar, but I’m damn chuffed it was put there. I enjoyed this immensely, and very much looking forward to the next in the series.

Review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

Right, so I’m a touch behind on my book reviews, but… well, it’s not like the Greek mythos is going anywhere… Ahem.

Sooo long time reader of Greek mythology, first time reviewer… not of the mythos as a whole, but the Mythos that is the book from Stephen Fry. As you can no doubt guess, Fry delves into all that is the Greek myths that most of us probably have more than an inkling of understanding, and as someone who adores the mythology from a wide variety of cultures (here and gone), this was right up my alley. Add in the cleverness and wit that is Stephen Fry and Mythos was a delight.

Fry takes the gods and demi-gods with all the foibles and their strengths to create a vivid retelling of some of the stories that I’ve come to know and love. There’re monsters and mortals and mayhem – just the way mythos should be. What sets this apart from other bland mythos retellings (I’m looking at you Neil Gaiman), is you can see the love and enthusiasm Fry has for the mythology. Also, I swear I read this in his voice.

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All the players are here: Gaia, Cronos, Zeus, Hera, Hermes, Hades, Persephone, Demeter, the Muses… it’s quite the list! The births and deaths and the oh-so-much sex are given a contemporary flourish and humorous bent that only Fry could pull off (yes, I see it, let it go…). He makes them relatable, makes them, well, I guess you could say ‘human’, and that always been the joy of the Greek gods and goddesses — they are who they are and you just need to deal.

One of the things I most loved about the book were the footnotes. Fry’s love of language shines through here, and the footnotes show the birth of words into our common lexicon – word nerd’s delight!

Highly recommended.

Heroes is the next Fry instalment, and I plan to hit that later in the year.

Oh, and the covers are all the pretty, too.

Review: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

I am not a boat person. Or a ship person for that matter. My gut doesn’t agree with the waves other than to paint them with some technicolour. I am irrationally rational about my fear of the beasties that live in the deep. But I would walk the fucking slate with Joron Twiner and Lucky Meas.

The worldbuilding in The Bone Ships is spectacular, and those that inhabit not just the cruel seas but Tide Child are a cut above… a cut above a jib (take that seafaring lingo!). The bone ships in The Bone Ships are literal ships made of bone – sea dragon bone. And while most are of glorious white, lit by corpselights, and the pride of The Hundred Isles, we sail with Joron and Meas on a black ship. A death ship where all onboard have been condemned, they just await the Hag’s justice, their fate as black as the bones that make up Tide Child.

I’ve decided that all my book reviews will be short this year, because time and poor and all that jazz. But I can’t go past making special mention of the gullaime, the bird-like creature who commands the winds. It was a stand-out for me, but more so the friendship it develops with Joron. The characters make this book, and they are as different as they are wonderful and awful and sad and hopeful. The battles are hard and desperate, but the characters who walk the slate of Tide Child, truly do make this book. From Farys to Solemn Maffaz, Mevans and the Courser, the gullaime and Garriya.

 

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I loved this story, and cannot wait for the next in the series. RJ Barker has created a vivid, atmospheric world and peoples that are rich in their layering and resonate in their being. There’s a little bit of us in all of them.

Special shout out for that cover, too. Swanky AF.

(Small mention re the language and created words in the book; I’ve seen some people balk at this, but I had no trouble with it at all — they were close enough in spelling, and context really is everything, ey?) 

Authors for Fireys

Unless you’ve been living under a rock of late (and more power to you if so), you’ll have noticed that Australia, especially the east coast, is suffering through a firestorm that has killed 23 people, burned 8.4million hectares, destroyed more than 1700 homes and incinerated over half a billion native wildlife. When we use the word catastrophic, it’s not hyperbole. Our sky has appeared apocalyptic, and the smoke has travelled over to New Zealand, staining their snowy peaks (sorry, my wonderful Kiwis).

Through it all, our fireys have been fighting this growing firefront for months, and this past week has seen the worst of it… so far. A perfect storm of sky-high temps, dry air, strong winds, and land that hasn’t seen rain in months or longer (tinder-dry). Our volunteer fireys are working day and night, and some with equipment that doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to what they’re facing — the heat, the smoke, the embers. These amazing men and women fight fires without pay, putting their lives at risk to save people and wildlife and homes — three volunteer fireys have died doing so, leaving young families behind.

Our government, especially on the Federal front, are a bunch of climate-change-denying asshats (don’t get me started on the waste of space that is our PM), and while they’ve finally agreed to financially compensate our volunteer fireys, there’s so much more that is needed.

Enter, Authors for Fireys. This is an auction from creatives that is running on Twitter, where you bid on specific offers with all proceeds going to the CFA (Country Fire Authority). There are some truly wonderful things on offer: signed books, limited books, being tuckerised in upcoming books; there are props and scripts, cartoon panels, creative consults, library research, handmade bookmarks, manuscript assessments… and cakes. Yes, cake, for those based in Melbourne — they’re amazing cakes!

The auction is running for a week (until January 11).

How it works: Use the Twitter hashtag #AuthorsForFireys to see what’s on offer and what appeals to you. Each creative runs their own auction from their tweet, and bids are made in the replies. Highest bidder wins. Once the auction is over, the winner will be asked to donate directly to the CFA — proof of donation is required. All donations are in Australian dollars.

Is it endorsed? Yes, head to this website for the details. The CFA have been informed of the auction and have given their permission to proceed.

So check out #AuthorsForFireys and see where you can help.

You can also make donations directly to the many volunteer firefighter associations (CFA, RFS etc), as well as the numerous animal welfare/sanctuaries assisting with saving our native fauna.

Every little bit helps, and every donation is so very much appreciated by all who call this part of our planet, home.

 

Firey

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