[reading] What have you read recently? (continued)

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
Reading as I'm getting back into Numenera in a big way and this series was listed as being one of the key influences.
Incidentally, also found out that Gene Wolfe was an engineer and helped design the machine that cooks Pringles. I wonder if that features somewhere - eating lots of Pringles could be construed as a form of torture!
Miles Cameron Age of Bronze

1: Against All Gods

I enjoyed this. A fun mash-up of Bronze Age mythologies set in a world which appears to be the Eastern Mediterranean writ small. The gods are fighting amongst themselves and the disparate characters are being manipulated by some rebels against the ruling pantheon.

What I am seeing is the current pantheon is based on Sumerian or Babylonean deities and are literally monstrous. They may well be aliens and the world an alien planet. I'm also picking up on Hesiod's Theogeny as well as Zelazny's Lord of Light, and other creation myths. It's interesting to see the Hittite elements too.


2. Storming Heaven

A free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Having escaped the destruction of the Thera/Delos analogue (which was the seat of the previous pantheon deposed by the current bunch), our heroes split into 2 bands. One band heads to the Egypt analogue meeting up with the Tiamat analogue (released by the eruption) on the way, and then end up raiding the seat of the current pantheon. They liberate an insectoid hive enslaved by the pantheon to produce resin - which is used to create ambrosia to power themselves.

The second band travels to the North to find more sky metal - which is poisonous to the gods. Here we find an Aztec culture and possibly a Norse culture (maybe a sub-Arctic shamistic culture?)

I'm actually enjoying this a lot, although I think adding the New World cultures into the mix may be a bit too much of a stretch. The fight scenes are believable (not surprising as Cameron is a re-enactor), and despite the cinematic plot, it does not read like a script (as many novels do seem to now). Hesiod is coming through more strongly - I'm ashamed to say I didn't quite pick up on that for a while; at least 3 of the characters may be proto-Olympians.

Recommended, and I'm eagerly waiting for book 3.
More reading accomplished:

The She by Terry Grimwood
A free copy from LTER in exchange for an honest review. A collection of horror-adjacent short fiction from Terry Grimwood. As with many anthologies, it's a mixed bag; I thought the WWII stories the strongest. The other stories were less memorable. As the WWII stories were first and seemed thematically linked, I initially thought that would be the anthology's premise, but sadly the other stories didn't follow on. I would have liked to see more in that line. Recommended for the WWII stories.

Starter Villain byJohn Scalzi
A free eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Charlie Fitzer, after a divorce returns to his hometown to care for his father. Staying in the family home after his father's death, he is being pressured to move out by his half-siblings so the house can be sold. He'd like to stay on, buy them out and take over a tavern; but this will take a couple of million dollars and Charlie is penniless.

The story starts when Charlie is asked to officiate at his uncle's funeral. Starting with the viewing, the funeral becomes surreal when various heavies don't quite believe Charlie's uncle is dead - apparently, he had faked his death before. After the funeral, Charlie is saved by his cat when his house blows up; the cat then inducts Charlie into his uncle's business: villainry, James Bond style, complete with a Caribbean lair on a volcanic island. Hijinks ensue as Charlie gets his head around the lifestyle before ultimately deciding that the life of a villain is not for him.

Fun, but light. Recommended.

LimeKiller! by Avram Davidson
Fun historical fantasy/magical realism anthology set in a version of British Honduras where Davidson lived in the 1960s.

Jack Limekiller is a Canadian fleeing the snowy north to the balmy Caribbean settling in British Hidalgo, where he becomes something of a beach bum and the owner of a charter boat.

The 6 stories document his life there from shortly after his arrival as he settles into the local way of life, meeting various people and encountering what may (or may not) be the local supernatural. An elegy to a lost way of life, the stories have a great deal of charm and are unmistakably written by Davidson, mixing the real and the unreal to form a seamless whole.


Talonsister by Jen Williams
An eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

An alternate European setting with a strong feel of 2000AD and Warhammer FRP. The book covered 3 storylines: that of the eponymous eponymous Talonsister, a child raised by griffins in the equivalent of Scotland, a former Imperial supersoldier sent to one of the last independent areas (the equivalent to Wales and England), and an Imperial assassin and his protegee escorting an alchemist to investigate a forbidden ruin.

The 3 storylines are linked; the Empire's conquests are powered by titan bones: griffins and the great bear in the England equivalent are the last remaining titans, and the Empire is running out of titanbone to create their supersoldiers.

I quite liked the story, although I thought perhaps the 3 linked stories in one book might have been a bit too much. The ending seemed a bit abrupt too - I presume the story will be continued.

OK - I'll probably read any sequel when it comes out.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
A slow burn story set in a Renaissance-Italy equivalent in the same world as The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Sarentine Mosaic. The story actually references The Sarentine Mosaic at points. Broad in scope, the action travels from the equivalent of Venice to post-Asharite conquest Sarentium, crossing the equivalent of the Balkans, and covers the guerilla fighting of a Skanderbeg-equivalent. Part of the story features the painting of a portrait of the Sultan by a Western painter - which actually happened in our world when Gentile Bellini was sent by Venice to paint Sultan Mehmet II.

It was interesting to see the real-world parallels, but the writing was somewhat introspective being often focussing on the characters' internal thoughts rather than their external actions.


All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
Another story set in and around Batiara.

Still very introspective, the story focusses on a Kindath and Jaddite captain and co-owners of a corsair ship. Commissioned by the equivalent of our world's Redbeard to assassinate the ruler of a 'Magrebi' city, the story follows their subsequent careers.

I did feel the story featured rather too much introspection, but it was still a good read.


The Dominion of the Fallen series by Aliette de Bodard
The 3 novels of the Dominion of the Fallen series:

  1. The House of Shattered Wings
  2. The House of Binding Thorns
  3. The House of Sundering Flames

Plus the short stories:

Of Books, and Earth, and Courtship
In Morningstar's Shadow
Court of Birth, Court of Strength
Children of Thorns, Children of Water

The series is set in an alternate universe where the fallen angels have fallen to Earth not to Hell - although it could be construed that by landing on Earth, Earth is now Hell. It certainly seems that way to the mortal inhabitants. All the novels and short stories are set in Paris which is ruled by various Fallen Houses; we see House Silverspires ruled initially by Morningstar then Selene, House Hawthorn ruled by Asmoedeus, House Harrier ruled by Guy and his consort Andrea, and various minor houses. Additionally, unbeknownst to the houses initially, there is a dragon kingdom beneath the Seine, and various gangs and Houseless areas, plus other Immortals.

The thread throughout the series is the appalling suffering inflicted by the Fallen on humanity; not necessarily through sadism and direct action, but most frequently the wars between the Fallen affect humanity as fallout - humans can't stand up to the Fallen directly, and Fallen magic has turned Paris (and the world) into a toxic wasteland, scarred by the fighting and poisoned by magic. So in a way, the series is also about surviving the unthinkable and what choices have to be made to ensure survival - if possible.

The Fallen themselves are depicted as human monsters: rarely do they show empathy to their human subjects, seeing them more as resources to be used. This conflicts with their overriding desire to return to the Heavenly City where they once dwelt. If they have been cast out to seek redemption, they are thus doomed to fail.

Humans do their best to survive in a ruined and toxic world; if they are lucky (in some respects) they become part of a House, serving the Fallen. Unhoused humans often end up in the gangs hunting the newly Fallen to murder them and strip their corpses to sell as alchemical ingredients. Alternatively, they become part of a human enclave like the Annamite (Vietnamese) enclave which also includes Maghrebi and Senegalese. The French colonies were used for troops in the Great War and the few survivors remained in Paris. This why there is an isolationist dragon kingdom in the Seine along with some Immortals living in Paris.

Overall, the series is about colonialism: the Fallen are in effect colonisers with little or no desire to understand the colonised. The colonised variously survive, cooperate with, ignore or strike back at the colonisers. Love does bloom in the stories; rarely though does it redeem.

So, what did I think of the books and stories? Well written, thought-provoking and something to read slowly not devour. The slow reading is partly because of the large cast and partly because of the non-Western background of many characters. What may help is a character list noting House affiliation for the Fallen and humans, titles, honourifics and nicknames for the Annanmese and dragon kingdom characters, and a map of Paris showing the House territories.

Recommended, but take your time over reading them.

The Inaccessibility of Heaven by Aliette de Bodard
At first glance, this is part of the Dominion of the Fallen series, but actually isn't. It's probably set in the same world, but appears to be very much further in the future, featuring skyscrapers and computers. It does not share the Parisian setting either.

A witch teams with a human and a Fallen to investigate a series of murders.

I thought it a bit weak, especially on the world-building - if the world has been comprehensively trashed by the Fallen and their wars over several centuries, how did humanity develop a technological society? The post-Edwardian apocalyptic setting of the main series works better in that respect as it suggests the Fall was more recent.

The Dragon and the Unicorn by AA Attanasio
Did not finish.

An appallingly badly written book complete with purple prose with very odd styling.

It seem to be a retelling of the Matter of Britain but I couldn't stomach it.

The Glasshouse by Emma Coleman (Polestars 3)

A free copy from LTER in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of rural British grimdark stories, mainly set in the Midlands. Not normally my cup of tea, I prefer more upbeat stories. These range from dark fantasy to horror, and generally are downbeat. I preferred the stories that were based in rural folklore to the more overtly horrorific stories. All were well written.

Recommended but be warned some of the stories are a bit on the gory side.


The Guvnor
Staff member
The Glasshouse by Emma Coleman (Polestars 3)

A free copy from LTER in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of rural British grimdark stories, mainly set in the Midlands. Not normally my cup of tea, I prefer more upbeat stories. These range from dark fantasy to horror, and generally are downbeat. I preferred the stories that were based in rural folklore to the more overtly horrorific stories. All were well written.

Recommended but be warned some of the stories are a bit on the gory side.
What is LTER?
LibraryThing Early Reviewers. It's a programme run by LT whereby small press publishers and self-published authors give away free copies of books in exchange for reviews. Most of what I get these days is Newcon Press releases, occasionally Book View Cafe, otherwise it's mostly YA fiction in the SFF category, which I avoid.

Netgalley is similar but that is generally major publishers. Titan Books releases through Netgalley, otherwise it's mostly big 5 imprints.
A couple of books by Yangsze Choo:

The Night Tiger

This has been sitting in my TBR pile for over a year. It's historical fiction set in 1930s Malaysia with supernatural overtones. An old expat doctor dies and charges his young houseboy Ren to retrieve his amputated finger so it can be buried in his grave so he doesn't become a hungry ghost. Jin, a young girl working as a 'dance instructor' finds a preserved finger in a bottle while dancing with a man; he later dies. Her step twin brother Shin works at the hospital where the houseboy's new employer William is employed. The houseboy, the young girl, her step twin and the doctor are linked: they all have as part of their name one of the 5 Confucian virtues. The fifth virtue is the houseboy's deceased twin brother Yi.

Woven around this is a man-eating tiger - who may be the old doctor in the process of transforming into a hungry ghost. Complicating matters is a member of the fishing fleet - Lydia, who has her sights set on William. She, like William, is identified as Li.

A very good supernatural mystery. I'm reminded of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries; traditional Chinese detective stories had strong supernatural elements in an otherwise realistic plot.


The Fox Wife

A free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is more overtly supernatural in tone. Set in Northern China in the early 1900s, a young woman is seeking revenge for the murder of her daughter. Travelling to find those responsible, she becomes the maid servant to an elderly lady. Her grandson is involved with a revolutionary society. A detective who hears lies is investigating some mysterious deaths. All are linked by fox spirits; the young woman, the leader of the revolutionaries and an author are the fox spirits. The elderly lady was rescued by a fox spirit when a child, the detective was healed by a fox spirit when he was a child. He and the elderly lady were playmates. The elderly lady's family are under a curse. All these elements are woven into a charming story.

I very much enjoyed the deft weaving of past and present; the impulsive fox spirit trying to be good but being led astray by her desire for revenge, the amoral fox spirit preying on the would-be revolutionaries, the author trying to save his wife from her quest for revenge. All is set right, but not without deaths. The fox spirit couple are reconciled, and the detective and the elderly lady are rekindling their young love.

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The Guvnor
Staff member
The Birds and Other Stories
Daphne Du Maurier
A complimentary copy from NetGalley in exchange for a genuine review.

I have been a fan of Du Maurier for many years and yet based largely on *Rebecca* alone. In recent years I have started to read more, and have been delighted that the beautiful prose rings true. In *Frenchmen's Creek* there may be a paucity of plot, and a wonderful surfeit of language. So, I came to this with a suspicion that this might be more about plot and twists, and maybe less the prose. I am delighted to say that not only the plots and twists are well crafted, but the prose is tailored to the characters class and viewpoint. The overall effect is despairing in the *Birds*, mystical and ethereal in the wonderful *Monte Verità*. There is a creepy confluence of unreliable witness, mood and nature in 'The Apple Tree'. I liked the hot dreamlike summer tale of the Marquise in 'The Little Photographer', and whilst I found *The Old Man* quite lightweight, it rounds out the collection well.
With an interesting *Introduction* this is a tome of an accomplished author delivering tasty morsels.
Recommended. 8/10

Then I realised I had bought the previous edition last year.


Rune Priest
I read The Birds a few years back as part of a west country weird fiction anthology. Thought it was great - like a John Wyndham disaster novel pared down to its absolute essentials.
The Cinder Spires series by Jim Butcher.

The Aeronaut's Windlass
This is a reread and I'm sure I've mentioned it in the past. It's a steampunk science fantasy romp and is rather good.

The Olympian Affair
The long-awaited book 2 in the series; there is a novella set immediately prior to this (sadly not available on Kobo). It's set 2 years on from the action of book 1.

Unfortunately, the Netgalley eARC I was sent was so atrociously formatted as to be more-or-less unreadable, and although I flagged this with Netgalley, the file available was never updated. As a result, I could make little sense of the story or the writing. From what I could make out, it was set in a pre-war conference, involved duels, airship combat, aetheric shennanigans and trips to the surface. Oh, and more cats. It seemed a lot more self-consciously steampunk in style too and took a while to get started.

The Nine Worlds series by Victoria Goddard, specifically the Lays of the Hearth-Fire, The Red Company, and the Red Company Reformed subseries. I haven't got the Greenwing & Dart subseries yet; they seem to be a bit more YA in style. There are some stand-alone books as well. I'm not going to review each title individually. These are extremely good; set in a fantasy world based on the Polynesian migrations they deal with themes of good governance, loyalty, friendship, love and tradition.

I started with The Hands of the Emperor (Lays of the Hearth-Fire 1), which is actually quite late in the chronology. Basically, the Empire of Astandulas is spread across Nine Worlds linked by magical world gates. The main setting is the oceanic Polynesian-inspired world. The 100th Emperor came to the throne as the secondary heir; part way through his reign a magical catastrophe occurred and he fell into a magical coma lasting either a century or a thousand years depending on which of the Nine Worlds you were in. During the catastrophe, the capital was magically cast adrift and ended up in the Polynesian setting. One of the local islanders (6 months journey away) passes the entrance exam for the Imperial bureaucracy and ends up as the Emperor's secretary and the de-facto second in command of the Empire.

I don't want to say too much about the story line: read it for yourself. Then start buying the rest of the series and the other related series like I did. They are great; I can't recommend them highly enough.