A City Dreaming

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‘A powerful magician returns to New York City and reluctantly finds himself in the middle of a war between the city’s two most powerful witches.

“It would help if you did not think of it as magic. M certainly had long ceased to do so.” 

M is an ageless drifter with a sharp tongue, few scruples, and the ability to bend reality to his will, ever so slightly. He’s come back to New York City after a long absence, and though he’d much rather spend his days drinking artisanal beer in his favorite local bar, his old friendsand his enemieshave other plans for him. One night M might find himself squaring off against the pirates who cruise the Gowanus Canal; another night sees him at a fashionable uptown charity auction where the waitstaff are all zombies. A subway ride through the inner circles of hell? In M’s world, that’s practically a pleasant diversion.

Before too long, M realizes he’s landed in the middle of a power struggle between Celise, the elegant White Queen of Manhattan, and Abilene, Brooklyn’s hip, free-spirited Red Queen, a rivalry that threatens to make New York go the way of Atlantis. To stop it, M will have to call in every favor, waste every charm, and blow every spell he’s ever acquiredhe might even have to get out of bed before noon.

Enter a world of Wall Street wolves, slumming scenesters, desperate artists, drug-induced divinities, pocket steampunk universes, and demonic coffee shops. M’s New York, the infinite nexus of the universe, really is a city that never sleepsbut is always dreaming.’

This is a really strange, not so little book. Structurally, it resembles most closely a set of short stories which roll inexorably on from one to the next. I honestly had no idea what the endgame was until 94%, and that would usually drive me into a frenzy, but, do you know what?

I loved it.

‘It was around two in the afternoon on a hot August Saturday when M realised the rest of the people at the beach house were planning on using him as a human sacrifice.’

Oh, it’s weird and the prose reads like silk, it truly does. I admit, the first few chapters, maybe even the first 25% I found myself railing against everything I eventually came to love. Probably because I was expecting a linear story and I very much did not get one.

I adored the main character. M is the definition of neutral when it comes to alignment. He rolls with the tide, lets the sweep of New York’s power draw him from chess matches to drug dens, coffee shops and backstreet orgies. Most of the book he underplays himself, moving in circles in a way that makes you feel he’s an underdog, not honestly one of the most powerful magic users in the city, an ageless being travelling with the ebb and flow of civilisation.

The side characters are painted in broad, electric strokes, overlaid with M’s sometimes snarky, sometimes apathetic commentary. Every one of them could be a character in a graphic novel he brings them to life so vividly.

Plotwise, I’m not entirely sure what to say to you. The plot is a subtle little thing, twisting sinuously through each of M’s escapades, more like a background concern than an overwhelming worry. Initially, I found myself annoyed and searching for the plot, once I sat back and let the weirdness flow, I found it was something that no longer concerned me. This book’s a bit like a fever dream. If you try to grab at anything, it’ll just flutter away.

It’s urban fantasy to a backdrop of microbreweries and artisanal moustache wax and it’s horrible and beautiful to read. It’s very self aware, cattily funny and sometimes bordering on inappropriate.  I loved it.

Many thanks to Regan Arts and Netgalley for an ARC in return for an honest review!

Wolf by Wolf (Ryan Graudin)

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Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them-made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same. Her story begins on a train.

Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 17-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.

But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it.

Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael’s mission won’t be easy. . .”

 

The first thing that really struck me about this book was the visuals. We join our protagonist, Yael, staggering from a packed death camp train into the gaze of a Nazi Death Doctor.

 

‘A floodlight bathed him. The pure white fabric of his lab coat glowed and his arms were stretched wide, like wings. He looked like an angel.’

 

Tell me that didn’t make you shudder?

 

We have the beautiful, deliberate motif of Yael’s tattoo, five wolves with five stories, interspersed among her journeys across the world. The deliberate affront to Yael’s very identity of having to wear the face of this blue eyed, blonde haired Aryan ideal. The heart breaking brutality of the Axis tour and its fragile alliances, kids that should be enjoying their adolescence, not fighting and dying for the honour of an Iron Cross.

 

This novel is deeply, deeply sad. Beautiful but sad. Even the landscapes are bleak and desolate. The darkness of a pine forest, the wide sandstorm wracked expanses of the Sahara, the lonely high mountains of Central Asia.

 

I’ve actually found it a very difficult book to review. Part of me wants to just go ‘it’s REALLY good, go read it! Which part is my favourite? ALL OF IT’ though that feels a little like cheating. So I’m going to try and be a bit more methodical about it.

 

Plot

Graudin said that the Axis Tour was partly inspired by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s ‘Long Way Round’ (which I geeked out about for quite a while because I loved that series) and you can really feel that. It’s hard and dusty and lonely and you end up craving the company of other characters as much as Yael. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the tour and the relationships of the young competitors with the stories of Yael’s wolves. It imbued the story with a sense of hope, that even in the darkness and depravity of this world there are still brave and good people. I wasn’t actually sure what to expect with the ending. Would her plan work, would it not? All I will say is that I can not wait for  ‘Blood for Blood’ and I want to know what happened between Luka and Adele in the last Axis tour!!

 

Characters

I fell in love with all the young characters in this book…even those who were antagonists. Every single character had a motivation that maybe wasn’t immediately obvious but mattered to them. Each character was the hero of their own story. The fleeting glimpses into their thoughts and feelings, and Yael’s realisation that many of them are bound by responsibility and fears of their own is so humbling.

 

Yael’s relationship with Felix, Adele’s real life twin, and Luka, the perfect frenemy, was just so interesting that I could have very happily read another four hundred pages of just them out on the road. The tension between the three main characters had me reading through the night, wondering how it would be defused. I just want to know what happened between Luka and Adele, ok! There’s a novella (Iron to Iron) from Luka’s POV, about that tour, but it isn’t available in the UK and it’s breaking me.

 

A Note of Warning

It takes a very brave and talented author to write this era of history well. It’s very easy to fall into insensitive pit traps, and even though Graudin avoids this very well, I still feel I ought to warn people that this is a book about Nazis. It is a book that humanises kids that grew up through Hitler’s Youth (or the fictional continuation of Hitler’s Youth) and if you’re not in the right place for that, for whatever reason, then maybe give it a miss.  I’m going to say that, for some, this may be an uncomfortable read.

 

Overall

I just want to read ‘Blood for Blood’ (and find a way to read ‘Iron to Iron’). I would like it now, I don’t know how I’ll wait til October to see how this ends! This was a really hard book to review because I loved it down to its bare bones and it’s damn hard to talk about how the very words feel like a song that you want to go on and on.

 

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, many thanks to Orion Children’s Books for giving me a copy in return for an honest review.

Time Siege (Wesley Chu)

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I’ve been going through a bit of a sci fi kick over the last couple of months after realising I hadn’t read many of the space greats during my fantasy saturated childhood. Reading Herbert and Banks lead me to understand what I really love about the genre, creative world building and fresh technology. Wesley Chu’s ‘Time Salvager’ series has both of these qualities in heaps.

I was actually half way through ‘Time Salvager’, the first book in the series, when I realised ‘Time Siege’ was available as an ARC.  I devoured them in a handful of days, being that annoying person on public transport who isn’t ignoring you but just isn’t in the same timeframe as the rest of the bus. I’ll be keeping this as spoiler free as possible because if you read ‘Time Salvager’ then you should read ‘Time Siege’ and, if you haven’t read either, then I strongly urge you to go and read both.

To cover the basic premise, enter James Griffin-Mars, a Tier 1 Chronman who salvages resources from dead end timelines and likes to drown his loneliness in a bottle. Elise Kim is a young scientist whose timeline is ticking down towards annihilation when James meets her on a tricky salvage. Knowing just how illegal and in violation of every time law he’s every upheld it is, he decides to bring her back to his timeline anyway and that is where the fun begins. Broken time laws, super corps that really want access to the ‘time anomaly’, an escape to a polluted and toxic earth with the Chronocom version of Agent Smith hot on their heels…I had a lot of fun reading these books.

One thing that really hooked me to these books is the character development. James is an asshole but you still grow to love him, ditto for Levin. Elise just…well, I’m not surprised that James sometimes feels inadequate around her.

I’m in love with the Tech and the idea of Chronocom and chronomen. There is just such a bleakness to the idea that the future is so bereft that they literally have to plunder the past to keep afloat. The Bands used by chronomen and the position they hold in society due to these aweinspiring augmented abilities is really cool. I got this really strong feeling of what it would be like to grow up in this desolate future and kids growing up wanting to be ‘just like the High Auditor of Earth, daddy’. Yeah, the tier and chain structure of Chronocom is such a great piece of world building. I fell in love.

Everything about this book is really big. It’s cinematic in scope.

Space is vast.

Time is vast.

And I couldn’t help but feel like the ‘big bads’ of this book were worryingly relevant to the current political climate.

Corporations

Big blood sucking, workforce subjugating corporations.

No governments left, just Corps.

Chu’s writing of Securitate Kuo, our POV in the corps, is so chilling and ruthless that it made me feel a little sick. Now, that’s good character building. A character who genuinely believes she makes the decisions but is so controlled and brainwashed that at times you realise she is little more than a mindless corporate drone, a fight dog on a leash to her Valta overlords.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty of ‘Time Siege’ as a book. There was a mild problem with the first book that I found it sometimes dragged a little, not too much and probably more because you have to take in a lot of world building. ‘Time Siege’ didn’t suffer from lags as such. However, if you want a super fast, action packed book this might not be it? It sounds ridiculous saying that based on how much action there is in this book, but, you have these big set piece fights, parts that really make you worry for the longevity of the characters you’ve come to love and then lulls. I, personally, believe these lulls are necessary, I’m not a big fan of continuous action, I like a little introspection, a little character reflection. And James really needed to have a little time for self reflection is all I’m saying.

It’s a clever book with clever concepts and characters that need page time to grow and flourish and it does that really really well. It also leads beautifully (painfully) and seductively (a cliffhanger) into the third book which I now really want to read…

So to round this all up I’d say that this book series comes with serious emotional clout. I’d also say that ‘Time Siege’ is a better book than ‘Time Salvager’ (which I really loved anyway) maybe because you already know the world and therefore require less info dumps, but also because I think the pacing is tighter and having the extra POVs really adds to the narrative (that’s pretty rare I know…)

So, I’m going to give a hefty five stars to ‘Time Siege’ and say that, if you’re looking for fresh sci fi with cool as hell world building, time travel and bloodthirsty capitalist corporations vying for intergalactic dominance then this is the series for you.

(Many thanks to Angry Robot Books for access to the ARC and including an excerpt from my review on the official book page ;-; )


This review was originally posted here on my tumblr.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

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Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.”

(47North)

I received a copy from the publisher in return for an honest review and, I will be completely honest with you here, I may have let out the most ungainly little squeal when I got my hands on it. I’m already a huge fan of Holmberg’s ‘The Paper Magician’ series, loving the strange magic systems she builds and the whimsical quality she brings to her worlds. I admit, I was already ready to love this book, and it didn’t disappoint me.

Plot

I was not expecting this book to be as dark as it was! Admittedly, just from reading the premise I should have realised it wouldn’t be cotton candy and magnolias but it had this gorgeous creepy folklore vibe that was unexpected. I don’t know, I think I saw it was about cakes and blanked out that cakes can totally be used for evil, à la Hansel and Gretel. The juxtaposition of the opening moments, with the heady scent of cake baking, to the following chapters where the protagonist is beaten, bound in a burlap sac and sold as a slave is so jarring, it has the vicious quality of a true fairy tale.

Allemas, her master, is a brutal captor and sinister as hell. Maire’s situation, imprisoned in his home, starving, forced to complete suspect tasks all in the hope of learning a scrap of information about her past life is just so unsettling and sad. Indeed, you begin to hope and wish, just as Maire, that Fyel, her resident ‘ghost’ companion, can just come and whisk her away from this hideous situation.

I’m wary of giving too much away, part of the joy was watching everything unfold and see how everything fell together. I will say that I found the epilogue a little disappointing, I would have preferred for it to end ambiguously at the end of the final chapter. I’ll be interested to know if any of you felt the same.

Characters

I love, love, love Maire. For all her gentle kindness she is wonderfully strong and decisive. She manages every horror that comes at her and is just a true survivor. Also, she didn’t make any decisions that made me want to throw the book against the wall, so for that I’m very grateful.

Fyel is…Fyel’s story is so sad. As part of my medical training I’ve spent a lot of time on wards with older people. Fyel reminds me of the husbands or wives that sit by the bedside of the loved ones as they fall in and out of lucidity, gentle and patient. I’d just quite like him to be happy.

Allemas is wonderfully weird. I love that he’s more of a chaotic evil, starving Mairie because he forgets she needs to eat, rather than out of maliciousness. His motivations aren’t immediately obvious, I love that the reader is kept in the dark as much as Maire. It’s all the more satisfying when you read the conclusion.

Writing

Holmberg’s style is fluid and flowery, which I’m rather fond of. Admittedly, it probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s all part of the delicate feel that permeates the book, wonderful for reading out in the open or as your lids are closing for the evening.

‘My mind flutters from one idea to the next. Maybe I should make my tart of strength, infusing it with vigor by focusing on the pull in my biceps as I cut and cut and cut the dough. Or maybe I should do something lighter, such as cheer, or something new, like nostalgia. Then again, part of me wishes to be daring, to think of passionate things, of warm caresses in the night and newlyweds and Cleric Tuck’s lips on my neck.’

It suits the feel of the book and the character of Maire who has this fae, unearthly feeling about her.

Worldbuilding

Initially it feels like you could be in any or many fantasy worlds, though I admit the baking magic is new and fresh. But this feeling of familiarity fades rather fast as the story progresses. There’s a fascinating biblical feel to it that I wasn’t expecting, but if you, like me, are not Christian then don’t let it put you off, it’s a conceptual link more than anything.

Conclusion

All in all, I loved this book. It was everything I wanted to be, smooth and beautifully readable. I sat down with the intention of reading a few chapters and devoured the entire thing. So, if you like a little whimsy with your escapism or are a bit of a folklore fiend (or enjoyed the Paper Magician Trilogy) I’d definitely pick it up for summer reading. I’d recommend a grassy park and a hot sweet cup of tea to go with it.

4.5 Stars

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