Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Here Lies Love by Dan Thompson

In Here Lies Love we are immersed into a world where the sun has died and an artificial blue haze is the atmosphere. Cities are desolate, dog-eat-dog habitats where if the wild winds don’t destroy you, crime or hardship will. 

It is in one such city that we are introduced to Abbey, who was sold by her father to a foul man who keeps Abbey and other young girls captive for his own perverse amusement. 

Forced to watch and endure abuse, Abbey faces tough odds and manages to escape her captor. However, despite all she endured in captivity, being alone in the unfamiliar world poses even more threats. 

By chance, she strikes up a friendship with two boys she meets, Tristan and Ryan, and lives with them for a time. As she adjusts to a freer existence and with developing feelings towards one of her new friends, she finds that her dark past and unknown future cause a battle within her that will set her on a drastic course of action to find peace and closure. 

I really liked the desolate world that Dan Thompson created for his characters. As mentioned in the afterword, it is reminiscent of Runners by Sharon Sant but much darker and exploring harsher issues, making clear the transition from YA (young adult) to NA (new adult). Although there is some explanation about the idea behind the dystopian setting in this book, I think I would have liked to have heard more about it in the actual storyline as it seemed like an interesting mystery in itself.

The story is very much character led, with a strong focus on Abbey, her feelings and actions as a consequence of her tumultuous thoughts. I did find Abbey as a lead quite hard to identify with as her thoughts and actions seemed chaotic and disjointed to me. Then again, with what she has to go through, it isn’t any wonder that her reactions and choices seem out of sync with ‘normal’ behaviour. I liked the involvement of the lads she meets; adding a fresher, light-hearted perspective to proceedings. 

This novel explores some tough themes so is definitely not for the faint hearted. It’s serious and at times a little bleak, but there is meaning and hope if you hold out for it. If you do like dystopian fiction and have a leaning towards the darker side of storytelling, then Here Lies Love is the book for you. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K. Carr

India Black is back and just a few weeks after her first dalliance in espionage with Russian spies (see India Black review for more details) she is off on another espionage mission in Scotland.

Queen Victoria is instructed at a séance to break from tradition and spend Christmas in Balmoral. The instruction comes from her departed husband Prince Albert and with a clandestine group known as the Sons of Arbroath making threats on her Majesty’s life the prime minister takes no risks with the suspicious command.

He enlists the help of London brothel owner India and his British agent named French (first name unknown). If you haven’t read the first book, all you need to know is that India Black is a ballsy and hilarious woman who finds herself helping the government, despite her sins and less than reputable profession. 

She is sent off to Scotland under the guise of housemaid to a crone of a marchioness who loves nothing more than to snort her body weight in snuff and proceed to sneeze over the nearest person without a care in the world. Installed in the grand castle for her Highness’s holidays, French and India try to ferret out possible members of the sons of Arbroath and any would-be assassins who might carry out the dastardly threats of the disgruntled Scots.

Her sarcastic and witty personality alongside French’s intelligent and quick character makes for great reading as they get closer with each mission and yet seemingly hate each other’s guts. As well as the sharp characters, the history of the time and the descriptions of Scotland come through wonderfully in the snappy prose and the whole story is a pleasure to read. 

I recently got back from a trip to Scotland and love the place, so having India’s next adventure set there was great for me. I’m a huge India Black fan and I seriously urge anyone who’s yet to read of her to pick up any of her tales and give her a try. The India Black series is fast paced, flirtatious fun and entertaining as hell!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

The Tropic of Serpents is the second installment of dragon expert Lady Isabella Trent’s memoirs. Back in March I read her first book ANatural History of Dragons where she outlined the beginnings of her interest in dragons, her fledgling studies and her first expedition to see dragons in real life. 

In this second book, Isabella is the centre of scandals in society. As she plans her next journey she seems to infuriate everyone, from her family to the academics that refuse to take her seriously because she is a woman. True to form, headstrong Isabella follows her heart and leaves her young son behind as she sets off to learn more about the creatures of her abject fascination. 

The place she is destined for is full of political unrest, so the dangers she and her companions are faced with amount to more than the wild creatures that dwell in the swamp. 

Compared to the first book, I thought the second was a bit less about dragons and more about the war-torn continent, the customs of the natives and the politics that threaten Isabella and her beloved dragons. Of course there are dragons involved, but there seemed to be less passion in the descriptions than in the first book which was what drew me to the series in the first place.

On the plus side, I did like Isabella’s relationship with her companion Natalie. In regards to feminism, Isabella is a strong contender in the girl power stakes in the first book as she overcomes prejudice and exclusion to pursue her dreams. In the second book she still has that fire and need to prove herself but Natalie really comes into her own as she also pursues her interests, despite her father’s protests. 

Although I did enjoy this book, I felt it lacked a little of the spark and magic from the start. I think there is still so much more I want to see from Isabella and so much more about dragons she (and her readers) can learn. In light of this, I’m actually quite excited for the next book as Isabella is yet to become Lady Trent and there are so many other far flung places in the intricate world Marie Brennan has created for her to study and explore. 

I hope I haven’t sounded too negative as this is worth a read if you have read the first book and would be a fine stand alone for anthropology readers or fans of dragons!