Review: Devil’s Night Dawning by Damien Black

Published by: self-published
ISBN: 0995492808
ISBN 13: 9780995492806
Published: July 2016
Pages: 650
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the LAST book I dove into once we had our shortlist of ten. Freedom is on the horizon!

We meet Adelko and Horskam who hunt and exorcise monsters wherever they go. So, of course, they are the ones who must defeat a warlock who plans to unleash a great horror unto the world. The journey trope is evident from the cover, after all.

These are our two main characters and they dominate the majority of the book, which is good as the narrative didn’t really give reason to go elsewhere, and a shame as I didn’t connect with either of them. Adelko was a bit flat, partly because he’s a bit let down with his lot in life, however when you read about someone like that it’s entirely easy for the reader to feel the same. Braxus, however, was a lesser-used POV character and was quite excellent. A knight who is seeking aid for the war, his dialogue and interactions with people were really quite fun. Adhelina (one of the very few women in the book) was a bit forgetful, unfortunately.

Religion plays a big part here, and it certainly has a Game of Thrones or generic fantasy subsection feel. You have a priest, a novice, a knight, a princess, a squire – one wants to escape a marriage she’d rather not, one is bullied by his betters and chafes at the fact… Really quite generic. Which can be a reassuring read when done well, certainly. That’s what makes it s staple.

The plot isn’t one of the more dramatic parts to the book – the plot was sturdy enough but not quite memorable – the focus here is all on the worldbuilding, which is quite epic. The language used throughout was often good and there were few typos, and the flow was often good… however…

Overall, I think this book needs a little more editing. There were several issues of info-dumping and that seemed to be the primary method of informing the reader of the world-building, which is usually one of my favourite elements of reading fantasy. In this it was closer to being in a History of Magic class in Hogwarts with the ghost professor Binns up front… and we all know what happened in those classes.

Ultimately this book is far longer than it needs to be, and really could do with shaving at least 100 pages, if not 200 from them. Then it would be tight, engaging, and really quite a hard contender for the winner.

Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0743468023
ISBN 13: 9781618242877
Published: 1999
Pages: 277
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

Lord Miles Vorkosigan and his wife(!) Lady Ekaterin, are returning home from their honeymoon to count down the few days until their first children can be hatched from the uterine replicators. On their saunter back home, amidst chatter that something isn’t quite right with Cetaganda, actual issues start up in Quaddiespace, the place we were just in for our last book but only 200 years later (as we read a little out of our usual chronological order). They still have enough time to do so, and as they’re quite close by and work is work after all, the newlyweds (well, it’s been almost a year but it still feels so fresh), make their way over.

Bel Thorne, former pilot in the Dendarii Free Mercenaries that Miles created, just happens to be there on the down-low, secret to all but Miles and probably Gregor, which is to their huge advantage as they start trying to undo the tangled confusion that resulted in the disappearance of a man, the attack of another, and several ships now held in lockdown. Miles must win the affections of the Quaddies (or at least exasperate them enough that they’re glad to see the back of them) and get to the bottom of just how much the Barrayans have stuffed up… but as though that isn’t enough, of course, an attempt is then made on his life. And then Bel disappears. And then there a series of quite elegant and terrifying biological attacks. With Kat safely elsewhere and time running out in more ways than one, we get Miles back at his best as he does what few else can – bring sense to some nonsense and save lives doing so.

Oh it was such a relief to get back here after the difference that was Falling Free. The joy of our favourite characters and the return of the lovely Bel!

And it was clever and fun, and although biochemicals scare the daylights out of me it was so endlessly fascinating to follow. And then that there was so much more to this than you’re initially following for the majority of the book, but the earlier mentions all come back around to be so utterly crucial.

I do hope we get to see Gregor’s reaction to everything Miles managed to do for this one. I mean, he has other things on his mind but when it’s all going to shit he ultimately works for the benefit of Barrayar, regardless of everything else. It really was quite marvellous.

We’re getting to the end of the series. And I’m a little scared to keep reading, now.

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Published by: Subterranean Press
ISBN: 1596068647
ISBN 13: 9781596068643
Published: March 2018
Pages: 96
Format reviewed: Amazon mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Female Sherlock Holmes and John Watson(!), except its set in space(!!) and Watson is a shipmind(!!!).

‘Shipminds such as her were meant to be the centre of families: grown by alchemists in laboratories, borne by human mothers and implanted into the ship-bodies designed for them, they were much longer lived than humans – the repositories of memories and knowledge, the eldest aunts and grandmothers on whom everyone relied.’

From the synopsis:

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow’s Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow’s Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow’s Child with her. 

So yes. The Shadow’s Child = John Watson. Long Chau = Sherlock Holmes. And the characterisation is so superbly beautiful.

This is set in de Bodard’s ‘Universe of the Xuya’ which is: ‘Xuya is a recurring universe in my alternate histories, the premise being that China discovered the Americas before the West, and that the exploration of this new continent prevented China from sinking inwards (not to mention being invaded by the Manchu, who later founded the ill-fated Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty).’

So with all that said to accurately give you an idea of what we’re playing with here, let me just say as someone quite invested in the canon (and yet also loves the first few seasons of the BBC’s Sherlock), I utterly adore this. SO much. Have you ever had the feeling that a book could make you cry it’s just so overwhelmingly perfect? This is the book to come closest for a good long while.

It both pays respectful nods to what makes these long-lasting characters so everlasting, and yet also has developed itself into something entirely its own. It’s set in space and yet there are still mysteries. There’s the bureaucracy and overworked staff who won’t be able to look into a random murdered woman properly. There’s the gossip and care between different ships. There’s the idea of the mindship, how they exist, and the memories they carry.

I need a whole series of these two and their seemingly effortless interactions. The dialogue is one of the reasons we all love the duo so much, and de Bodard does so well at replicating this eloquently, yet also with the added layer of the  Chinese customs and respect. And the culture!

This book was everything I didn’t know I needed, and I picked it up at exactly the right time. Now I need to go fling it at people’s faces to spread the joy.

Review: Amazing Australian Women by Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer

Subtitle: Twelve Women Who Shaped History
Published by: Hachette Children’s Books
ISBN 13 (ebook): 9780734418463
ISBN 13 (hardback): 9780734418456
Published: August 2018
Pages: 32
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

History wasn’t a class offered in either my primary or high school, and as such my knowledge of history is woeful. I’m trying to repair that by reading non-fiction and historical fiction, and there have been so many great books on women in history lately! This is the latest I snagged, and from the very first page I learnt something.

We’re first told of Mary Reibey. The last line on her page is something like ‘which is why her portrait is on the $20 note’ – which I didn’t even realise. Her name still didn’t register despite the fact it’s easily the most common note I’ve carried in my wallet since I started working. That is how woeful my knowledge of history is.

I think my favourite would have to be Ruby Payne-Scott, who undertook top-secret radar work during WWII, and led the research into sunspots – discovering the temperature of solar flares far more accurately than those before her. She did terrific work towards allowing women to remain working once married, along with equal pay.

The book has lovely illustrations throughout, and along with such brilliantly short and succinct pieces on each person that leave you wanting to find out more, it helps you along by including a list of where to go to find out more information about each person – including reference to a very excellent Aussie-published anthology called Cranky Ladies of History, published by Fablecroft, which I reviewed previously here.

The featured women are:

Mary Reibey, convict and businesswoman
Tarenore, Indigenous resistance fighter
Mary Lee, suffragist
Nellie Melba, opera singer
Edith Cowan, politician
Tilly Aston, teacher, writer and disability activist
Rose Quong, actress, lecturer and writer
Elizabeth Kenny, nurse and medical innovator
Annette Kellerman, swimmer and movie star
Lores Bonney, aviation pioneer
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, artist
Ruby Payne-Scott, scientist

Review: Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes

Published by: self-published
ISBN: 1545581924
ISBN 13: 9781545581926
Published: May 2017
Pages: 371
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Pirates! As someone who has the username SkyPirate on various platforms (inspired originally from Final Fantasy), and who utterly adores Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies, and who still mourns the time when Pirates of the Caribbean (and Depp) were good and fun… this book is right up my alley. Pirate Kings and prophecy, as well as a big confidence trickster scheme, what more could one want?

So the story goes that the navy are reaching out from their previous territories, and are slowly wiping out the pirates in any way they can. This means that the pirate clans must become allies if they want to survive – something pirates aren’t overly interested in becoming on a normal day. The worldbuilding in here is typical yet somehow manages to not be cliché – there’s the typical pirate catchphrases, parrots, and they’d sell their own mothers for rum, yet there’s also a humour in this that makes it richer and well-rounded. You can easily believe this world exists. Especially as it also shows us the wilder sides of monsters, magics, and almost LotR-style landscapes. The worldbuilding was easily my favourite part of the book.

The characters are somehow likeable even though they’re scum. They’re crafty, they’re ambitious, and even though there’s prophecy they still have to work hard to make it so. Just knowing that there will be a reward if they work hard enough for it is an interesting consideration. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters especially, but they were completely readable.

One of the issues I had with another finalist for the SPFBO was the – what I felt – unnecessary rape. This book shows how things that are dark and triggering for some can possibly be handled in a way where you expect it. It’s the real-world feel to ‘shit happens’. This is grimdark, it happens to a likeable character, and isn’t pushed further than it needed to be, and it’s used to really show just what one character is really like. I still skimread it a little, but it didn’t make me put the book down for a break.

Overall this is a very decent book. No typos that I noticed, a little slow in parts but not to any great degree, and as I said before, very readable. That’s all one wants sometimes, right?

This series is this is set to be a duology – no trilogy needed, which shows that the author has done some decent editing or planning and knows that the usual trilogy isn’t a requirement. There needs to be more duologies in the world!