The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey has been on my TBR for a few months now, so I’m excited that today is my stop on the blog tour organised by Xpresso Book Tours

A few of my favourite bloggers have already reviewed and loved this self-published dark fantasy debut, so I approached it with high expectations. I’m happy to report that I loved it too!

The Realms have split apart, the Stones of Elation have been hidden, and warnings of dokojin drift among the tribes.

 The land and its people are corrupted. The Sachem, chief of the Unified Tribes, is to blame.

 It is this conviction that drives Annilasia and Delilee to risk their lives. Afraid of the aether magic he wields, they enact a subtler scheme: kidnap his wife. In her place, Delilee will pretend to be the chieftess and spy on the Sachem.

 Unaware of this plot against her husband, Jalice is whisked away by Annilasia. Pleading with her captor proves futile, and she rejects Annilasia’s delusional accusations against the chief. After all, the Sachem has brought peace to the land.

 Yet a dangerous truth hides in Jalice’s past. As she and Annilasia flee through a forest of insidious threats, they must confront the evil plaguing the tribes and the events that unleashed it.

As Chieftess, Jalice lives in the safety of her tower while her husband the Sachem rules over the Unified Tribes. But her peace is suddenly shattered when Annilasia, once childhood friend now elite assassin, appears in the night, claiming that a tribe leader has been murdered and Jalice must leave with her to stay alive.

The rescue is quickly revealed to be a kidnapping as part of a plot to overthrow the Sachem, who Annilasia accuses of being a tyrant possessed by a dokojin. What follows is a dangerous journey through a tainted land, as Jalice struggles to sort truth from lies, and memory from illusion. 

With elements of fantasy, horror and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, The Jealousy of Jalice is filled with action, tension and a twisting story. It’s one of those books that you have to read yourself to get a clear sense of the plot, which is winding but never meandering.

Aside from the distinctive cultures and environments that Bailey has crafted, I love how he blends mythology and magic, creating a unique world that entails demon-like beings, a soul realm, possession and dark magic. Its inventive, fascinating, and dark AF.

Between compromised protagonists, nightmarish creatures and the many conflicting agendas, this book is a grippingly gloomy read that will appeal to grimdark fans. There is a very clear and prevailing force of evil in the story, but whether or not there is an equal and opposite force of good remains to be seen. 

I find this concept far more interesting than grimdark books that completely replace the philosophical forces of good and evil with their ‘flawed’ characters, which can mean protagonists are anything up to and including murderers and rapists. This doesn’t hold any appeal to me, and at times feels like edginess purely for the sake of not conforming to the genre’s traditional format.

Luckily, The Jealousy of Jalice is instead a dark fantasy with intelligence and heart. Characters are complex and yes, flawed, but they are a product of their circumstances and relationships with others, all of which are relevant to the story. The influence of evil is used as a metaphor but also as the consequence of their actions. As Rowena mentioned in her recent review, this book is an excellent example of how unlikeable characters can work very well.

While not heavily featured, a gay relationship is important to the story. A few months ago, Bailey described how The Jealousy of Jalice was influenced by his experience as a gay man growing up in a Christian household. Knowing this background gave this book personal significance to me, and I think the themes of guilt, shame, and a dual sense of identity are relatable for many people in different ways.

Regarding prose, Bailey’s is probably the most distinctive writing voice I’ve come across in self-published fantasy. His style is descriptive, with obvious consideration given to the tone he conveys through each word and phrase. In the very beginning, I was worried the language might feel slightly formal, but instead, Bailey’s style enriches the atmosphere of his story.

The writing really shines when it comes to the darker, horror aspects of the book. The nightmarishly visual and tactile language gave me a real sense of dread without the author relying too heavily on shocks and gore, though there is plenty of both throughout the story. Bailey has added a kind of Lovecraftian vibe that I imagine is hard to capture but makes this novel stand out.

The Jealousy of Jalice is everything I wanted it to be, and I’m excited to read the sequel. I often say this at the end of my reviews, but Bailey’s future works will definitely find a place at the top of my TBR, including his upcoming novella Amethyst

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours and Jesse Nolan Bailey for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 

You can check out the full blog tour schedule here, and lucky people living in the US can also enter the giveaway (ends 1st October)! The winner will receive a hardcover edition of The Jealousy of Jalice, as well as some fantastic merch. 

For everyone else, you can buy your copy of the book via Amazon. The hardback edition will be released tomorrow!

Trigger warnings: addiction, death of family

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Notes from Small Planets by Nate Crowley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

While I usually focus on sci-fi and fantasy fiction, today I am reviewing Notes from Small Planets, a comprehensive travel guide that will be published tomorrow! Having studied it at length, I can tell you with confidence to toss your golden compass, pawn your Pokédex and flush your babelfish, because, while a little unreliable, it’s the only pocket companion you’ll need this year.

“Until last year, it was thought that not a single piece of travel writing about the Worlds had survived. And then, in a filing cabinet acquired from the bankruptcy of a small London vanity press, we found Notes from Small Planets.”

– Publisher’s note

Although the way to the Worlds has mysteriously disappeared, this guide makes for an entertaining read as it takes the reader on a journey around fantastical planets where magic is real and the mythical mundane. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit the Worlds of science fiction and fantasy yourself, you’ll not only chuckle at the references and inside jokes, but find yourself re-examining your holiday from a new perspective.

If you’ve never visited, you’ll get plenty of enjoyment from this publication with unlikely origins. Whether or not it’s intentional, the quarrel between the author Floyd Watt and his editor Eliza Salt is laugh-out-loud funny. Their bickering within the footnotes adds an interesting narrative aspect to this travel book. One might even mistake Notes from Small Planets for a work of fiction that provides a cheeky yet critical commentary on suspiciously familiar SFF settings, using a brash travel writer and an exasperated editor as narrators. Now wouldn’t that be a fantastic book?

In terms of design, the cover illustration captures the eye, while the book is compact enough to be stowed in your saddlebag, knapsack or spaceship glove compartment. It features fully labelled maps, and like any helpful travel guide, key symbols for advice sections like ‘when to visit’, ‘eating and drinking’ and ‘manners and etiquette’.

As a traveller who spends their holidays checking out a few obligatory tourist attractions before finding a bar as soon as socially acceptable, I appreciate the sheer range of activities suggested by Mr Watt. However, given his unbridled enthusiasm, it’s very much up to the reader to decide which endeavours they can (ethically) participate in.

Outdoorsy types may enjoy pursuits such as disrupting the order of a dystopian society or getting spacesword lessons from a green swamp muppet.

Those who, like me, don’t mix exercise with pleasure can participate in many alternative activities, like watching televised human blood sport, or getting sorted into a Greeblewhoz wizarde House (I’m a Jaggleton because I’m a bit awkward and too smart to like myself).

Notes from Small Planets is a hilariously helpful guide that will have you referring back to it again and again. It will make a useful addition to your first aid travel kit, or a thoughtful gift for a geeky friend.

Thank you to Harper Voyager and Nate Crowley (whose name is on the front cover for some reason) for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review! Check out the full blog tour schedule here.

Content warnings: Let’s just say: travel at your own risk and take out comprehensive insurance.

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The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Ask me to list a few of my favourite tropes in genre fiction, and I’d say things like space travel, complex magic systems, and possession. While I never expected an author to Frankenstein these elements together in a single novel, this is exactly what Jordan Loyal Short has done with The Skald’s Black Verse, his first instalment in The Dreadbound Ode series.

I first saw this book and its stunning cover during the Storytellers on Tour cover reveal, so I jumped at the chance to be included in The Skald’s Black Verse blog tour. You can check out the tour schedule here, and read more about the book and author on Goodreads and Amazon.

“The path of greatness followed a dark route. The price of freedom was pain and death.”

The story follows Brohr, a ‘shade’ who has inherited the features of both a Norn and the invading Tyrianite race. Dismissed as an outsider by the Norns of his village, he plans to escape to the city with his girlfriend. But his dreams are shattered when he loses control of the angry spirit that haunts him, and he attacks his best friend.

When, shortly after, an otherworldly creature kills a man on the docks and Brohr is blamed for the murder, he seeks help from his grandfather. But the old man is less surprised and more interested in the ominous appearance of a comet in the sky, and his renewed hope for rebellion against the invaders. Brohr is soon caught up in dark schemes, blood magic and a looming natural disaster, all the while struggling to control his violent urges.

Background print by Guy Warley

My favourite aspect of this book is the familiar, Norse-inspired fantasy world colliding with sci-fi themes like interplanetary colonisation. It creates a fascinating mashup experience that I’ve only ever come across in Deathscent by Robin Jarvis and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s fun to see how Short uses his magic systems (yes, plural!) to account for the absence of modern technology, and I’m interested to see how this develops in the second book. 

Between the history, mythology and ancestral magic, there is more than enough meaty lore in this book to sink your teeth into. The author slowly reveals his dark fantasy world while avoiding excessive exposition despite its complexity. Short provides further hints in the form of excerpts from historical writings at the beginning of each chapter. Between the character, race and location names, I had to concentrate when putting the pieces together in my head, but that’s likely a selling point for most hardcore fantasy readers.

“It’s a strange day when you discover that your grandfather knows exactly what it feels like to be drenched in blood.”

The story is told from multiple perspectives that intertwine as the book progresses. Brohr, who is depicted as being somewhere between a victim and an anti-hero, has the central and most exciting storyline. Meanwhile, his unlikely ally Lyssa is perhaps the only character I found likeable. This might be why, occasionally, characters’ reactions to situations felt a little odd to me. Obviously, unlikeable (realistic) characters are a staple of grimdark novels, which The Skald’s Black Verse certainly is, though my personal preference is seeing a few more friendly faces. 

This novel features a gripping first chapter, a visually stunning conclusion, and many great ideas in between. I might have enjoyed it even more if there were more details of the ‘millennia-spanning war between alien demigods’, since this sounds flipping awesome. Happily, this leaves plenty of action for the second book The Weeping Sigil which is expected next month, and I’m excited to see where the story leads. 

Thank you to Storytellers and Tour and the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warning: Reference to rape, self-harm, death of children

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Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ever since I read Dogs of War and Children of Time, I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky. He’s an exceptional writer who comfortably flits between fantasy and sci-fi, and uses his interest in zoology and evolution to develop fascinating ideas (thanks to this review of recently published The Doors of Eden, I now know he is a trained zoologist).

I haven’t yet featured Tchaikovsky on my blog, so I thought I’d write up a quick review of Walking to Aldebaran which I listened to again yesterday. I don’t usually enjoy audiobooks, but this one is narrated by the author himself, who does a great job, and it’s less than four hours long, perfect for keeping me company while I clean and cook!

Walking to Aldebaran is a Kafkaesque sci-fi novella woven together with Lovecraftian horror, British humour and, mostly, Tchaikovsky’s signature bio-weirdness.

“I think I used to talk to you because it kept me sane, but we’ve rather moved past that stage in the relationship, don’t you think?”

Gary is an astronaut with regrets. He wasn’t expecting there to be quite so much ‘getting lost and eating corpses’. After his mission to the mysterious alien artefact respectfully dubbed the Frog God goes wrong, Gary finds himself lost in the labyrinthine passages of the Crypts within. Starved of human contact, adequately oxygenated air, and anything even resembling human food, he wanders the corridors, interacting with other alien travellers with varying degrees of success. Gary recounts his misfortunes to the imaginary Toto – the reader – as he attempts to survive long enough to locate the rest of his expedition team.

While the plot of Walking to Aldebaran is relatively straightforward, it’s a fantastic work of imagination that goes to some weird and wonderful places, with the protagonist being ‘Oz-d’ in Space (terrible pun but I’m keeping it). I loved Gary’s witty, somewhat resigned narration, and the absurd things that happen to him inside the Crypts. There is more than one scene where I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or gasp in horror.

With the novella format becoming more widely consumed, I’ve seen a complaint coming from some SFF readers that they are often left wanting more, or that the story was never fully realised within the restricted word count. However, Walking to Aldebaran is a self-contained story with a depth of imagination and a satisfying conclusion that work perfectly in this format.

If you’ve struggled to find a SFF novella that works for you, or if you’ve not yet given them a chance, I highly recommend checking out Tchaikovsky’s Walking to Aldebaran, Made Things and The Expert System’s Brother.

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The Wolf and the Water by Josie Jaffrey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I recently read May Day, a vampire detective novel by prolific self-published author Josie Jaffrey who has written nine books and several short stories to date. I enjoyed her humour and take on vampires, so I was excited to receive a copy of her new YA novel, The Wolf and the Water. Plus, I do love that cover! 

“The god divided the gardens into ten parts, one for each of his sons, and gave to the first-born the central portion, which was the largest and best.

He named him Atlas and made him king over the others that he might use his strength to protect the kingdom.”

Jaffrey’s upcoming book is set in Kepos, an ancient Greece-inspired city at the base of a valley. Cliff faces hem in Kepos to the North and South, while the sea sits to the East, and a great wall stands in the West. The city is overseen by ten Houses, each with a patron god, and a priesthood responsible for maintaining the wall that keeps the unknown threat beyond it at bay. 

The daughter of the Glauks – the leader of the lowest dekokratic house – Kala is seen as irrelevant among the other aristocrats and even openly disdained due to her limp. Kala’s only allies are her father, and Melissa, her sort-of girlfriend.

When her father dies suddenly in his study, Kala finds the circumstances suspicious and is determined to find her father’s killer. But when her mother remarries in a matter of days, Kala must be careful to avoid her new stepfather as she stumbles across the secrets of Kepos.

“Both heights were sacred, cliffs and walk. Both were warded by the acolytes. Both were forbidden to the citizens of Kepos.”

Being a murder mystery, May Day is fairly dialogue-heavy, so I was excited to see Jaffrey’s accessible writing in a more visual style with The Wolf and the Water

The setting is unique, and I enjoyed reading about Kepos’ cultural and religious practices. There is a complex social structure that involves the ten houses, an aristocracy, tenants and slaves. The book comes complete with a dramatis personae, making it easier to navigate the named characters. Fantasy elements are more or less absent, but this book would certainly appeal to fans of ancient Greece and Rome.

The majority of the tension comes from Kala’s new stepfather, a violent and power-hungry villain. This element of the novel was the most interesting, though at times it was possibly a little dark for YA. I was also invested in how the new patriarch affects Kala’s already tense relationship with her mother.

I loved the relationship between Kala and Melissa. Coming to understand what it means to each woman was touching. Interestingly, May Day also contained a sapphic romance but not necessarily lesbian representation.

However, there were a few aspects of the story that I felt were underdeveloped. I didn’t quite understand why the priesthood’s big secret had to be a secret, and thought that the mystery could have been dealt with more engagingly. Similarly, I wasn’t sure about the motivation behind the various plots for power. Jaffrey does acknowledge that status doesn’t mean anything outside of Kepos but doesn’t delve deeply into house politics, trade or economy, other than pointing out a divine hierarchy, and the fact that some of the house leaders are greedy or violent.

Overall, this book is an exciting set-up for Jaffrey’s new Deluge series, and contains some unexpected twists. According to her website, the series will follow a number of characters as they uncover secrets buried in ancient landscapes.

As a further note, the focus of Kala’s story is how her limp disadvantages her both socially and physically. While this makes sense in the context of Kepos, I wouldn’t recommend this book on the basis of disability representation. 

The Wolf and the Water will be published on 8th October 2020 and is currently available for pre-order. Many thanks to Josie JAffrey for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warning: Physical and emotional abuse, threat of rape, ableism

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The Aggressive by Gem Jackson

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Aggressive by Gem Jackson is a gut-wrenching explosion of a debut, and one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read this year. I first heard about it in this positive review, so I was excited when the author offered me a copy in exchange for an honest opinion. I’m glad to see that Dean from FanFiAddict wasn’t exaggerating!

“They were twenty minutes away from docking at the Lancaster Orbital when Tem realised the crew of the Enigma were dead.”

The story begins with intelligence agent September ‘Tem’ Long and her partner Tariq arriving at Lancaster Orbital, Earth’s principal space station. Their agency deployed them after the military vessel Enigma ceases all communications and assumes a collision course with the Orbital. The situation rapidly becomes a crisis as the Enigma nose-dives into the station, killing thousands of people and destroying crucial infrastructure in orbit, including the Earth’s ‘beacon’ necessary for FTL travel. While it’s clear that the tragedy was an act of terrorism, Tem thinks she knows who was behind the attack, and suspects something even worse is coming.

Buzzwords like ‘terrorist’, ‘separatist’, and ‘special agent’ don’t always pique my interest, so I’m delighted that I made the time for this epic book. The Aggressive is aptly named, completely discarding subtle tension for head-to-head confrontations, sinister politics, and visceral scenes of violence that aren’t for the faint of heart.

The three protagonists range from loose cannon to completely unhinged serial killer. Jackson alternates between their POVs and weaves them together in an unpredictable way. Several secondary characters are introduced throughout the story and form alliances that I’m excited to see in the next instalment of the Titanwar saga.

“She reached out and gave his arm a squeeze. It felt like the sort of thing a normal person would do. Tariq didn’t look impressed.”

Due to lack of tact and her cavalier approach to investigating, Tem is assigned to low-profile cases, keeping her away from the public eye. Recently she has been following the trail of an elusive criminal who she believes is behind several atrocities. But he is a master of his art, and all she has is a name.

Anton Biarritz is an interplanetary contract killer who’s only signatures are his tendency for violent murder, and never getting caught. I love Jackson’s decision to write from Anton’s point of view. He is probably the most interesting character to observe, as he attempts to play the role of diplomat and suppress his violent urges. I thought reading the perspective of both fugitive and detective would kill some of the intrigue; instead, it ramps up the action and leads to some thrilling scenes.

“One year on from that spectacular, glorious moment and he was an astronaut. A naked, wet astronaut trembling on cold, wet bedsheets without a uniform. Or underwear. Alone and ten thousand miles from a friend.”

Leon Wood is a newly trained pilot aboard The Aggressive, ASPA’s most formidable military vessel. Growing up on Titan and being regarded as provincial, Leon has had to work twice as hard to secure his position. When he is assigned to co-pilot a diplomat’s commercial ship after the Lancaster Orbital attack, Leon thinks he will finally have the chance to prove himself. Instead, he experiences the dangers of space travel first-hand. Out of the three protagonists, Leon goes through the most significant character development, and his experience with trauma and anxiety is effectively portrayed.

The Aggressive is a perfectly orchestrated sci-fi thriller that will appeal to fans of recent titles like Velocity Weapon and Stormblood, as well as grimdark readers looking for a sci-fi (spacedark? grimspace?) escape.

There are plenty of pleasing sci-fi elements, and I learned a couple of new physics concepts like Kessler Syndrome, which is critical in the early chapters. It also never occurred to me that you would experience acceleration in space, though perhaps I’m just an unobservant fan of sci-fi.

I mentioned in my review of The House of Styx that I previously avoided near-Earth sci-fi stories, thinking that they aren’t as expansive. However, I love Jackson’s close-to-home setting, where the military’s primary function is to protect commercial interests from pirates and extremists.

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

The Aggressive is an excellent example of how under-appreciated great self-published books are. Whether or not it’s Jackson’s goal, I wouldn’t be surprised if this book gets snapped up by a big publisher.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy, and congrats on a great debut – please write the sequel soon!

Trigger warning: Threat of rape, death of children.

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What’s up, September?

– What Happened –

Hello, bookfriends! I used a fair amount of annual leave in August, which meant plenty of extra reading time. I was able to get through the five books on my monthly To Be Read list, as well as a bonus two.

The House of Styx was a stunning read and is currently in my top three favourite books of 2020. I can’t wait to start Künsken’s The Quantum Evolution series which, it has been recently announced, will receive a further two instalments. The Phlebotomist and Red Noise were very fun counterpoints to this more atmospheric sci-fi, and both are an absolute blast to read.

I also went on a completely unplanned horror deep-dive with books featuring vampires, zombies, witches and necromancers. The self-published May Day by Josie Jaffrey is a fun, vampiric police procedural, and it was also my first physical ARC. Josie is a prolific self-published author, and I recommend checking out her work.

Wranglestone features a developing m/m relationship amidst a zombie apocalypse and was another of my favourite August reads. I’d love to find more normalised gay male relationships in SFF where the focus isn’t on romance, coming out or discrimination, so if you have any recommendations, do let me know!

Despite having mixed feelings about The Year of the Witching and Harrow the Ninth, both are worth a read.

Another bit of excitement in August was being featured on Alex the Martian‘s website as part of her new blogger Q&A series ‘In the Spotlight’. Check out the full interview to learn more about me, and follow for more blogger Q&A posts as well as fantastic SFF book reviews.

– The Damage –

In ‘What’s up, August?’ I began documenting my monthly book purchases in an attempt to confront my newfound superpower that is book buying. Sadly (happily?) this did NOT work, as this month I bought five additional books compared to July, for a grand total of 22.

eBook Purchases

Physical books and pre-orders

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Sorcery of a Queen, the second book in Brian Naslund’s Dragons of Terra series, so obviously I had to buy the first instalment. The Traitor Baru Cormorant has been on my To Be Read list for around five years, so I decided to invest in the entire trilogy (because covers). I intend to read both of these series in October!

The central picture is a limited edition, signed copy of Yoon Ha Lee’s The Hexarchate from Anderida Books. This is my most significant book investment to date, and I’m in love with this set!


I also backed two fantastic publishing Kickstarters. The first is Don’t Touch That: An Anthology of Parenthood in SFF. Aside from my nephew – the cutest kid who ever lived – I tend to avoid children at all costs. But with an amazing list of 24 contributing authors including Aliette de Bodard, K. A. Doore and Devin Madson, I’m excited to see where this anthology goes.

The second Kickstarter is The Tempered Steel of Antiquity Grey by Shawn Speakman. Shawn is the owner of Grim Oak Press and The Signed Page, so I was interested based on the promise of a stunning edition alone. When I saw the blurb from Robin Hobb and found out that the story involves both dragons and giant mecha, I couldn’t resist!

– What’s Gonna Happen –

As September is Self-Published Fantasy Month, I will only be reading self-published titles. I’ve had a few authors contact me via my blog recently, so this worked out perfectly. Check out the SPFM website for book recommendations and information on how to participate. You can also follow the event on Twitter and Instagram with the #SelfPubFanMonth hashtag.

A couple of these are more sci-fi than fantasy, but SPFM have said they’ll let it slide!

On September 14th, I will be sharing my review of The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short as part of the book tour organised by Story Tellers on Tour. In all honesty, I signed up for the tour because I love the cover. But having now read the plot summary which sounds fantastically dark, I’m looking forward to the read.

When a sinister creature murders one of the conquerors’ soldiers, Brohr’s violent reputation makes him the prime suspect. Haunted by a rage-filled ghost, Brohr’s disturbing possessions quickly become the reason for all of his troubles…and the only way he can survive. With a grandfather bent on dragging him into a failed rebellion, and a deadly comet hurtling toward his embattled world, Brohr sets off on a quest to save his people and uncover the truth about a war stretching back into the ancient past. Can he discover the true power of a Skald’s voice before the world itself ends in ash and flame?

Shortly after I joined Book Twitter, there was a book tour for The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey. Since it received a slew of positive reviews from bloggers I trust m, and it features magic, astral demons, forest monsters and spirit dimensions, I’m excited to finally read this novel. I will be sharing my review on September 21st as part of the book tour arranged by Xpresso Book Tours.

The Realms have split apart, the Stones of Elation have been hidden, and warnings of dokojin drift among the tribes. The land and its people are corrupted. The Sachem, chief of the Unified Tribes, is to blame. It is this conviction that drives Annilasia and Delilee to risk their lives. Afraid of the aether magic he wields, they enact a subtler scheme: kidnap his wife. In her place, Delilee will pretend to be the chieftess and spy on the Sachem.

Unaware of this plot against her husband, Jalice is whisked away by Annilasia. Pleading with her captor proves futile, and she rejects Annilasia’s delusional accusations against the chief. After all, the Sachem has brought peace to the land. Yet a dangerous truth hides in Jalice’s past. As she and Annilasia flee through a forest of insidious threats, they must confront the evil plaguing the tribes and the events that unleashed it.

What will you be reading this September?

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Afterland by Lauren Beukes

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A slow-burn story about a mother and son on the run, Lauren Beukes’ dystopian thriller Afterland contains some of the most impressive prose I’ve come across recently. It’s a feminist critique of patriarchal society written from the least likely angle: by killing all the men.

This book is the second pandemic novel I’ve read this year. While I don’t want to do the author a disservice by comparing it to current events, I will say that what once might have read as a surreal, Palahniukian story about humanity at its most extreme instead reads as frighteningly plausible.

In Afterland, Cole’s husband is dead. But then, so are 3.2 billion ‘men, boys and people-with-prostates’. No one knew that the flu-like human Culgoa virus was an oncovirus, one that would mutate prostate cells into an aggressive and unstoppable cancer, killing 99% of the global male population by 2023. But incredibly, her son Miles survived, and now they are being detained in an American government facility.

Cole’s usually unreliable sister Billie shows up with a plan to escape from the government and return to their home in South Africa. But when Cole realises that the plan involves exploiting her son for cash, she leaves Billie for dead and finds herself on the run with Miles, desperate to find a way home.

Beukes has created a thought-provoking vision of the future with anarchist communes, cult-like religious movements and the collapse of ‘penis-centric’ industry. The government has responded to the oncovirus with training programs for women and heavy-handed legislation to protect the remaining male population, including a ban on procreation.

While this makes for an engaging read, it’s Beukes’ character writing that I found remarkable. Afterland alternates between the perspectives of Cole, her son Miles and her sister Billie, each with a distinct internal dialogue that together feels like a study in character psychology. I’m no stranger to multiple POVs in fiction, but never have I seen it executed so well. Cole’s often humorous thoughts are haunted by the ghost of her dead husband, Miles’ chapters are littered with pubescent confusion and pop culture references, while Billie is a concussed egotist, feverish and angry.

“See you later, alligator. Waiter-hater-masturbator-violator-sister-traitor. Perpetrator.”

In addition to expertly creating three distinct voices, Beukes’ writing is beautiful, intimate and claustrophobic, ranging from flowing, descriptive prose to stark, economic imagery.

Another moan. Animal self-pity. Clumps of hair. Sharp bits against her fingertips. She brings her hand to her face to look. Little black pits in the blood on her fingers, which is shockingly red. Gravel. Not bone shards. Not a broken skull. Not that bad. But not good either.”

When I read Beukes’ Zoo City back in 2011, it opened my eyes to the potential of speculative fiction and influenced the type of sci-fi and fantasy that I would become interested in. With Afterland, Beukes has again raised my expectations of spec fic. This is the kind of book that will have even the most modest book club arguing over gender, politics and human rights.

Afterland is currently available in eBook format and will be published in hardback on 3rd September 2020. Many thanks to Michael Joseph UK and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I read The Bone Shard Daughter back in May, so I’m thrilled that I can FINALLY tell you how fantastic this debut fantasy novel is. Being my favourite read of 2020 so far, I’ve even pre-ordered two different signed editions (roll on September)! If you’re looking for an epic fantasy escape, you will love this first instalment in The Drowning Empire series.

The Bone Shard Daughter takes place in an empire of migrating islands ruled by a reclusive emperor. He maintains order using constructs created with the titular bone shard magic, a secret craft passed down by the ruling family for generations. However, the emperor’s daughter Lin has lost her memory to a mysterious illness, and with it her father’s trust. She is compelled to launch a plot to inherit her family’s secrets and earn back her place as the rightful heir.

While Lin’s struggle is the central story, Stewart expertly weaves together the subplots of four other protagonists in both first and third-person perspective. While this might sound confusing, Stewart handles it masterfully, to the point where I was so absorbed in the story I forgot to take any notes (thus the somewhat brief review)! All of her characters have great depth, and although I didn’t always know who was ‘good’ and who was ‘bad’, I loved them all. It was also exciting to see a realistic depiction of a complex sapphic relationship between two key characters.

Both the magical and the everyday details in The Bone Shard Daughter are fascinating and new. Stewart’s world and its culture feel fresh and entirely different from the more common European-inspired settings. The bone shard magic system is my new favourite example of ‘magic with a cost’, which can be interpreted as a vivid allegory of imperialist or government oppression.

The best thing about this book is that while it’s an immensely satisfying read, it only lays the basic foundation for the series’ overarching plot.

Actually, maybe the best thing about it is Mephi, the otter-like animal sidekick. Ooh, or the constructs… Well, regardless, like popular trilogies from Robin Hobb and Brandon Sanderson, The Drowning Empire is going to be a very special series for many fantasy readers.

Congratulations to Andrea on a fantastic debut, and thank you to Orbit UK and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Red Noise by John P. Murphy

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Red Noise by John P. Murphy has been described as an Akira Kurosawa and spaghetti western-inspired sci-fi romp. Having only a passing familiarity with either of those, I was hoping for some epic Kill Bill-in-space vibes, and I’m pleased to report that’s exactly what I got.

‘A half-empty station wasn’t so bad. Ideal, in some ways. Sell the ore. Pay the debt. Don’t attract attention. Get the hell out of there. No problem.’

Once military special ops, The Miner now pursues a life of peace, mining remote asteroids and tending to her collection of bonsais and orchids. After four months of blissful solitude, she finds herself low on supplies and is forced to dock at the remote Station 35 also called, appropriately, Cpt John Wayne Koganusan Station. 

The Miner finds herself stranded stationside after a corrupt dockmaster slaps her with bogus fees and buys her metal ore for a fraction of its worth. Greeted by armed thugs, she finds a near-abandoned facility in a turf war between two gangs. With the Head of Security bribed to turn a blind eye, The Miner is forced to take matters into her own capable hands.

Red Noise isn’t the type of book you read for deep-space exploration, intricate politics, or an in-depth character study. Red Noise is the kind of book you pick up to indulge in stylised violence and say to the oblivious person next to you ‘that gangster has it coming’, then fail to suppress your sadistic glee when That Gangster gets his face chopped off with a sword. In short, it’s non-stop action.

The story is set almost entirely in the station arcade, and Murphy salutes classic Western films with a frontier town-like setting. On one side of the galleria, the hotel proprietor squats in his establishment while his minions do his dirty work. Immediately opposite, his defected right hand has taken over the casino, sparking the current stand-off. Somewhere in the middle, the head of security (sheriff) accepts hush money from both sides, while the ever-impartial bar owner just wants some damn peace, or at least, enough to keep selling booze. My favourite character other than The Miner was the town drunk-cum-Mayor, who is full of exceptional insults like ‘semi-sentient barnacle’ and ’emotionally stunted ass hair lice’.

While The Miner’s shady past remains more or less a mystery, watching her take charge and mess with the station’s incompetents is fantastically fun. 

A slowly escalating conflict and plenty of twists make this retelling of Yojimbo an exciting read. While I was expecting more of a John Wick-style climax, Murphy leans more heavily into the antihero theme towards the end, and I personally found the middle portion of the story the most entertaining.

I’m glad I finally got to read this exciting action film of a book, and I was so pleased to see I made the dedication, which reads ‘to everyone who just wants to be left alone‘.

I highly recommend Red Noise to fans of anything to do with Quentin Tarantino. 

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