Revenger (Revenger, #1)

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 3 stars

Two sisters run away from home and join the crew of a sunjammer – a solar sail ship that searches the remnants of the solar system looking for locked micro-worlds containing relics and money that can be sold. However, there’s more than treasure out there – not least pirates, including the infamous Bosa Sennen.

Blimey, this book was not what I expected at all. I was thinking I was in for a bit of light adventure in the Congregation that huddles around the Old Sun, which is more or less what I got for the first section, but then it suddenly changes, goes much darker in tone and becomes a revenge story. Fura Ness starts off as a likeable protagonist but she changes, becomes much harder and driven as the story goes on, making difficult choices and, to my mind, becoming much less likeable. I’m not really fan of that sort of revenge story either, so this ended up being a bit of a slog for me.

The worldbuilding in the book is fantastic. I really want to know more about the Congregation, and how they survive as billions of people hanging on in or on millions of tiny worldlets that emerged after the “sundering” of the worlds of the Solar System. The history stretches back ten million years or more, and this is the thirteenth time that the system has been populated (the 13th Occupation) in that time. Much of what is locked in the baubles comes from those older Occupations. That’s a huge amount of history and I’d really love to have seen more of that. But, I suppose there’s only so much that can be drip-fed without it seeming like infodumping.

Apparently this book is YA. That makes me think twice about today’s young adults. I thought it was very dark in places and so wouldn’t have called it that. I know the protagonist is young but beyond that, I couldn’t see anything differentiating this from an “adult” novel. I thought the language wasn’t toned down (apart from the made-up words: lungstuff, squawk etc) and it was very readable.

I think I figured out the whole Bosa Sennen being a really hideous Dread Pirate Roberts fairly early on – and who the current one was. The first encounter with her was really tough on me. We had this crew that I was starting to like and I was expecting to see much more of, and suddenly they’re all dead. In really horrible ways. That being quickly followed by the section back on Mazarile almost made me put down the book.

This would be two stars for me in terms of enjoyment, but I’m giving it the third star for how Reynolds made me feel throughout. That’s a skill and it deserves to be recognised.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575090552
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Year of publication: 2016

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 2

By Noelle Stevenson

Rating: 4 stars

The second To The Max volume of Lumberjanes is just as pretty as the first, with a lovely hardback cover and gorgeous internal artwork. The story continues to be engaging and fun as well. The first issue within this volume is a standalone story of the various Lumberjanes telling each other ghost stories. After that, we move into a longer story of Molly and Mal getting trapped Somewhere Else (with dinosaurs!) after following the Bear Woman, and then something which fleshes out Rosie’s backstory, gives the Bear Woman a name and introduces a new character with a dangerous obsession.

It took me a wee bit to get back into this; the standalone and somewhat disjointed first story didn’t really help, but once it got going, I very much enjoyed it. The tension between Jo and Barney was interesting and had a lovely payoff at the end. It was also nice to see Rosie’s character fleshed out a bit more, and more beats between the Roanoke gang (especially Mal and Molly and also the friendship between Jo and April).

There’s obviously something going on at the Lumberjanes camp and I look forward to finding out more about what it is, not to mention spending more time with the Lumberjanes themselves.

Book details

ISBN: 9781608868896
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2015

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 3 stars

September is bored, so when the Green Wind turns up on his Leopard of Little Breezes and offers to take her to Fairyland, she doesn’t hesitate and goes away with him, without even a backward glance. But all isn’t well in Fairyland: wings are in iron chains, rules proliferate and the people fear to speak out. In short, Fairyland needs saving, and September rushes in, where angels fear to tread. But can she save herself, never mind Fairyland?

It took me a while to understand the rhythm of this book. In terms of writing, it’s very Fairy Tale and childlike, but as you continue to read, it deals with concepts and emotions more complex than would initially seem, but in such a subtle way that you almost don’t notice.

September is a likeable heroine who learns more about herself as she progresses through her adventures (as is right and proper for a fairy tale). We learn less of her companions, although I suspect that they may get more screen time in the sequels, especially the Marid, Saturday. The Marquess, when we finally meet her, is also more complex than first appearances suggest, and the final showdown between her and September is particularly satisfying.

There is a prequel short story, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While, about September’s predecessor Mallow available to read for free at which I enjoyed a lot, and sheds more light on some of what takes place here (I’d wait until finishing this one before reading the prequel though, as it’ll make more of a emotional impact that way).

Book details

ISBN: 9781780339818
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year of publication: 2011

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While (Fairyland, #0.5)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

Lovely little prequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I just finished earlier today. This tells the story of how Mallow became queen of Fairyland, and gives extra depth to The Girl Who Circumnavigated. It lends another dimension to the novel but also works perfectly well on its own, with a very similar feel to the novel: charming yet with a layer of darkness under the surface.

Book details

Publisher: Tor Book
Year of publication: 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Tiffany Aching is getting on with the job of being the witch of the Chalk, taking the responsibility for bringing people into the world, helping them leave and all the bits in between. For a young woman it’s a heavy load, so she really doesn’t need an ancient malevolent spirit being awoken and coming after her.

I enjoyed this book and feel that I should really have more to say about it, but I can’t really think of an awful lot. There were some small surprises for me, such as the character of the Duchess and how she evolved, along with her daughter, but I didn’t really feel an awful lot of fear for Tiffany herself. She seems to have reached the same sort of stage as Granny Weatherwax, where she’s pretty much indestructible so I felt sure that she’d be able to deal with the Cunning Man.

The Cunning Man, by the way, is a pretty excellent villain. His origin story is marvellously gruesome and the idea of this eyeless creature full of hate and malevolence is very evocative.

The other thing the surprised me was Preston and his story. I was sure that Pratchett was going to take Tiffany along the dutiful, lonely road, so it was a bit of a surprise (a pleasant one, mind) when he and Tiffany did actually sort of get together at the end of the book. It’s nice to get a happy ending for the person who spent her own time ensuring happy endings for others.

The humour in this book was the thoughtful, ‘wry smile’ variety rather than the belly laughs of Pratchett’s early work, although there were still some really laugh out loud moments. These were almost all provided care of the Nac Mac Feegle, who retain all the charm of their early days for me as they enthusiastically fight, steal and generally caper through life, but always protecting their Hag o’ the Hills. They’re a joy to read and, I imagine, to write. I can just imagine Pratchett sitting at his keyboard, chuckling to himself as he wrote them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552166058
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2010

Planesrunner: Everness Book 1

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

Everett Singh is a young geek whose physicist father is kidnapped before his eyes. But his father has left him something: an app on his tablet that turns out to be a map to the multiverse, something which some people would literally kill to get. A combination of skill and luck gets Everett to one of the parallel Earths where he falls in with the crew of the airship Everness. He must win their trust to help him in finding his father and escaping his enemies.

This was a pacey written book with lots going on to keep the reader interested. Everett is a likeable enough young protagonist and there are stacks of geek and pop culture references interspersed that would probably endear the book to the YA audience that it’s aimed at.

I couldn’t help thinking at times, however, that Everett is a bit too competent and calm under everything that happens. Or maybe that’s just me projecting (I’d fall apart, I suspect).

A decent enough book but not one that made me immediately want to go and find the next in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780876672
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2011


By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Dodger is a tosher, someone who scavenges in the sewers beneath Victorian London to make a living, and he’s a good one. Not only is he a tosher, but he’s a geezer. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. His world changes entirely when he helps a young woman in need during a storm and gets involved in politics, intrigue and international espionage for his troubles.

I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel by Terry Pratchett, (although the author decries that title in the afterword, as he moved some historical figures around in time and space so that they would all encounter each other during the novel) and Dodger is as engaging a character as ever emerged from the Disc. His friend and mentor, Solomon Cohen is also fantastic. His dry wit and imagined conversations with God make him a joy to read (and I would have loved to read about the adventures that he had in his youth, before he settled in London).

I’m always fond of a book where someone uses brains to solve problems, rather than hitting people with sharp implements until the problems go away (it’s one reason I’m so fond of Doctor Who), and although Dodger is good in a scrap, it’s his wits that keep him alive in the depths of London’s less salubrious areas and also what he uses to ultimately solve the problem in front of him.

Coming up from the sewer, Dodger meets a number of historical figures, including Charles Dickens, who helps him throughout the book. Benjamin Disraeli, Joseph Bazalgette, Robert Peel and Charles Babbage all show up, even if some are just extended (or not so extended) cameos. There are also a couple of lesser known figures, including Henry Mayhew, who, like Dickens, tried to publicise the plight of the poor in London (although he did it through facts and figures, rather than prose) and Angela Burdett-Coutts, an heiress and philanthropist and one of the richest women in the world. None of these seemed forced into the novel and they add to the richness of the story by interweaving it with the real London of the time.

While this book doesn’t have the laugh out loud humour of Pratchett at what I regard his best, there’s a vein of humour running through it, even if it is at quite a low level. An entertaining and, at times educational (it didn’t occur to me to wonder about the dog’s name until it was brought up at the end of the book) book, definitely worth the time of a fan of Pratchett, Dickens or London.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552563147
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2012


By Mitch Benn

Rating: 4 stars

I mostly bought this book because I’m quite fond of Mitch Benn as a comedian and had heard good things about it (praise from Neil Gaiman is not to be sniffed at). It’s the story of a baby girl, abandoned by her parents as they are terrified by an alien spaceship that appears in the middle of the road one night. The scientist on board the ship takes the girl home and raises her himself, calling her Terra. Terra grows up, starts school and has to cope with being different. And then, one day, war comes back to the planet Fnrr.

Essentially this is a coming of age tale, with Terra discovering herself and dealing with adversity, being different and alone, but loved, and essentially discovering that people are people, no matter what skin they wear. Benn is obviously an SF fan and particularly early on, there are lots of nods to Golden Age SF, from the gravity bubbles to the scientist-heroes of Mlml (the nation state that Terra and her adoptive father live in).

This is another of those books that I would have devoured as a young teenager, and I look forward to be being to give it as a gift to my nieces and nephews (not to mention the children of friends) as they grow up, along with some of the classics of my own youth. An assured and confident first novel, it’s not just young people who will enjoy this, it’s got something to say to everyone who ever felt different and alone.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575132108
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2013

Archer’s Goon

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

Howard comes home one evening to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen, demanding the two thousand that are owed by Howard’s dad. Over the next few weeks, Howard and his whole family start getting involved in what seems to be a giant conspiracy by a family of very powerful people. It’s up to Howard, doubtfully aided by his sister, Awful, and the Goon, to figure out what’s going on and sort it out.

I enjoyed this YA fantasy novel, with the seven siblings who ‘farm’ the town that Howard and his family live in, looking after different aspects of the town’s infrastructure and civil society. Howard is a good protagonist, and Awful is as amusingly bad as her nickname suggests. The ‘farmers’ are grotesque in their own different ways, with music being played, gas and electricity being cut off, roads being dug up and more to try and get the two thousand from Howard’s dad.

A fun story, and it’s got a decent conclusion and ending as well, something that Jones sometimes struggles with, in my experience.

Book details

ISBN: 9780416622805
Publisher: Methuen Children's
Year of publication: 1984

Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle, #1)

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 4 stars

This is a reread so I’ll reuse my previous review from the wiki: “The young heroine (Sophie) gets turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste and eventually makes her way to the moving castle owned by the dreaded wizard Howl, where she inspires her own dread by instating herself as the cleaning lady, while she tries to break the spell. This is an excellent book with likable characters and a plot that makes sense (unlike the film). Well worth a read (or two).”

Book details

Publisher: HarperCollins
Year of publication: 1986

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