Something else I've learned this week - the existence of "The Georgette Heyer Historical Fiction Prize". This was proudly emblazoned on the spine of Zemindar, which I promptly bought for £2. See, awards do sell books!
However, the topic is well worth revisiting, as this excellent book is now published in the US and UK. You can find it on Amazon [that American cover is amazing!] and in the UK through Belgravia Books (as well as other retailers).
Katya Grubbs is an exterminator - more a relocator, actually, as she’s a fundamental believer in vermin’s right to life. A swarm of mysterious beetles infests an idyllic suburb and Katya is hired to do her thing. Her investigation brings her in contact with pests of all shapes and sizes - including the suburb’s sleazy developer and her own wayward father.
Despite the lack of any SF/F elements, Nineveh is a contemporary urban fantasy classic, along the lines of Zoo City and King Rat; a tale about a hidden world and the people (or creatures) that live beneath our notice. Katya is an exterminator with a heart. Eschewing her father's brutal approach to the job, Katya tries to move the insects rather than killing them.
Her standards - ethical, moral, professional - are all put to the test when a wealthy developer hires her to clear his new suburb of a beetle infestation. This is where things get creepy, crawly and a little bit chilling. The beetles don't behave the way bugs should, the previous exterminator on the job was her (mysteriously absent) father, and the property itself is inherently disturbing: a surreal landscape of abandoned wealth and unfinished buildings.
Nineveh works excellently as a metaphor for gentrification and class structure, but, for me, the real strength was in Katya's own journey - an exploration of empathy and the tenuous impossibility of finding balance. Katya tries to travel between two worlds; she's a good soldier and a loyal daughter, but also attempting to adhere to a greater moral code. The resulting novel is a haunting mystery and a perceptive character study; an unsettling and gorgeous tale of what lies beneath.
[Editor's note: Londoners, there's a launch gig tonight at Gallic Books!]
We found a cute little landscape drawing in an antique shop today, but we were much more taken by the print the reverse. Because GIANT PHEASANT ADVENTURE is pretty amazing.
It’s not unusual for a comic book artist’s style to develop or progress as their career continues. It’s a bit rarer for an artist to totally change their style or technique over time or between projects, although many artists do experiment. It’s rarer still for an artist to use two totally different styles or techniques at the same time, in the same book and even on the same page... but one who does is top comic artist and cartoonist: Ramón K. Pérez.
I've reviewed four of this year's #SPFBO finalists already - you can find those here, as well as my (slightly whiny) approach to scoring. The best way to keep up with all the reviews is through this page, where organiser-and-author Mark Lawrence keeps track of the scores and reviews.
This set includes assassins and demons and all sort of fantastic goodies, so let's get stuck in.
A throwback! Huzzah! Assassin's Charge is easily one of the most readable of the finalists - a zippy, accessible fantasy that's quick to pick up and easy to read. Rhisia Sen is one of the classic fantasy tropes: the badass assassin. We're introduced to her in all of her badass glory: she plots a job, does some remarkable gymnastics, flings awesome gear about and, steely-eyed, gets the job done. Then she returns home to her mansion, gets pampered, has sex with gritty boy-toys, and is generally, you know, badass.
Except even Rhisia's badassery has its limits. Her handler gives her the job of a lifetime - an incredible payout that will allow her to retire in total luxury. She travels out to a village in the middle of nowhere, ready to do her assassination thing, but... the job is a kid (child, not goat). Rhisia's heart might be badass, but it still beats. In an unprecedented act of unprofessional behaviour, she calls the job off.
Unfortunately, the job has other ideas. It turns out that Rhisia's handler - backed by the Emperor himself - has betrayed her. And Rhisia now has a price on her head. With her (still-breathing) victim in tow, and a sexy smuggler to help, Rhisia sets out to solve the mystery, turn the tables and, of course, save her skin.