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The Georgette Heyer Historical Fiction Prize

Georgette Heyer and Misty Dawn
Georgette Heyer (the wolfhound, Misty Dawn, is not the prize).
Photograph from the Georgette Heyer Estate, via the Guardian.


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!

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Nineveh by Henrietta Rose-Innes

51zj-nLhlaL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_A flashback, as I reviewed Nineveh a few years ago - I'm a Nineveh hipster!

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!


Review Round-up: The SPFBO Finalists (Part 2)

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.

51PgaT9Q0sL._SY346_Assassin's Charge by Claire Frank

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.

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Review Round-up: The SPFBO Finalists (Approach & Part 1)

51Q4ahBJtTLAfter months of tension and excitement and a lot of reading, we're now in the final round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. 

Ten bloggers read 30 self-published books each. Every blog selected one book for the final. Now, all ten bloggers are reading all ten books in pursuit of FANTASY EXCELLENCE (or, at the very least, a winner). We're each moving at our own pace, so the best way to keep up is through this page, where organiser-and-author Mark Lawrence keeps track of the scores and reviews.

You can find links to reviews of my initial 30 here.

So... I hate doing ratings for books. Genuinely. For long-term readers of this blog (hi mom!), you'll know that we haven't scored a book since 2010. In fact, in one of the few blatantly self-serving acts of revisionism I've ever committed, in 2011ish, I went through and deleted all the scores from previous reviews. I really don't like rating books.

However, I completely understand the need for some sort of judging system for the SPFBO, which features ten multiclass blogger/judges with very, very different tastes and scoring standards. So, I've embraced the chaos, and used numbers. Basically, this is a disclaimer that my numbers are just my numbers and OH GOD NEVER AGAIN. Also, please remember that the way judging works means I'm reviewing ten books that I didn't 'pre-select', so, naturally, they're not all going to be to my personal taste.

So, all caveats said and done, let's hand out the first batch of arbitrary numbers! 

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The Extinction Event: The Last Word

Jurassic London

Jonathan Edwards - The Extinction Event

We did so many things wrong.

In the introduction, 600-odd pages ago, Anne mentioned that we launched our first anthology, Stories of the Apocalypse without, well… the book. A dozen authors, another dozen family members, a double-handful of supportive friends and a couple befuddled strangers all gathered at Tate Britain to awkwardly scan some QR codes and listen to vague promises of future delivery. We sold three ebooks that day. Not exactly the glorious march into literary history that we had envisioned.

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The Extinction Event: The Beginning of the End

Jurassic London Joey Hi-Fi - The Lowest Heaven
Tate Britain, the redoubtable art museum, opened an exhibit about the 19th century painter John Martin on 21 September, 2011. Tantalizingly titled “John Martin: Apocalypse”, the exhibition was intended to bring this mostly forgotten painter, a flash-in-the-pan during his own lifetime, to the attention of a modern audience by associating his gigantic, Biblical paintings with an emerging cultural fascination with the end of the world.

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Alex Spears on "Dodo Ink and Risk-Taking Fiction"

Eleventh Letter front coverDodo Ink are a new publisher of fiction set up in 2015 by the novelist Sam Mills, book blogger Thom Cuell and myself, with a mission to publish innovative, risk-taking, imaginative and experimental fiction.

We had each had experiences that lead us to believe that there was an audience for novels that didn’t fit neatly onto mainstream publisher’s lists: Thom, on The Workshy Fop, as a champion of fiction from indie publishers; myself, having worked in the industry for several years and seen an ever-increasing focus on acquiring highly commercial properties, at the expense of what is termed the ‘midlist’, authors who are popular enough to command a steady readership and remain profitable to publish, but often not deemed commercial enough to them the tailored sales, marketing and PR attention that could help them develop their careers creatively and commercially. Sam, as a novelist and writer, experienced this first-hand when trying to help her friend Tom Tomaszewski secure a book deal or agent for his novel, The Eleventh Letter, which was deemed interesting, accomplished and original, but not commercial enough in today’s publishing climate.

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Villain of the Month: Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister by Caspian WhistlerAll right, let’s get the ritual caveat out of the way: the Cersei Lannister we’re looking at today is the version from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, as opposed to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Admittedly, this distinction gets a little messy now that the show has overtaken the books. I’m going to shamelessly take advantage of that by using the show as a sort of bonus reel of material, but in cases where the two sources diverge, the books will always trump. Clear? Good. On with the fun.

And Cersei is loads of fun – if you consider murder, treason, incest, and child-maiming fun. Yes indeed, Cersei’s list of crimes is long, and she shows no sign of slowing down. But for all the ghastliness of her deeds, she’s one of the subtlest, most textured, and in many ways the most believable villains I’ve come across. Not because of what she does, but why she does it.

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Prince: Stories from the Purple Underground

Prince-stories-from-the-purple-undergroundIn a few weeks it’ll be five months since Prince died.

It’s still not believable, still inconceivable, still a complete and utter shock to his fans worldwide. I haven't been able to write about him, but so many have, and so well. A great many people have started disclosing their personal stories about him - or so they claim, since some of these seem to be of the People magazine variety.

But the real ones, the authentic Prince stories are always, always a treat to hear. Even when he was alive, hearing a Prince story from someone - Matt Thorne, who wrote the seminal book on Prince music a few years ago and was flown in to Paisley Park only to have the great man listen to thanks but not talk, Kevin Smith’s long winded story about being hired to make music videos for Prince that never saw the light of day, the husband of a man I met at a Frankenstein symposium in Hermance telling me Ingrid Chavez left him for Prince… no matter what, or told by whom, stories about Prince have always, always made my day.

And so I can’t help but immediately fall in love with journalist Mobeen Azhar’s new book, Prince: Stories From the Purple Underground.

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