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Otared, Graustark and The Winning of Barbara Worth

OtaredOne very modern book and five very old ones. Are there common themes? Is there a pattern?! Not really, no.

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Mohammed Rabie's Otared (2016) is a harrowing existential thriller, set in a near-future Cairo. The city has been occupied by a mercenary army - a sort of quasi-Masonic organisation that swept through in a sudden coup with distinctly Cruaderish underpinnings. Cairo persists - everyday life plods along, despite the foreign invaders and the ominous ring of battleships.

Otared is a former policeman who, infuriated by the way the government rolled over, has joined the rebellion. His job is distasteful: assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist - everything in-between. Otared repeatedly asks the same question - how far would you go? - with different nuances and inflections each time. The voiceless people of Cairo are choosing between two - if not 'evils - brutalities. Otared decides what he will do, how far he will go, in the name of a city that he never particularly liked and certainly never liked him. It is particularly telling that the resistence is led neither by civilians nor military, but policemen - who Otared describes less as a public service and more like a necessary evil. 

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Fiction: "An Affinitive Romance" by John Kendrick Bangs

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I. MR. AUGUSTUS RICHARDS'S IDEAL

Mr. Augustus Richards was thirty years of age and unmarried. He could afford to marry, and he had admired many women, but none of them came up to his ideals. Miss Fotheringay, for instance, represented his notions as to what a woman should be physically, but intellectually he found her woefully below his required standard. She was tall and stately—Junoesque some people called her—but in her conversation she was decidedly flippant. She was interested in all the small things of life, but for the great ones she had no inclination. She preferred a dance with a callow youth to a chat with a man of learning. She worshipped artificial in-door life, but had no sympathy with nature. The country she abominated, and her ideas of rest consisted solely in a change of locality, which was why she went to Newport every summer, there to indulge in further routs and dances when she wearied of the routs and dances of New York.

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Small Press Shakedown: Philippa Martinez of Uruk Press

Fencing AcademyThe UK has a fantastic small press scene. To celebrate the people behind the imprints, and help out the writers that are looking to them for publication, we've asked a number of editors to share what they're working on - and what they're looking for. This week, our guest is Philippa Martinez from Uruk Press.

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Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you're doing?

Uruk Press has a humble aim: to publish the best in fantasy and science erotica. Hey, you have to aim big, right? I started the company a couple of years ago when I was on maternity leave and feeling a bit depressed and isolated from the world. Rediscovering my love of fanfic and online fantasy filth was a bit of a lifeline and then I though, why not do it yourself?

I was pretty much a total amateur but things seem to have worked out quite. I've even got over my phobia of cheesy but commercially useful blurbs!

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A Closed and Common Orbit, Moonraker's Bride and The Season

Moonrakers BrideHappy almost Valentine's Day!

To celebrate, three very different romances: a contemporary space opera (kinda), a globe-trotting adventure (kinda), and a Regency romance (kinda). Love is in the air, and it is not so easily classified. 

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Madeline Brent's Moonraker's Bride (1973) is another of the award-winning novelist's semi-Gothic, globe-trotting, quasi-Victorian escapades. I'm slightly obsessed with Brent's books ever since discovering that 'she' is the pen name for Peter O'Donnell, who also wrote the action series Modesty Blaise. The obsession has now paid off with a handful of really delightful books, of which Moonraker's is one. 

Lucy Waring, our heroine, is born overseas, an orphan in a remote Himalayan village. This means she's got practical skills (including yak-herding!) and an adventurous spirit... but is completely on the back foot in British society. The combination means she can be shy, but courageous, and supremely competent... yet also in constant need of rescuing. This is the delicate balance that Brent creates in all 'her' books, and it might be at its most delicate in Moonraker's. Further familiar twists include the circumstantial-marriage-that-could-be-real-love, family secrets, and a lot of ponderously-delivered pop psychology.

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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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K.M. Carroll's Malevolent (2015)

9k="I met Mal the day he tried to kill my boyfriend."

And with that, Malevolent begins.

The 'I' is Libby. She's a high school senior, but not a very active one. Stricken with 'Valley Fever', she's virtually bedridden: even on the good days, she's worried about ranging too far - her mysterious ailment could strike at any time. 

Malevolent opens on one of those good days. She's feeling fairly strong, plus, the beekeepers are in town. Libby's family has an almond farm. The annual visit of the beekeepers and their pollinating bug-friends is not only important to the farm's success, but it is also a lot of fun to watch.

This year is especially fun, as there's an enigmatic stranger in the mix. This newcomer works with unnatural speed, and has a connection with his bees that seems almost magical. His strength, speed and pallor all combine to make Libby think - jokingly - that this newcomer, Mal, is a vampire. (awkward cough)

 

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Review Round-up: Detectives, Aliens and a Succubus

The Yellow PhantomDid you know the goodie bag at the Oscars is worth something like $200,000?!

This goodie bag of belated reviews isn't. But it does feature detective stories by Margaret Sutton and Elliott Hall, as well as Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid and Raymond Jones' The Alien. So that's something!

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Margaret Sutton's The Yellow Phantom (1932)

Sutton's Judy Bolton was a 'girl detective' with the misfortune to be published at the same time as Nancy Drew. That said, Bolton's adventures ran for 38 volumes and have accumulated a certain fandom of their own. One critical difference is a sense of growth (and canonicity, I suppose). Unlike the freewheeling but ageless Drew, Bolton grows up, falls in love, gets married and tackles more of 'life'. 

Still, The Yellow Phantom is still - well - very much an artefact of its time. Judy and her friends travel to New York City where they meet a mysterious and handsome writer of handsome and mysterious books.

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The Siren and the Sword by Cecilia Tan

The Siren and the SwordThe Siren and the Sword (2014) is about Kyle.

Hi, Kyle!

Kyle is an orphan, living with a distant family member who hates him. Through a series of seemingly miraculous events, he learns he's actually a wizard - from a highly respected magical family. He's accepted into a magical university that's divided into four houses. He learns he's (probably) the Chosen One of an ancient prophesy. He makes friends. He fights evil. Etc.

So, yes, this is rather blatantly inspired by Harry Potter, and one of the (genuinely) best parts of The Siren and the Sword is the afterword in which Cecilia Tan discusses her influences, and how she deliberately set out to adapt them in ways that interested her. 

And, in a way, Siren - the first of the 'Magic University' series - is a distinct refinement of its, uh, predecessor. Siren is, as the series title might suggest, wholly about being a magic student. The overall plot is, accordingly, completely tangential; this is a book about late night pizza, course selection, cramming for finals and hooking up. It is a very niche area of world-building, but given the timeless appeal of wizarding school stories, a popular one. And it is fun - school stories give a method of infodumping that's inherently empathetic, much more so than, say, your typical 'wise old man exposits' format. 

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Review Round-up: The Essex Sisters and Rules of Prey

Kiss Me, AnnabelA quick round-up of some recent reads: The Essex Sisters, four volumes of Regency hijinks by Eloisa James, and Rules of Prey, the first Lucas Davenport thriller.

Eloisa James' Essex Sisters (2005 - 2006)

Eloisa James's books are wonderful. They are charming, bantery romances that are almost entirely populated by nice people doing nice things for one another. I've written in the past about how epic fantasy could pick up some tricks from historical romance, and the Essex Sisters series ticks those boxes nicely. There's clever foreshadowing with the interrelated characters and perspectives, a casual approach to historical authenticity that balances empowered female characters with Regency world-building, and an openness to both humour and (of course) romance. These four books - about the marital prospects of four orphaned sisters - aren't quite as conniving or as surprising as the Desperate Duchesses series, but they certainly have their highlights. The third, The Taming of the Duke, is perhaps my favourite, as both the male and female leads have their obstacles to overcome. (I was a little disappointed by the final volume, as it recycled some tricks, and used a 'woman in peril' shtick that felt tonally different from the rest of the series.) 

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