When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood–and the moods of those around her–moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother’s funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita’s final months–sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files–Norma begins to realize that her mother knew more about her hair’s powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma’s imagining.
Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish writer and playwright, and has published over five novels - "Purge" and "When the Doves Disappeared" the best known in the English speaking world
It’s 1592. Europe is in chaos. Religious factions have torn the region apart and witch-hunts have become a part of everyday life.
In the Company of Wolves follows three groups of travelers – a fearless female pirate roaming the North Sea, a priest and his wife escaping to England to avoid persecution, and a young thief from the slums of Germany looking for a better life. Each has a different reason for venturing out in such tumultuous times – fear, greed, family secrets.
Is the Werewolf of Bedburg still alive, roaming the countryside and killing innocent citizens? Many believe he’s still out there—that religious and political leaders have forsaken the truth in their cunning quest for power.
As each traveler searches for individual answers, these three seemingly separate stories converge in a place which may hold the key for them all. Based on true events involving one of the deadliest witch trials in European history, this tale of adventure, mystery, and the search for truth reminds us that, ultimately, no one is safe . . . in the company of wolves.
"In the Company of Wolves" is the sequel to "Devil in the Countryside" - a book I reviewed earlier in 2017 (review here). An intriguingly dark true story given the historical fiction treatment, it was a compelling read that blended excellent characterisation with a dark, genre-crossing plot. Cory has returned to that world and those characters in "In the Company of Wolves" - and it's a read that's just as compelling as the first.
In fact, it appears to me that Barclay has really hit his stride in "In the Company of Wolves". The interactions between characters seem more natural, and the pacing is fantastic, with the switching of viewpoints allowing for a huge amount of brilliant cliffhangers to crop up through out the course of the book. The distinct viewpoints are interesting enough that, whilst I was left eager to know what had happened to a character, I wasn't too annoyed when I was torn away from one journey and showed another - especially as, for a lot of the book, the individual chapters are rather short - allowing for a swift and interesting read that keeps the reader moving through this dark and dangerous world at considerable speed. It's a nice touch, and reminded me somewhat of the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls - dark stories told in quick, easily readable snippets.
A real draw of these books is that Barclay shines a light on historical events that have been all but forgotten - and shining a light on the "Trier Witch Trials" makes for immensely fascinating reading. The characters drawn from history are brought to life with considerable skill, joining the already impressive fictional creations of the author in order to guide the reader through dark, dramatic but ultimately incredibly well researched historical events
Things feel a little unfinished towards the end - but I'm sure they'll be resolved well in Book Three, which I'm already looking forward too! Thanks to Cory for the copy - and make sure to pick up "Devil in the Countryside" first in order to make sure you know what's going on!
Beginning with Moby Dick: The Rise of the Undead (Part One), Tex Daw chronicles the passage of two men on board the Pequod, a whaling vessel poised on the edge of a world that is about to change forever. Haunted by the riddle of the vampire’s dance, each of the men is transformed, and the world is made anew…
Tex Daw is a digital collage artist, a tai chi practitioner, and an avid BMX rider. He is currently living in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and is a keen instagrammer – follow him @texdaw.
In the last ten years or so there have been a wave of reimaginings of classic tales with supernatural elements – the unexpected popularity of”Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” beginning a flood of titles that included my personal favourite (in terms of titles, I’ve yet to read it – )”Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”. Some of the books were okay, some were no more than cheap cash-ins that failed to stay true to the original, so the trend seemed to die down a little – a fact cemented by the recent box office bomb that was the film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. So, when I received a copy of “Moby Dick – The Rise of the Undead”, I can’t deny that I was a little concerned about what kind of read it would be…
Thankfully, it’s really very good indeed.
Moby Dick, in it’s original form by Herman Melville, is already a very strange, gripping read, filled with giant sea creatures, strange prophecies, lost coffins and rampant homoeroticism. Tex Daw has taken all of the elements that make Moby Dick a great read and amped them up somewhat – but he’s done so with great respect for the original text. As a result, this is very fun read – a dark and moody adventure peppered with the supernatural, the subterranean, and gallons of seamen (pun very much intended!). It’s no light read either – the prose is at times elaborate and clever, with some very amusing phrases and snippets of dialogue really brightening the book up.
If you like men, whales, the sea, or simply fun takes on old classics, “Moby Dick – The Rise of the Undead” is a fun and thrilling read – bring on part two!
The Genetic Wars that turned most of the planet into a wasteland are over. The so-called “dregs” (short for “DNA regulars”) and superpowered “Supergenics” now live separately from each other: the Supergenics in the shiny towers of Jupitar City, the dregs across the river in the squat concrete buildings of the boroughs. But Supergenic children are still born to dreg parents, and under repressive laws must be sent to live with their own kind. To find these special few, every teen faces their Testing Day. When her turn comes, socially isolated Caitlin Feral is determined to Manifest superpowers. If she fails, she faces a lifetime of loneliness and drudgery in the boroughs. But how much is she willing to sacrifice to be the supergirl she’s always wanted to be? And when she uncovers dark secrets kept by both sides, does she dare start another war to reveal the truth?
Author Steven Bereznai is a Toronto based author and Travel Writer, who has previously published three other books, as well as having his short stories featured in various anthologies, and articles featured in a huge amount of publications. An avid water polo player, registered hypnotist and pilates instructor (not all at the same time. I hope), he’s also a keen fan of comics and superheroes – something that serves him extremely well in this tale.
“I Want Superheroes” is a book that manages to find a rather unique balance – the world is a dark, grim, dystopian one with very little light, but a lightness can be found in the characters, and, in rather touching scenes, their escape into the world of comics and superheroes. These characters live in a world inhabited by superpowered beings, but face injustice and mistreatment every day so it’s rather fitting then, that several of the characters find their escape in the fictional comics that once filled their world – comics that bear a very strong resemblance to those we read in our own Universe. Despite the huge popularity of superheroes in our media today, comics still rarely get acknowledged as pieces of literature, despite some storylines (the Dark Phoenix Saga and God Loves Man Kills are two of my favourite examples), being far better than many oft quoted works of classic literature – and modern graphic novels like “Persepolis” and “Safe Home” helping prove that the comic industry can give a huge amount more than many people may give it credit for. Comics are used here both as an influence and a catalyst – and Bereznai’s comic book knowledge shines through.
Caitlin is a strong lead character – her actions make a lot of sense, and Bereznai dares to take her to perhaps a slightly darker place than the lead is often put in in Dystopian YA books. In addition, she’s a layered, flawed and well developed character – intelligent, driven and talented enough to be a compelling character who stands above others, but normal enough to be relatable to the reader. Other characters too provide interesting counterpoints to Caitlin’s story – Normand in particular is both memorable and, as the story develops, an extremely intriguing character whose motivations are far more complex than one may feel initially. Bereznai writes teenagers well – even growing up in a dark world, they maintain the same complex feelings that regular teenagers do, and the author understands these. Older characters don’t just serve as antagonists or wallpaper here either – Caitlin’s mother is given an emotional backstory and hugely understandable motives, making her a character I’d be keen to see more of in future books. The characters being so well drawn really lifts this book above a lot of other YA books, and they work extremely well alongside the clever, surprising plot, and the general world building that Bereznai has done. In fact, the world he’s built is such a compelling one – similar to our own and yet so, so different, that I’d definitely like to read about how it came to be, and how it’ll change going forward.
Original, thrilling , and packed full of brilliant characters who take the reader on a twisting, turbulent adventure, “I Want Superpowers” is an entry to a universe that, no matter how dark or dystopian, I’m extremely eager to return to.
Every ninety years, twelve Gods return as Young people.
They are loved.
They are hated.
In two years, they are all dead.
It’s happening now.
It’s happening again.
So, I am a huge comics fan – I have been ever since I was a child, and for years my comics appreciation revolved solely around the X-Men – finding a home in that bunch of mutant misfits was a huge part of my growing up. Back in 2011, a new writer call Kieron Gillen came aboard as the writer of the flagship X-Men book, and his writing was so, so good, that I was compelled to seek out his other work. “Phonogram” is a fantastic piece of brit-pop centric fantasy, “Young Avengers” an amazing look at growing up told through super heroics, and a run writing Loki for “Journey Into Mystery” that, with the help of a certain Mr Hiddleston, has put Loki front and centre as a compelling anti hero in the Marvel Universe. So, I was understandably hugely excited when I read that he would be teaming up with his regular collaborator Jamie McKelvie for a new book, “The Wicked + The Divine” The Social Book Co were kind enough to send me a copy to review.
Does it live up to my impossibly high expectations?
Yes. Oh yes.
“The Wicked + The Divine” is a dizzying ride of a book, but a strong cast of characters make it a compelling and fun ride for the reader, even if you’ll spend most of the time on the edge of your seat. The twists here are so big, and so surprising, that there’s a strong chance you’ll be left open mouthed whilst reading. “Fandemonium” collects issues six to eleven of the comic, as well as some bonus supplementary material, most of which is in the form of stunning artwork. This is really the second arc of the book, so by this point the reader, and the characters, are fully entrenched in the mysteries surrounding the characters. Laura is a fantastic lead, and it’s always rather nice to see a 17 year old written as, well, a 17 year old. Issue Six contains a compelling two pages that don’t just explore the character, they also hit pretty hard at what it feels like to be a teenager, in a surprisingly quiet and effective manner. Characters only briefly met before, like Inanna and Cassandra are expanded upon in these issues, and the plot ricochets along at a breakneck pace, that still somehow allows the characters time to breathe and grow.
Of course, no comic would be complete without artwork, and Jamie McKelvie is genuinely one of the best comic book artists around today, without a doubt. Every character is distinct, the fashion and design is superb, and some issues ( in this case Issue 8, when Laura discovers the true extent of Dionysus’s powers), are stunning. Like tear out the pages and stick to the wall of an art gallery stunning. There’s such life in this world that they have created, such kinetic energy, that it’s truly, truly astonishing.
Compelling, clever and current, “The Wicked + The Divine” is easily one of the best comics being published today.
The Yorkshire city of Willingsley is full of straight-shooting, gobby northern folk going about their day to day lives, with their love affairs, their health problems and all of life’s other nonsense grinding on day after day. And then suddenly, monsters come to town and people start dying. At the center of it all is Eric Mayfair, a twenty-something who a year ago was facing imminent heart failure. Fatal. Terminal. That’s what the doctors said. And then, miraculously, Eric got better. He doesn’t know how. No one does. All he knows is he has a new heart, a great black leech of a thing embedded in his chest that no one else seems to see. Then someone close to Eric is murdered and, in his search for answers, Eric uncovers an unseen world of monsters, dark powers and deadly secrets.
I love a good urban fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy of all kinds, but there is something immensely satisfying about seeing places and situations you know transformed into dark corners full of magic and monsters, and characters that remind you of people from your life plagued with surprising powers and treacherous secrets. I’m fairly used to seeing dark urban fantasy set in the South of England, but the North still seems ripe for exploration – and author Steven B Williams is the man to do it.
The setting is a huge part of this story – the Northern town that the Yorkshire dwelling author creates is so fantastically drawn that any one who has been a town like it will instantly feel both at home an uneasy – this is that run down town you know, just with added monsters. It’s fitting too then that the characters are instantly recognisable – as someone who grew up gay in a Northern town, Eric’s experiences are immensely familiar. The other characters too, feel incredibly real – they never slip into stereotype or caricature, but remain fleshed out throughout. In fact, the characterisation is a huge strong point here – even the smaller characters are developed enough to make the reader feel that when these bit players leave the pages they head straight into fully fleshed out lives. Dee in particular was my favourite of these – a job centre worker planning for a wedding, who is swept into the chaos that is Eric’s life.
Plot wise, the strong characters are thankfully complimented by an equally strong plot, with themes of grief, acceptance and romance carefully threaded together. Eric slowly discovers that he is part of a strange new world – and the rules and mythology of this new world are seeded well here – there is a lot to take in, but it never overwhelms, and I’m eager to see it expanded in future books. Characters and concepts are seeded for the future, but the arc for this book still remains a satisfying one with a thrilling climax. It’s also an adult tale – nothing too explicit, but it’s a brave book that combines fantasy with characters who grapple with grief, loss, and depression – and yet still maintains a light and pacey tone that keeps one turning the pages over and over again.
As a new voice in fantasy, Steven B Williams is one to watch out for, as “Heartsnare” is an enthralling ride of a read. In this brave new world where fantasy can be found taking up increasingly more space in bookshops, it’s a treat to stumble across something as original, as exciting and as well written as “Heartsnare”. A must read, it’s out in October – so get preordering today!
Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent’s principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. Bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded, and whilst it’ll never bring a man fame or wealth, he’s not forced to rely on others or kill without cause. When a kidnapped girl forces Lynx to join a mercenary company, the job seems simple enough, and the mercanaries less stupid and vicious than most he’s met over the years. So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine…
We’re really living in a golden age of Fantasy now – ten years ago, could anyone have predicted that the water cooler show in 2016 would be fantasy epic Game of Thrones? That the Sci-Fi and Fantasy sections of bookstores would grow from mere shelves into whole bookcases stacked full of bestsellers? Fantasy books are absolutely everywhere, and, as a result, all sorts of fantasy are available – from the grim bloodiness of those like George R.R. Martin, through to the more heroic fantasy of Patrick Rothfuss and David Gemmell, and those that walk a line between them like Brian Mclellan’s Crimson Campaign series.
Stranger of Tempest veers more towards the heroic fantasy side of things, with large doses of humour amongst the fantastic cast of characters, and a rip roaring plot that raced at such a speed I almost felt like I was in a video game. In fact, I was reminded strongly of video games whilst reading this. Not the 2-Dimensional games of old, but of modern, engrossing games with twisting plots and characters who feel so real they can (and often do), break your heart. Not Mario or Tetris, think Final Fantasy, Dragon Age or The Witcher.
Lynx is a great lead character – not the buff young hero one often finds in such books, but a tired, paunchy, battleworn adventurer who does what he has to do in order to survive. Combine that with brilliant female characters such as Kas and Toil, and a compelling cast behind them, who are deftly drawn and provide much of the tension and humour that make this a great read.
The Great Detective’s ghost has walked London’s streets for an age, given shape by people’s memories. Now someone’s put a ceremonial dagger through his chest. But what’s the motive? And who – or what – could kill a ghost? When policing London’s supernatural underworld, eliminating the impossible is not an option. DI James Quill and his detectives have learnt this the hard way. Gifted with the Sight, they’ll pursue a criminal genius – who’ll lure them into a Sherlockian maze of clues and evidence. The team also have their own demons to fight. They’ve been to Hell and back (literally) but now the unit is falling apart…
Now, I should start by saying that I’m a big fan of Paul Cornell – his book British Summertime remains one of my favourite Sci-Fi novels, his writing for comics includes a spell writing my favourite character brilliantly (Pete Wisdom, in case anyone was wondering…), and his writing for Doctor Who resulted in some of the show’s greatest episodes since it returned (Human Nature and Family of Blood). I had previously enjoyed the two earlier books in the Shadow Police series, so I was excited for this one – although slightly apprehensive when I learnt that Cornell would be tackling Sherlock Holmes – in the current Holmes Renaissance we seem to be having at the moment, thanks to Misters Cumberbatch, Downer Jr and Miller. Tons of books featuring Holmes have been popping up in recent years – some good, some not so.
Thankfully, the Holmes situation is a very different one from what the reader may expect initially, and the main plot unfolds rapidly next to the intriguing developments in the lives of the main characters – I should note that I’d absolutely recommend reading the first two books in the series before reading this one – I’m sure the reader would catch up eventually, but the issues the characters are facing aren’t exactly run of the mill – so I’m sure prior knowledge of events helps to add to the experience.
The urban fantasy market is one that has been flooded in recent years – so it may be hard to tell what’s great and what isn’t when browsing the shelves. Rest assured that Cornell has crafted a series that is at the very top of it’s genre. Blending crime and fantasy superbly, Cornell does so whilst providing humour and witticisms, and a three dimensional cast with a hell of lot of heart – making these tense, fun reads. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
Stanly is frustrated. Having set himself up as London’s protector, he’s finding that the everyday practicalities of superheroism are challenging at best, and downright tedious at worst. So it’s almost a relief when an attempt is made on his life and Stanly finds himself rushing headlong into a twisted adventure, with enemies new and old coming out of the woodwork. However, even with his friends and his ever-increasing power behind him, he may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. The monsters are coming… and nothing will ever be the same!
Ace of Spiders is the second in Stefan Mohamed’s Bitter Sixteen series. The first one of which, Bitter Sixteen, I adored (so much so, that The Bookbag can be spotted raving about Bitter Sixteen on the back cover of Ace of Spiders). Compelling, warm, achingly funny and with a grasp of pop culture that appealed hugely to a big old geek like me. It has to be said, that whilst I was hugely excited to read the second one in the Bitter Sixteen series, I did approach it with some trepidation. Sequels are notoriously tricky things to pull off – would this fly, or would it flop?
My worries were misplaced – this is a sequel of The Empire Strikes Back proportions – expanding upon everything that was brilliant about the first book, and taking things into a dark direction that makes for compelling reading. Stanly, our lead character, is one of the most relatable teens I’ve read in some time – he’s super powerful, but also suitably flawed. His wit, humour, and humanity lead the reader through the book, delivering incredibly funny asides, and managing to be relatable for, I imagine, most of those who were ever a teen. Other characters are expanded upon too, with excellent results – Eddie, Connor and Sharon serve as a great family unit for Stanly, as do Tara and Kloe – and it’s these characters who really make the book for me.
A recurring issue with stories about superheroes is that the characters can often lack humanity – writers often choose to focus on mystical powers and mighty beings, but fail to look at the people behind those, meaning that stories can feel two dimensional, and lack any kind of emotion, failing to inspire or move the reader. But author Stefan Mohamed knows his pop culture well, and this shows – some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer focused on the Scooby gang and their relationships rather than dealing with the big bad of the week, and my favourite issue of a comic has a group of superheroes going to the pub. The exploration of the dynamics of a team and of a group of friends is something that will remain interesting no matter what the situation they are in – and Mohamed really excels at building a vivid, beating heart for his book.
As for the plot, after the origin story that was Bitter Sixteen, Mohamed turns things quite dark here. The humour and optimism remains, but the stakes are upped hugely, with villains on every corner and, yet again, a plot that soars like an Indie superhero blockbuster, defying expectations and entertaining on every single page. Stanly is not just the hero we need, he’s the one we deserve. The writing is brilliant, the characters vivid, and this series continues to be a definite one to watch, given that Mohamed has created another page turner jam packed with action, imagination, intelligence, emotion, humour, and a talking dog! I couldn’t ask for more out of a book.
Robin Fellows lives with his grandmother, and lives what appears to be a rather ordinary life for a normal twelve-year-old boy. But when Robin’s Gran dies, quite suddenly and a bit mysteriously, his life is turned upside down. A long lost relative comes out of the woodwork and whisks him away to a mysterious new home, Erkling Hall, a quiet estate in the solitary countryside of Lancashire. Suddenly Robin must adjust to his new reality. But reality is no longer what he thought it was…Erkling has many secrets. There is more than meets the eye to this old rambling mansion. Little does he know that there is more than meets the eye to himself. Robin is the world’s last Changeling, descended from a mystic race of Fae-people. Their homeland, the Netherworld, is caught in the throes of a terrible civil war. Not only this, but in this new world there is a magical force that has infiltrated the human realm. But before he can wrench power from the malevolent hands of the Netherworlde’s fearsome tyrant leader, Lady Eris, he must first search for the truth about himself and the ethereal Towers of Arcania.
I grew up on fantasy books, and it’s pretty safe to say I still haven’t grown out of them – you’ll find that the majority of books I review tend to run that way. Why? Well, like many, I view books as an escape, and I tend to find that there is a huge amount of skill involved in creating fantasy worlds. It’s all very well to write a crime or thriller set in the modern day, but you’re writing in the world the reader is already familiar with. But to create your own world for the reader to visit? That’s something that requires skill, imagination, hard work, and a lot of luck…
Happily, James Fahy has managed to conjure up a new world that is both comfortingly familiar, and magically strange. Robin is transported from mundane to suburbia to a world of mystery, before taking a full on tumble into a magical landscape, and it’s a very clever way of easing the reader in to the environment, meaning they are there with Robin every step of the way.
There’s no shortage of likeable characters to meet either, with Henry, Phorbas the Tutor, Aunt Irene, Woad the Faun and the mysterious Karya all coming together and facing such evil characters as the grotesque Moros and Strife, working for the evil Lady Eris… There is a traditional element to the plot, but it’s balanced well – I was happily reminded of the books of my childhood, but still found the plot exciting and unpredictable, with Fahy weaving a twisting plot that takes the reader on quite the adventure. Magic is used well too – it’s got limits and a system of use that I found fascinating, and hope will be expanded on in future books.
There’s more to come in the series, and I for one am very excited indeed –It’s great to see a new series that reminds me of the “Narnia” series by CS Lewis (without the overt religious preaching, thankfully), “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper, and “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” by Alan Garner – all childhood favourites of mine. Fast moving and thrilling, there is magic and mystery at every corner, accompanied by compelling characters. I’d recommend from anyone from the age of 10 or so – this is a book that manages to be suitable for both children and adults, and I imagine they’d have to be made of stone not to enjoy it…