Book Review: This Savage Song

Monsters.  Under the bed, under the sea, looming over us with their huge spiked club mid-battle… over the years we’ve seen them all, but none quite like those that feature in VE Schwab’s haunting, insidiously chilling THIS SAVAGE SONG, which I recently raced through in a few short days.

The monsters in this relentlessly dark future are real, walking amongst us, taking our form, but brought into being by our own evil deeds – the more unspeakable the horror the deadlier the creature that is created.  In this world, the edgy and difficult Kate is trying to find her way despite the machinations of her all-powerful father, and with the help/complication of charismatic new boy (and undercover monster) August.

A clever premise combines with unusual and intriguing characters to bring this appalling alternative society to life, and the reader is sucked in and lost amongst its brutal urban landscape of decay (both moral and physical) from the very first pages.  The pace of this book is somehow simultaneously hypnotic and frenetic, with plenty of action and horror to satisfy while also providing the space for a tender love story to blossom at its heart.  The fact that it also acts as an allegory for the ‘evil that men do’ and meditates on whether we can control the evil that may be innate, lying dormant but inevitable within us, also makes it a relevant read within today’s global atmosphere of unrest and unease.  I will definitely be reading the sequel of this black-hearted urban symphony.

Book Review: Chasing The Stars

 

It will not be a surprise to anyone that I love books set in space, and when I heard about this – a take on Othello by the amazing Malorie Blackman – I knew it would be fantastic.  Othello is actually one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it’s so complex, so rich and must have been so forward-thinking for its time.  (I even got my one and only 100% for an essay on it when studying it at A-level, but that’s a different story).

V and her brother are alone on a spaceship, lone survivors of a virus which has wiped out the rest of the crew.  Into this isolation comes Nathan and his fellow crewmembers, and he and V feel an immediate and powerful attraction to each other.  But there is trouble ahead, as the varying motivations of those around them lead to manipulation, betrayal and secrets that threaten to tear them, and the wider situation, apart.

It’s an intriguing and eerie set-up, with Blackman creating a very dark and intensely lonely world for her protagonist.  It initially stretches believability that two teenagers would be able to manage to survive in deep space alone on a huge spacecraft, but there is a good explanation for this that is later revealed (and I didn’t see it coming at all).  Blackman is typically unflinching and honest in her realistic depiction of both sex and violence, which is something I really love about her writing.  True to her well established form, she ratchets up an almost unbearable amount of tension in depicting the increasingly twisted loyalties between her cast of characters, leading to an exciting climax and an unexpected final twist, that definitely leaves you wanting more.

A dark, brutal, suspenseful space tale, with plenty of twists and a fearless but believable heroine, from a seasoned storyteller at the top of her game.

Book Review: Illuminae

illuminae-coverYou can only hear about a book so many times before you realise you’re going to have to read it for yourself.  And so it was with the much lauded Illuminae.  A dark, dirty, brutal space apocalypse of a novel that explores endurance, resilience and the nature of intelligence through records of conversations, documents, memos, IMs and emails, with inevitably shifting viewpoints.

It’s hard to believe that a story told in this way could make the deep emotional impact that Illuminae does, and as a writer I sometimes found myself wondering why the authors had set themselves this specific challenge.  I couldn’t initially see that this form could be anything other than a barrier to the telling of a great story and the building of a well-drawn world.  But, as it progresses, two things happen: one is that you become so used to it that you stop even noticing, and the second is that the realisation dawns that this particular story could only ever have been told in this particular way.

The central character’s bravery, while staggering, never strays into the realms of the ridiculous.  My pet hate is heros who appear to feel no fear or hesitation; that’s not courage, that’s a psychological issue.  Kady’s fear and trepidation and doubts and horror and pain are visceral and bleed through the page.  But in amongst it all, sitting incongruously in this inevitably cold and brutal environment, there is also warmth, love and humour.  Particularly in some of the IM sections, I actually had several of those bedtime LOL moments that make my husband look askance at me.  

(More looking askance occurred when I began tilting and peering at my Kindle, and a brief aside here on the limits of the format, for consideration when investing in this book.  Living in a country where I can’t easily buy physical books in my preferred language means that I am usually a die-hard fan of the Kindle, but Illuminae’s artistic ambitions and insistence on experimentation with form make this a challenge that the plucky device is not quite able to deliver on.  Although there was something inherently pleasing about reading it on a little glowing crystal display in the dark, almost like I was tucked into a corner of the spaceship myself.  That said, I definitely feel I missed out by not possessing it in full physical glory.)

Protagonists who are believable as both teenagers and everymen, a suitably cold and well-defined space setting, and a backstory that underpins and founds, without overwhelming, Illuminae weaves in the familiar while simultaneously subverting the expected.  Making thrilling use of elements of zombie apocalypse and high-brow cerebral sci-fi, as well as twisty political intrigue and high-octane action, Illuminae has the genre-defying air of a captivating epic just getting started.

A Blog on a Vlog

I was recently asked to make a video for hebban.nl on my thoughts about why sci-fi is popular. Obviously I made a bit of a hash of it. I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before so I ended up recording it about eight hundred times before I could manage to say it all without massive pauses and loads of umming and ahing. It was only later I realised that what I really should have done is just edited those out. Doh. Well, you live and learn. And now I have my own YouTube channel I guess I might as well try my hand at a few more.

Here’s the link in case you want to hear me rambling on and sharing my thoughts about why sci-fi is particularly popular at the moment.

Book Review: The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet

 

TLWTASAPI was recommended this book on #ukyachat but really had no idea what to expect.  I loved the title and of course I’m a HUGE sci-fi fan, so I was looking forward to finding out what the buzz was about.

In TLWTASAP, Becky Chambers introduces us to a vast, complex, multi-racial interconnected universe in which economic, political and cultural differences have been overcome to form a fragile alliance between many of the planets, systems and alien races. This is explored in both macro scale and micro scale, in the form of the multi-racial crew of the jobbing tunnelling ship The Wayfarer, a diverse and quirky band who have accepted their differences and fallen into a close camaraderie. They land the high-paying job of their dreams, but over the time and distance it takes them to complete it, they discover that it is not without its drawbacks.

The morals and ethics of war, the greed and inevitable fate of the human race, differing philosophies and notions of love, family and friendship – there is just so much in this book to think about and discuss. I found myself thinking that there was more than one story here, that there were, in fact, potentially dozens of spin-offs I would be interested to read. For this reason I was not surprised and was happy to find out that this is the first in a series.

The dazzling world building put me in mind of Iain M Banks’ Culture sci-fi series in its epic scale, diversity and solid rendering, and will ensure that any reader is keen to revisit this world. A fantastic and highly original book with action, tension, depth and heart.

Found in Translation

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 18.21.10July 1st saw the release of the first translated foreign language version of The Loneliness of Distant Beings – Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg – in Holland.  So far, the Dutch publishers, bloggers, readers (well just about everybody involved) have been so positive and responded with such enthusiasm and I am super excited to have been translated into a language I don’t even slightly understand so that I can reach a whole new set of readers.  Can you imagine how hard it is to translate a whole book?  Crazy.

On the left is the quote card the Dutch publishers produced with a book club who sent my book out in the monthly box to their subscribers.  There were two hundred of these cards that traveled all the way to Spain for me to sign, before heading back to Holland and into the homes of new readers.  A few of them even made videos of them”unboxing” and then posted them online (apparently this is a thing).  Obviously I have no idea what anyone is saying in these videos but I still think they’re very cool:  http://www.celebratebooks.nl/unboxing/.

Tonight I will even be dropping in to an event over there (sadly only via Skype) but I am really looking forward to meeting (sort of) some of my readers over there.  Wish me luck!