Summertime… and the Living is Booky

So it’s the end of summer, which I love/hate* (*delete as appropriate).  The thing is, after more than five years of living here, I still haven’t quite made up my mind about southern Spanish summers.  They are fiercely hot. I mean, it’s brutal. Every day and every goddam night. Relentless. Air sizzling; cicadas screaming. I make up excuses to visit shopping centres and other public buildings that I know have kick-ass air conditioning.  I have to sit in front of a fan on max to have a coherent thought. I can’t stand to wear underwear, anything that clings, or anything with a waistband, while dresses are out because my thighs stick together, so basically there are NO ACCEPTABLE CLOTHES IN THE WORLD.  Any footwear but flips flops is out of the question so my feet harden. The idea of any makeup is suffocating and there’s no point doing my hair because it just sweats into a hot mess within five minutes. Luckily all of the above means that nobody I run into even recognises the baggy-shorts-wearing, part-melted, mole-eyed, cloven-hooved, wild-haired woman swearing to herself in front of the warm cava at the supermarket, so at least that’s a bonus.

But I don’t work my day job for July, or for most of August (which is lucky considering the clothing issue), and we have a swimming pool in our backyard and a beach down the road, so really I don’t have an awful lot to complain about.  And there’s a certain predictability about it that makes life easier. What will the weather be like today? No need to ask. It’ll be screamingly hot, blazing blue skies, it’ll make you want to shake your fist at the sun by early evening and yell “Damn you, you flaming ball of hellfire – just set already!” – so you can go ahead and plan that picnic.

What better time to try and coax my confused brain into catching up on some reading?  Which is exactly what I did. Here’s my summer round-up (part one):

THE IMMORTALISTS

I loved this.  It starts with a great conceit.  It’s the end of the sixties in New York and the Gold siblings visit a psychic who claims to be able to tell you when you will die.  Essentially, the rest of the book concerns itself with two questions – would you really want to be in possession of this knowledge, and what would you do with it if you were?  The book then deep-dives into the lives of the siblings as they span the decades, spending time with one at a time and really getting below the surface of the different worlds in which they find themselves – their relationships, their careers, the way they feel about the twists and turns their lives take.  In doing this it gives us insight into not only the way the world (or more specifically the US) has changed over the intervening decades but also into the way people develop over the course of their lives – priorities and dreams and philosophies shifting as they move from their teens and twenties into their thirties and forties and beyond.  From San Francisco’s gay scene in the seventies and eighties, to the glitzy/seedy underworld of Vegas magic shows – there are regrets, loss, trauma, secrets and love; in each of the four sections of the novel, which feel like a story in themselves, another piece of the puzzle of the family’s fortune is traced. This is a real page-turner without ever feeling predictable.  It’s heartbreaking and melancholy and unusual and original and well crafted and slicky plotted and atmospheric and beautifully characterised. Do you remember that TV series they made in the nineties of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City? It kind-of reminds me of that in some ways… it’s probably largely the San Francisco thing, but also just a general atmosphere, a colour palette, an unflinchingly dark undertone overlaid with humour and warmth?  Not sure, but it put me in mind of it in a good way.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN US

I love Katie Kahn because she writes in a zone in which I also consider myself a resident.  We’re literary neighbours, as it were. She writes human, up-close personal trajectories in vivid, grand-scale sci-fi settings.  If you know my books, you’ll know that her stories are pretty much literally Right Up My Street. In this one she moves from space and the future (the settings for her first book HOLD BACK THE STARS) to time travel, and I love time travel.  Ever since THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE I’ve been a sucker for using time travel to explore human, emotional stories, while also throwing the reader off on some total headspins. What I love about this book is its central female foursome – academics, scientists, BFFs – and how fierce and fearless they are in their pursuit of discovery.  There’s something refreshingly lo-fi about the science in this book – it happens in barns and gardens and outhouses and is held together by sticky tape (actually I’m not sure this last one happens but it gives off that vibe). Purists might be frustrated by the lack of scientific explanation but I was relieved. One of my favourite films in the world is INCEPTION, which manages the very clever trick of getting you to completely accept a very unlikely scientific concept (lucid dream sharing and delving into someone’s subconscious) without questioning the theory behind it at all.  In a similar way, Kahn doesn’t waste time on huge info dumps or anything like that and instead concentrates on giving us character and story and setting and atmosphere and rainy bike rides through London. There was a couple of loose ends maybe… but what good story answers all of the questions it poses? Doubly true of decent science fiction, and I’m keen to see what Katie does next (see what I did there?).

EVERLESS

OK so you know that movie with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried where people use the time they have left to live as currency – IN TIME?  This is built on a similarish premise, but set within a world that couldn’t be more different. Let’s say it’s a fantasy version of IN TIME. I’m not at all sure if this is how Sara Holland would want it described but it’s how I summed it up to my girls’ reading group at school just before they unanimously voted to read it, and I should add that I love IN TIME.  I think IN TIME is, in fact, vastly underrated. So anyway EVERLESS is this kind of idea but more medieval and fantasy-ish and with a petrifying queen and a heroine with a special secret and a few extra twists like a town where… wait, no – that’s a spoiler and I really really wouldn’t want to spoil this. I read this on holiday in France and to this day I still can’t look at my pictures of the River Loire without thinking about my trip through the world of EVERLESS.  To say I was disappointed when I jumped straight on to the Kindle Store to buy the sequel and found out that it’s not out until January is an understatement. And I am NOT just saying this because I met Sara over the summer and she was lovely. That’s just a bonus. To sum up, if you like RED QUEEN you’ll like this, as they’re kind-of similar in vibe. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll like this a heck of a lot more – fewer crazy fight scenes, more crazy cocktails and female friendship.

THE CRUEL PRINCE

What is it about fairies?  I mean, I’ve gone on record before about how much I love SJ Maas’ A COURT OF… series, and now this.  Man there is something about a tall, dark, morally questionable fairy male I can’t resist. Ugh, that sounds terrible but you know what I mean.  For me the only problem is the title. I know Holly Black won’t lose sleep over this as she has a legion of fans and absolutely no trouble selling books, but somehow it feels like this simplistic descriptor of a title vastly undersells this darkly beautiful twisted tale and its intoxicating, uneasy atmosphere.  In the early pages I kept wondering if it was going to turn out to be a pastiche, a patchwork of all the high fey, fantasy tropes we know (and love), but it turned out to be something entirely new and unexpected, with bolshy, loveable, flawed human heroine Jude dragged off to the fairy realm by a murderous stepfather and raised among the beautiful and deadly courts of the kingdom.  Bullied at school and feeling out of her depth, Jude is looking to wrest some power for herself through her strength and skill as a warrior, but is drawn down a shadier path into espionage. I was so THERE for this story. The characters are so well drawn and nuanced in their many shades of grey. Who should and shouldn’t we trust? We as readers can never, never be sure. And there are hallucinogenic fairy fruits and wild parties and a crazy open-air magical fairy school and trips to the real world to go shopping in the mall.  Devoured it. Devoured it and left wanting more. Hopped straight onto the Kindle Store to buy the follow-up only to learn it won’t be out until January. ARGH HOW WILL I COPE UNTIL THEN???!

Aaaaaannnnd I still have six more books to review from my summer reading so…. To be continued!

In Support of Sexy Books

I’ve been thinking about sleaze.  I haven’t really – I just wanted to use the word, because it’s a great word.  SLEAZE. But what I actually want to talk about is sex.

The reason this came to mind?  Among other things, it was the fact that I recently read A COURT OF FROST AND STARLIGHT.  (*Mini review* I’m a Feysand shipper all the way so this was a must-read. I’ve read a few reviews reacting with a certain cynicism to this novella, described as ‘bridging the gap’ between the events of A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN and the next book, which I hear will focus on Nesta and Cassian.  I can see why some people have been frustrated by it, as it’s definitely a different proposition to the previous three books. It’s more a study of domestic detail – a meander through the daily lives of the inner circle as they prepare for the solstice. But I loved this. Tbh I had occasionally found myself longing for these quieter moments, particularly towards the end of the original trilogy when there was so much action and jeopardy and huge-scale stuff happening.  I really enjoyed this more contemplative study of relationship dynamics and how places and people heal after wars, running alongside the usual cheeky banter and antics. *Mini Review Ends*)

I rate a lot about Maas’ writing (her world building, her dialogue, her characterisation) but another thing I REALLY rate is the way she writes sex.  Sex is so much harder to write than people think and I think she gets it so right (when it’s so easy to get so wrong). What I love is how distinctly female it is – how owned by the female perspective.  For so long women have had sex ‘happen’ to them in books – even when it’s seen through their eyes they are taken; they are preyed on like a predator (or in the case of FIFTY SHADES – whipped by a psycho!  Sexy?! In what world?!). Maas’ heroines are full of a real, visceral passion, a desire that they are willing to indulge and act upon.

Maas has this amazing talent to write gorgeous men who are powerful and strong, but who are also looked at and enjoyed as things of beauty by their female partners, and by the readers. There is something genuinely empowering in reading her love scenes – a sense of equality that is at once exhilarating and inspiring.  I balk at lending these books out in the school library where I work, but only for fear of what the parents of my patrons might say if they read Chapter 55 of A COURT OF MIST AND FURY (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read these books and, if you haven’t, this chapter is one of the reasons why you must). In terms of what I myself feel is right and wrong for young people to read I am more than happy with these books.  I think sex positivity is important, and these books have that in spades. I am a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young women (in their own minds as well as those of men) as sexual prey. I am also a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young men (in their own minds as well as those of women) as predators. I have two daughters, and I want them to come to maturity in a world where sexual dynamics are aligned along a principle of equal partnership.

And I think we’re getting there.  Politics is one thing, and it has its part to play, but art (and therefore culture) also has a massive (maybe bigger) part to play in the story of us.  Humanity and its history are just the stories we tell in any case. And so the movies we make and watch, and the books we write and read (especially when we’re young and still forming our ideas) are going to be a crucial part of how we see things in the future.

I’ve never shied away from love scenes.  I love writing them and I’ve been told I’m not too bad at them. On the other hand I’ve also had feedback to suggest that some people think I go too far.  But I’m sticking by what I’ve written and here’s why: I want young people to read my books and feel empowered by the idea of wanting someone and being wanted back.  I want them to feel strong and sexy when they’re admired by someone they admire. I want them to look at the person they desire and see how beautiful they are and allow themselves to think that and feel that and say that and act upon that.  They don’t have to justify these feelings, or moralise them. Everybody makes mistakes so those are OK too. It’s fine to let it get messy – after all, this stuff is, by its very nature. If people think that’s going too far, it’s just something that I’m going to have to live with.  I’m not going to settle for anything less than brutal emotional honesty when contributing in my own small way to the story of us.

I know I can’t write sex like Sarah J Maas (can anyone?), but I’m going to keep writing it all the same.  And I’m going to keep writing it the way I do. It’s a brave new world, sexual politics wise, and I think it’s incredibly exciting.  I find myself constantly questioning things now that I had never even realised were so ingrained in my psyche. For a new generation coming through, free from those old beliefs, I believe that beautiful writing about desire and sex is going to be so important in reinventing the way they see themselves and their encounters.  So I think it’s important that I (as well far more skilled writers than me) keep writing about young people who own their own desire, and aren’t afraid of it, because these are the kind of people I think we’re all hoping to see in the shiny new future that increasingly feels like it’s just around the corner.  

All Roads Lead to Ventura

So here’s a question I keep getting asked… Is THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES:

a) a prequel?

b) a standalone?

c) the first part of the Ventura series?

d) the final part of the Ventura series?

The answer, my friends, is both far more complicated and surprisingly simple. And it is:

e) all of the above.

Right from the start, I have always known the Ventura’s origin story would have to be told. THE LONELINESS OF DISTANT BEINGS took us right into the middle of the Ventura’s several-hundred year mission so that, like main protagonist Seren, we are thrown into this rootless existence, hurtling through space in a tin can with no context, no history, no connection and also no hope of seeing the final destination. I wanted the reader to feel that lack of any past or any future beyond the walls of the Ventura, to experience that claustrophobia first hand.

In THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES the main character is also trapped, albeit in a different way. Bea, great grandmother to Seren, and potential Ventura recruit, is working full time while still at school in the rural Wales of 2050, where life is tough and uncompromising, and going nowhere fast.

Like Seren, Bea knows very little about love. But where Seren’s family life is all about structure, to the point where she feels there’s no space for real feelings, Bea’s family has no structure, no stability, and has been blown apart by the mess and havoc wreaked by the randomness of human emotion. All Bea knows about love is that it’s destructive, that it ends badly, that it can go unreturned and eat you up inside.

These aren’t the only ways in which Bea’s life is an inside-out mirror to Seren’s, but to say any more would provide too many spoilers all round. Suffice it to say that the series as a whole, and each part within it, are, at heart, about feeling trapped and finding a way to freedom. They are about main characters who are brave, determined, and who overcome obstacles and take repeated steps into the unknown in the quest for the future they know is right for them. They are about loss, agency, sacrifice, following your dreams, desire, growing up, being flawed, living with an invisible illness, what makes us human, and the unpredictable and uncertain beauty of love.

I love a beautifully rendered trilogy but, if you’re not careful, they can be predictable, or they can run out of steam. With my all-of-the-above third entry I was aiming to try something a little different. Why not make a series where, like one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’ from the eighties, you can find your own way into the story, following the clues and finding the links between the three, creating your own route through to the end? After all, writing a story is only ever half of the process. It only lives once its playing in the mind of the reader, like a movie on a screen, and I love the idea that his story could live in more ways than just one.

Originally written for Bkmrk, and appearing here https://bkmrk.co.uk/kate-ling-why-a-prequel/

Book Review: State of Sorrow

Well, it’s no secret that Ms Melinda Salisbury is a writer at the height of her considerable powers.  A fact she proves irrefutably yet again, with the fabulous STATE OF SORROW which I literally this minute finished and rushed to begin reviewing because… well… just… oh… my… god.

Where do I start?  Political machinations, absent parents, complex family dynamics, prejudices and expectations and old grudges – this book has more intrigue, Shakespearean drama and twisting, turning tapestry of plot than you can shake a stick at.  With several huge mysteries at its core, surprise after surprise, a dastardly villain, and several truly plucky heroines and heroes the pages turn effortlessly (and deep into the night if you’re not careful).

But what I love most about all of Salisbury’s books is that you are just right in there.  You are full-on inhabiting the skin of her characters, living in their world, smelling the smells and seeing the sights and feeling the feels.  That’s what makes it so intoxicating, like a good draft of starwater (that’s a little in-joke for those who’ve already read) – that it is so ‘other’, so unique, so exotic and original and brand new, and yet so much is familiar.  

“How could anyone with kohl-lined eyes, or bright red lips, be thought of as afraid?”

Makeup and clothes as armour.  Whether you’re inhabiting Sorrow’s world or ours, it’s those moments of eternal little truths in Salisbury’s prose that I really love.  I love the richness of these details, from the subtle-yet-undeniable abilities of clothing choices and eyeliner styles to reflect mood and influence outcomes, to the sumptuously rendered menus of food Sorrow enjoys on her travels.  Extra emotional honesty and depth is lent to the whole by the subplots, like Sorrow’s feelings about her friends and her advisors, her reflections on dynamics between the people she knows and the peoples she navigates through, from the repressed Rhannish to the seductive Rhyllians.  And haven’t we all encountered an ex and been surprised by our feelings about it? That particular, sharp longing/loss/desire/guilt hybrid that feels like nothing else is so sensitively evoked here I actually had to re-read those sections to allow for full absorption.

In short, STATE OF SORROW is a genuine thrill, a masterclass in skilful storytelling, a truly feminist adventure, as well as a provocative meditation on the nature of addiction and its effects, an exploration of truth and deception, and a window into a world I’m keen to spend a lot more time in.  I genuinely can’t wait to see what lies in store for Sorrow Ventaxis, for (to misquote oafishly) sorrow certainly isn’t all she brought me.

A Court of Book Reviews

*SPOILER ALERT*  If you haven’t read at least the first two “A Court of…” books turn back now, as there are some hints at major spoilers and, seriously, just no.

Book boyfriends.  We’ve all had them.  And as a writer of love stories I’ve even created a few of my own.  And I mean obviously I like mine. Obviously I think mine are pretty great.  I wrote them the way I wanted them. And you would think – who could write a book boyfriend more to my taste than me?  Nobody – surely. There’s no way anybody could come along and conjure up a fictional man more enticing to me than one I quite literally designed to order – is there?

Step forward Sarah J Maas.  Now known to me as the creator of the ultimate, all-time number one book boyfriend.  But before we get to that let’s rewind a little. Let’s step back and give this whole thing some context.

There is a whole lot more to say than this about the “A Court of…” series.  I mean, there is, so much. For a start, Feyre. She’s understated. She’s an everyman.  She’s totally kickass and a chosen one and all that good stuff, but she’s also the kind of girl you know you’d like to hang out with.  Sometimes she’s frustrating, but she mostly makes solid decisions and she’s loyal and passionate and impulsive and fierce and she has that certain x-factor of likeability, and I’m here for it.

Then there’s the world.  So this is a world divided between humans and fairies but these are not the little daisy chain, gossamer-winged, bottom-of-the-garden type fairies but the real deal – bigger than humans, pointy-eared, powerful, magical, dangerous, ethereally gorgeous, irresistible in more ways than one.

The fairy world is divided from the human world by a hard border, held in place by magic.  Over this border and into the fairy world the domain is divided into different ‘courts’, all ruled over by a high lord (shades of the patriarchy but, never fear, Feyre is here to challenge all that, and there are definitely plenty of strong females to keep all the bros on their toes).  In the first novel in the series we are largely concerned with the business of the Spring court, and much of the narrative is shaped as homage/tribute to Beauty and the Beast which, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t hugely keen on. What drew me in however, even at this early point, were the riveting glimpses into the rest of Maas’ Prythia. It is utterly compelling, and with each page I found myself longing to find out more about each of the courts – Summer, Winter, Night, Dawn etc – with all their infinite possibilities for fashions and locations and architecture and philosophies and leadership stories and positions within a long and unfolding mythology which builds piece by piece into a rich tapestry that amazes but never overwhelms.  

And then about three quarters of the way through the first book, despite pacey narrative and the fabulous intricate world that Maas is drawing us into, Lord of the Spring Court Tamlin is hitting peak douche and we’re almost in danger of losing faith in the whole enterprise.

And. Then.  We. Meet. Rhysand.

Rhysand.  Rhysand Rhysand Rhysand.  Dangerous, deadly, beautiful, sexy, powerful Lord of the Night Court.  Rhysand insinuates himself into our hearts in the usual way of the bad boy love interest, to the extent that initially I hated myself a little for how much I almost immediately adored him.  But I didn’t have to hate myself for long…because Rhysand turns out to have pretty much the inside-out-upside-down of the typical bad boy trajectory. All we initially know about him is that he’s bad news, and so of course our girl Feyre knows she needs to steer well clear.  Rhysand is quite literally the villain of the piece and not even pretending to be any different. It takes a while for the clues to creep in that there might be more to him, that at least some of his actions might be survival tactics necessitated by his position as consort/sex slave of scary dictator and femme fatale Amarantha.

If book characters can have chemistry Rhysand and Feyre have it.  In spades. Their immediate connection, even while still enemies, is palpable.  This is as much due to their banter and the way they call each out as it is to do with the intense sexual chemistry they’re both in semi-denial about.  Every page they share blazes with it. It pretty much hijacked the story for me for a good portion of the series, and I was 100% on board that train.

So at this point let’s talk about sex.  I mean, these books are laced with some of the most intense, explicit and just plain hot love scenes I’ve ever seen in something that is labeled as YA.  They’re honest to the extent that I can rarely face loaning them out for fear of parental backlash. But you know what, I really wish I had the guts to do it more often, and I’ll tell you why.  The love scenes in these books are truly sex positive. They are joyous, full of female gaze and desire, and all-time-number-one-book-boyfriend Rhysand is a considerate, generous, affirming lover. I really believe that young people should read these books and heed these scenes as an antidote to the torrent of crap they’re exposed to during their wanderings on the internet and, if I wasn’t so concerned about the conservative views of the mainly Spanish-Catholic parents of my library clients, I would die on that hill.

So, to conclude, a brief advisory – do not read these books if you don’t want to spend the next several months working your way through every single thing Sarah J Maas’ has ever written like a thing possessed and LOVING every minute of all of them.  And definitely don’t read them if you don’t want to fall in love with a fictional character. I have actually informed my husband that in an AU where Rhysand comes to life and falls in love with me I would leave him in a heartbeat. He’s OK with it. He gets it.  He’s even buying me the next instalment A COURT OF FROST AND STARLIGHT, for my birthday, which just goes to show – we all know real men can rarely measure up to fictional ones, but they’re not so bad sometimes. And they do the hoovering and load the dishwasher and stuff so, you know, there’s that.

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

So I’ve been watching this book with much jealousy and green-eyed monster type stuff, since we’re both repped by the same agency and this book has raced to the top of the charts, stayed there, won accolades, harvested the rave reviews.  And so the worst part of me, the very worst, meanest meagrest part was like: yeah, I bet I’ll hate it. I bet I’ll read it and hate it and it’ll be like all the other pedestrian, humdrum, airport books and I’ll be vindicated because the truth is I am just WAY TOO COOL for this world and all that.

But then, somehow, I ended up suggesting that we read this next in my book group (this sounds nerdy but imagine a group of really good mates hanging out in Marbella port with beer and books).  So then it was happening, I was reading it and – guess what – a little like the main character herself, I learnt a few things about myself, and about humans in general, along the way.

This main character is weird.  She is socially inept, and awkward and lonely and nerdy and friendless.  This is what we learn about her as we begin to follow her path. She spends entire weekends without speaking a word; she can’t remember the last time a human touched her without being paid for it (think hairdressers etc rather than prostitution).  Details like this are what make this story begin to ring beyond its borders. Life is genuinely like that for some people – maybe more and more people as time goes on. And Eleanor’s loneliness is palpable, visceral, painful to read about.

But if all this sounds like a downer, you haven’t met Eleanor.  She can perfectly encapsulate everything from the awkwardness of wedding dancing to the glorious absurdity of makeup counters to the vegetable smell of geraniums to the dehumanising/comforting sterility of the soft furnishings in a counsellor’s office.  Through the microscopic lens of Eleanor’s sharp wit and observation everything is cast in an unflattering, unflinching light that makes you (or made me anyway) laugh out loud at the bang-on accuracy of her assessment.

Eleanor is wonderful.  As too is her friend Raymond, presented to us repeatedly as a messy-eating, slobby, scruffy dork, yet metamorphosing miraculously in the course of the narrative in a way which… never mind, it’s all too much of a spoiler, and this is a story I would never want to spoil.  Don’t even get me started on Glen the Cat, because, as far as I am aware, never NEVER has a cat been so skilfully drawn as a pivotal character in a book. Dog people beware – this take on cat behaviour and the particular laid-back, string-free brand of love offered by felines, may turn your head.

In short, I now realise I never fully understood my feelings about cats, or geraniums, or the Archers, until I read this book.  Even with the omnipresent shades of intense darkness lapping at the corners of the pages, I still got into trouble with my husband for shaking the bed as I laughed out loud while reading into the wee small hours.  

So when it comes to human nature, I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.  I started off this journey jealous of this book and this writer, and now I’m a fan.  And being a fan feels good; being a fan feels way better than being a naysayer, or a green-eyed, envious wannabe.  To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, I return from my walk in Eleanor Oliphant’s sensible shoes changed, forever and for the better.  And with a far more satisfying explanation as to why I don’t like geraniums.

Book Review: The Scarecrow Queen

I’ve been putting off writing this review.  It’s not just that THE SCARECROW QUEEN was the perfect end to the trilogy, or that it was expertly paced and plotted, or that everything I wanted to happen came to pass and more, or that I devoured it in that obsessive, every-spare-moment way I reserve just for the very special books; it’s also that this is goodbye… and, as with all hard goodbyes, I’m not sure I’m not going to be able to say all the things I should.

THE SCARECROW QUEEN picks up almost exactly where the last book left off, but with a twist – we are now seeing the story through the eyes of Twylla once again.  She is adrift in a war-torn kingdom looking for a way to bring together a disparate band of survivors with the aim of wresting back power from the terrible Aurek.  But this book, in a gorgeous piece of narrative symmetry, is also told through the eyes of Errin, meaning we are also seeing events from inside the court of the deadly new king, within which Errin is a helpless hostage, controlled absolutely and completely through the use of a blood-bonded poppet.  Our fearless heroines are separated, but both are set on rebellion.

So, even if I just stick to the highlights of what I love this is going to be a LONG list: the visceral fear I felt on Twylla’s journey, the terrifying and at the same time sexy (is that just me?) power of Aurek, the arresting beauty of the descriptions of places and people, the pace, the smart plotting, Leif’s arc (shoot me if that’s a spoiler), the imagery of the golems and poppets, the perfect precision of the meaning behind the title, the multi-faceted mythology that ripples out from every page, the nuanced relationships between characters, the tender mortality and strength of the heroines, the many moral messages that resonate beyond the borders of Lormere, the unnerving yet exhilarating uncertainty I felt about how this was all going to end.  This book is going to be a tough act to follow, which explains why I have recently found it harder to fall in love with the books I am reading.  I’m still on the rebound.

What a book.  What a trilogy.  I’m not usually a fantasy fan but I’ve a feeling that is all about to change.  If there are others out there as smart and original and utterly arresting as this – count me in.

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: The Sleeping Prince

Middles of trilogies are funny beasts.  They can so easily miss and end up treading water, while in other cases they are genius – a dark-hearted unfinished symphony which serenades the reader across an ocean of unanswered questions, while also bringing something totally new and unexpected to the overall arc.  The masterfully crafted THE SLEEPING PRINCE definitely falls into the latter category.  

Not picking up directly from its predecessor but rather plunging us into a new and unknown part of Salisbury’s darkly seductive and intoxicating world, we meet Errin, who is living a simple but troubled life as a countryside apothecary following the disappearance of her brother Leif.  When a war tears her world apart, Errin becomes caught up in a series of terrifying events, that bring her closer to the petrifying instigator of the conflict, The Sleeping Prince himself.

As with the first book, I found myself immediately absorbed into this story’s world – the prose is so rich in detail and unusual imagery that reading it is a fully immersive sensory experience.  Despite an initial moment of disorientation and fleeting disappointment at not immediately following on with Twylla’s story, I was soon caught up in the exhilaration of coming at the story from a brand new angle and with a new and distinct narrator.  The moving parts of Salisbury’s mythology, from the alchemists to the golems to the myth/reality of The Sleeping Prince, are so vividly realised; her characters are so textured and well-drawn in all their light and shade.  The love story element lies beneath the narrative like a bassline, or perhaps a beat, handled with subtlety but nonetheless compelling and irresistible.  Is it just me who feels there could be any number of fantastic spin-offs from the characters and world that have been created here?

This perfectly plotted middle installment weaves another layer onto the rich tapestry of this wholly absorbing and chilling epic, priming us perfectly for a finale that will bring together the gilded, deepest crimson, grubby, bloodstained strands and take us who knows where.  A wholehearted five stars, and a serious case of writer’s envy.