May 252015

I came to this first-in-a-trilogy after reading its sequel Cataveiro – there isn’t much in the way of spoilers and it’s perfectly comprehensible. Osiris is a city at sea, cut off from a world presumed dead. It’s overcrowded but Osiris’ hereditary families live lives of unimaginable luxury whilst the western poor struggle, staying awake at night to avoid dying of the cold. A westerner and an easterner meet and fall into an uneasy alliance. This is a political story of people using and being used, of betrayal, corruption, and power. It’s a very strong opener, though less polished than its sequel.

May 222015

This is an odd creature of a book: it’s based around Trace Italian, a massive turn-based story game, created by a recluse who became terribly disfigured as a young man. Imagine Zork, but played by post. The world and the game sound fascinating as the story uncovers the past of Sean Phillips – it’s not a particular surprise but the unfolding is the interesting bit – and the details of the two all-too-young players of Trace Italian who have died mysteriously. The book unfolds in reverse, and it’s a real pleasure to read, but it doesn’t stick long after it’s gone.

May 202015

These books shouldn’t be my thing, but I enjoyed this very much. The first two were enjoyable in the way that you could watch the craft of the writer evolve – the second book just felt more polished than the first – and Curran’s Glaze is a triumph, but this took me by surprise.

The second in this series ended on a major cliffhanger – something that, given the central conceit of the plot, should have been straightforward to sort, but Curran is never one to take the easy way out: this book is good, and makes the series excellent, rather than enjoyable.

May 182015

Megan Abbott is the queen of creepyweirdawfulcompelling. The last book I read of hers made me want to take my skin off and scrub the inside of it clean before putting it back on – this one’s no different. An illness taking hold of girls in a school – it could be an STD or a plague or, quite possibly, something out of a science fiction film. Abbot’s books are a dissection of the ambient horror of modern suburban lifestyle, and this may be her best book yet. It’s awful, not for everyone, but you’ll at least admire the craft of it.

May 152015

The fourth in Will Hill’s excellent Department 19.

Horror and action aren’t really my cups of tea. NEVERTHELESS I’m a fan of Will Hill’s books. They fill the gap that can be read as “mindless fun”, but they’re more than that.

The crux of the story: Van Helsing et al were real – and set up Department 19, the secret bit of the (UK) government that hunts vampires. They were winning, but now they’re losing.

Terrorism, torture, GCHQ, propaganda, and drug policy take centre stage, as in an allegory. Fun books – with a little bit more thought than strictly necessary.

May 132015

Lou Merriweather is a psychopomp in 1860s San Francisco: She’s androgyne, (allegedly) unattractive, mixed-race Chinese and English, and she unhaunts houses for a living. The first scene shows us her personality: a bit of a rogue, and a woman who isn’t afraid to be mistaken for a man.

She has to leave San Francisco, however, to chase down the disappearing Chinese immigrants, gone seeking work. On the way she’ll befriend bears and make enemies – it’s a rip-snorter of a book that blends action and adventure with a minimum of bodice-ripping. It manages to be progressive

and entertaining all at once.

May 112015

Beautifully enjoyable dustpunk (very) weird western: In an alt-American-Western setting, instead of science you have demons bound up. They heat water for steam. They expand and push bullets. They may – or may not – corrupt a bit of your soul each time you use it. Jacobs has honourable mercenaries riding alongside a ship filled with nobles – there’s as much Rome in the world as John Wayne. In the background are the inscrutable stretchers – the superhuman natives with their own agenda, inscrutable and confusing, but they seem to have a strong moral code – just their own. Fascinating stuff, and very good indeed.

May 072015

In Victorian England, a famous Reverend scientist has secrets, and a personal shame. He has a series of sickly sons, most of whom have died, and the last of whom is writing left-handed. He is driven away from his home by scandal. His daughter, Faith, remains steadfast despite any evidence she has against him. She is his true daughter, clever and quick-witted and interested in science and used poorly, again and again.

This Faith’s story of discovery of her own strength and what it means to be a modern woman; it is heartbreaking, true and absolutely wonderful in its awfulness.

May 052015

Sarah Lotz is disgustingly good, and the worst part of it is how easy she makes it look.

This is a follow-up to The Three and, while it’s definitely in the same creepycrazywtfisgoingon universe, the story is built in a completely different fashion – told from the point of view of a handful of central characters rather than as a tabloid disaster porn memoir.

This book is terrifying, but it’s not horror, or terror. It’s a masterful character study of a group of people as the boat they are on stalls, drifting without purpose or pilot, and their social structure fragments.

Apr 072015

This is a debut.

It is massive in scope, telling the story of the rise and fall of empires, using classical Chinese storytelling tropes and wuxia heroes.

It is breathtaking in its language and ambition. 640 pages of instructive fable and myth and history of a fictional series of countries at war with each other and with themselves.

It deals with class, race, gender, and the fruits and drawback of empire. Power as a corruptive influence, and hard decisions.

It’s not perfect – the cast of women is tiny, though dealt with well.

But it is a debut.

And bloody good.