Winterkill

Winterkill

Winterkill was written by Kate A. Boorman and was first published in 2014. It combines elements of a fantasy, dystopian and historical novel to tell the story of a teenage girl coming of age in a remote and highly religious settlement. The novel is the first part of a planned trilogy and is followed by Darkthaw (2015). The final part of the trilogy – provisionally titled Heartfire – is expected to be released in late 2016.

Emmeline’s people have lived in the settlement for eight generations, banding together for safety after they were forced to leave the Western world. They have survived sickness and deadly winters by following their devout Councilmen, who put their faith in the virtues of Bravery, Honesty and Discovery. Anyone who is caught defying these precepts is declared Wayward and executed at the Crossroads to prevent them from causing damage to the community.

As an outcast in society, Emmeline knows that most people expect for her to become Wayward. She is stained – atoning for the sins committed by her grandmother long before she was born. As her sixteenth birthday nears, she knows that she will soon be of the age where she can be bound to a man. She wants nothing more for it to be Kane but when Brother Stockham – the leader of their community – starts to show an interest in her she starts to panic. Wedding the Councilman will absolve her of her stain but can she stand to be married to someone she does not love?

At the same time, Emmeline begins to have strange dreams that call her into the woods – the voices of a long dead race begging her to find them. Yet the woods are out of bounds and if she’s caught exploring them, Emmeline knows that she’ll be declared Wayward for sure. Yet that would be the least of her problems. The woods are also home to a terrible entity called the malmaci. If she ventures too far into the unknown, she could just as easily fall prey to the monster…

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Tersias

Tersias

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my review of these novels [here] and [here].

Tersias was written by G.P. Taylor and first published in 2005. It is a Christian horror story set in an alternate version of Georgian London and forms the third part of The Shadowmancer Quartet. This novel was preceded by Shadowmancer (2002) and Wormwood (2004) and followed by The Shadowmancer Returns: Curse of Salamander Street (2006). Although it technically follows on from the events of Wormwood, Tersias does not contain any of the same characters or require any knowledge of the events of its precursor and so could be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

The comet Wormwood has now passed and London escaped destruction, however the city has still fallen into decay. Fallen chunks of ice have destroyed many of the major landmarks and left a majority of the city dwellers too frightened to return. Those that remain live a life of constant debauchery and crime – circuses perform in the streets and beggars and thieves haunt the shadows. It is not long before something worse still begins to rise.

When the failed magician Magnus Malachi purchases Tersias – a blind twelve year old boy – he originally hopes to use the boy’s disability to line his pockets. However, he realises that Tersias is much more valuable when he finds that the boy has visions of the future. An invisible creature known only as the Wretchkin comes to Tersias and whispers the answers to questions in his ear, all of which turn out to be true. Seeing that he could easily make his fortune Malachi puts the boy on display, however this quickly draws the attention of some very dangerous men.

Lord Malpas has just been robbed by a pair of highwayman – teenage Jonah Ketch and his partner-in-crime, Tara. They have taken from him two powerful artefacts and he desperately needs them back. The crazed zealot Solomon also has an interest in Tersias’s power as he believes that the oracle is destined to be at his side when London finally falls to its vices – an end that he intends to spur through use of his genetically engineered monsters. While they all seek to use Tersias for their own ends, a worry lies in the boy’s mind. Just what is the Wretchkin and is it a being of good or evil?

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Grass for his Pillow

Grass for his Pillow

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Across the Nightingale Floor. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Grass for his Pillow was written by Lian Hearn (pseudonym of author Gillian Rubenstein) and was first published in 2003. It is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Across the Nightingale Floor (2002) and forms the second instalment of the Tales of the Otori. It is followed by the final part of the original trilogy – Brilliance of the Moon (2004) – as well as a sequel called The Harsh Cry of the Heron (2006) and a prequel called Heaven’s Net is Wide (2007). The novel carries on exactly where Across the Nightingale Floor ended and so I would strongly advise that you read the novels in order in order to fully appreciate them.

Although Otori Takeo wishes to avenge the death of his adoptive father, he is bound to Tribe by his oath. Swiftly whisked away from the safety of Terayama, he soon realises that they have great plans for him. The Tribe both admire and loathe him for his powerful abilities and lack of discipline. As they force him into a rigorous and brutal training program, Takeo slips further and further into despair. He knows that his life as a nobleman is over and he will never be allowed to see his beloved Kaede again.

Shirakawa Kaede also nurses a broken heart. Now pregnant with Takeo’s child, she has little choice to return to her homeland. She arrives to find that her family lands have been almost destroyed by war and famine and her father is a shell of his former self, maddened by his own cowardice. Although the expectance is that she will marry again quickly, Kaede chooses to turn her back on tradition. As she observes the weakness of the men around her, she swiftly decides to follow a new path. As the heir to both the Shirakawa and Maruyama lands, she chooses to remain unwed and control them herself.

As Takeo and Kaede adapt to life without each other, the land around them begins to turn to chaos. A harsh winter and rise in taxes have left the lower classes unsatisfied and Arai Daiichi still struggles to fill the power vacuum left by Iida’s death. With war inevitable it’s not long before a prophecy rises amongst the Outcastes, stating that Takeo will return to take his rightful place as an Otori Lord and bring peace to the land…

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Raven Boy

Raven Boy

Raven Boy was first published in 2013 and is Kateryna Kei’s first young adult book. The novel is a historical fantasy set in Viking times, focusing on a young boy who is forced to wrestle with a terrible destiny. This story is the first part of a planned series – titled The Raven Boy Saga – but at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

After the Viking King falls in battle, it is left to his widow to choose a successor. Although the honour usually falls on a king’s first born son, Turid is concerned for her boy’s safety. Her twin sons have both yet to come of age and are just not experienced enough to lead their village in a time of war. Unable to come to a decision alone, she visits the local runecaster for advice.

The prophecy that the runecaster reveals is somewhat disturbing. While her eldest, Olaf, would make a strong leader, he would not be able to defeat the encroaching foreigners. Her youngest, Hrafn, would stand a chance at winning the war but it would come at a great cost. Hrafn was destined to live a tragic life, finding true love only to lose her forever.

Although Turid is torn between what is best for her people and what is best for her boys, she quickly decides that the new leader must be Hrafn. However, her decision leaves her son in a very difficult situation. As a child, the other Vikings are reluctant to obey his commands. The foreigners far outnumber them and they believe that a warrior is the only one who can lead them to victory. On top of that, Olaf feels as though Hrafn has stolen his rightful place and begins to distance himself from his brother. With war on the horizon, Hrafn must muster all of his cunning to devise a plan to defeat his enemies before his people are completely wiped out.

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The Lady Astronomer

The Lady Astronomer

The Lady Astronomer was written by Katy O’Dowd and first published in 2012. It is an alternative history novel based loosely around the life of Caroline Hershel, embellished with fantastical steampunk elements.

Lucretia lives a busy life. She is well known throughout the town of Bath for her soprano singing voice and the fine hats that she makes. On top of this, she spends her free time caring for her dysfunctional family – brothers Freddie and Al, Leibniz the lemur and Orion the owl – and studying the stars from the roof of their home.

When her Freddie receives funding from the King to build a forty-foot high telescope, she is forced to leave her business and move with him to Slough in order to be closer to the court. Intelligent and resourceful, Lucretia has little trouble in getting their new home up and running.

However, as misfortune strikes and delays the completion of the Forty-Foot, Lucretia is taken hostage by the King in a well-meaning attempt to get Freddie to work faster. The Lady Astronomer has never been exposed to life in the royal court before and soon finds it to be far more cut-throat than she could ever have imagined. As her stay lengthens, it becomes increasingly apparent that if the telescope is not completed quickly then she could easily lose her life.

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Wormwood

Wormwood

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, Shadowmancer. You can read my review of this novel [here].

As you may have noticed, I like to find something good in every novel. Even if I don’t enjoy a book on the whole, I still try to look for that little ray of sunshine that made the story more bearable. There was only one novel that was so bad that I found myself unable to stick to this ethos – the ugly, hate-filled mess known as Shadowmancer. This is its sequel.

Wormwood was written by G.P. Taylor and first published in 2004. It forms the second part of The Shadowmancer Quartet – preceded by Shadowmancer (2002) and followed by Tersias (2005) and The Shadowmancer Returns: Curse of Salamander Street (2006). Although it does follow on from the events of Shadowmancer, Wormwood largely stands alone and so can for the most part by read and understood without reference to its precursor.

The novel is set in 18th Century London and focuses on Sarian Blake, a scientist who has recently come into possession of an ancient text known only as the Nemorensis. In this book is reported to be written all of the secrets of the universe and, through studying it, Blake learns that a comet called Wormwood will soon strike the city, poisoning the water and killing most of the populous.

Torn between wanting to warn the people of London and just leaving them to be destroyed, Blake continues to study the comet. However, he is not the only person who knows about the existence of the book. Far beneath London, a shadowy cabal of animal-masked magi plot to steal the Nemorensis. Led by the beautiful Yerzinia, they befriend Blake’s serving girl (Agetta) and trick her into helping them.

Although Blake is oblivious to their scheming, he still senses that something is amiss and knows that he must keep the Nemorensis safe. It is the only way that he can learn more about Wormwood and in doing so prove his genius to his peers.

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Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (nom de plume of Gillian Rubenstein) was first published in 2002. The novel and its two sequels, Grass for his Pillow (2003) and Brilliance of the Moon (2004), were originally written as a single text but were divided into a trilogy prior to publication. Following its popularity on release, a further two books were penned – a sequel called The Harsh Cry of the Heron (2006) and a prequel called Heaven’s Net is Wide (2007). Collectively, the five books are known as Tales of the Otori.

Across the Nightingale Floor is set in a fantasy land styled loosely around feudal Japan and focuses on the struggles two teenagers; Tomasu and Kaede.

Tomasu belongs to a clan known as the Hidden – a peaceful group of people who abhor violence and worship a benevolent entity known as the Hidden God. At the beginning of the novel, Tomasu returns from a walk to find his village ablaze. It becomes apparent that the Hidden have attracted the displeasure of the Feudal Lord, Iida Sadamu, who has ordered them all to be executed.

Fleeing through the forest, Tomasu is rescued by Lord Otori Shigeru who quickly invited him into his home. Renaming him Takeo, Shigeru encourages Tomasu to hide his Hidden roots and embrace a life as Shigeru’s heir. Soon after, Takeo begins to develop strange abilities – including invisibility, super-human hearing and the ability to conjure a doppelganger – and learns that he is actually the descendant of a master assassin from the mysterious Tribe. Seeing an opportunity to finally end Iida’s tyranny, Shigeru quickly calls upon the Tribe to help Takeo master his dark arts.

At the other side of the fiefdom, Shirakawa Kaede faces a very different problem. Following the deaths of two men who are associated with her, it has become rumoured that all who court her will meet a grizzly end. In order to restore honour to her family she is betrothed against her will to Shigeru, whom she has never met. Disgusted and terrified, Kaede begins the long journey to the capital for the wedding. The thought of intimacy with a man is unbearable to her and she desperately tries to find a way out, even if death is her only escape.

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Shadowmancer

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Shadowmancer was written by G.P. Taylor and was first published in 2003. It has a direct sequel which bares the slightly less epic title of The Shadowmancer Returns: The Curse of Salamander Street and two indirect sequels – Wormwood and Tersias. Shadowmancer alone has sold millions of copies worldwide. And I hate it.

This may feel like a very strong stance to take, especially as this is only my second review. Believe me, I approached this book really wanting to like it but it is unfortunately not the story for me. Let me tell you why.

The story of Shadowmancer is largely set in the villages surrounding Whitby. It focuses on the adventure of three youths – Thomas, Kate and Raphah – and a smuggler called Jacob Crane as they attempt to thwart the evil machinations of a corrupt parson.

The preacher in question, Obadiah Demurral, has gradually grown corrupt over the years and has rebelled against God (called Riathamus in the novel) and instead sworn loyalty to Lucifer (referred to as Pyratheon) in attempt to seize all power for himself and thus force Riathamus to kneel before him. In order to do this, he needs to find two mystical artifacts called the Keruvim and time is running short for humanity as he already has one in his possession.

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