Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Started a bit samey but got better.

Set a little bit after the first book, we find Peter pretty much where he was at the end of the last one. Soon however he’s called in as there seems to be an echo of music coming from a corpse which then leads down another rabbit hole.

Jazz is featured heavily in this book and I’m guessing it’s a love of the author, that or again he’s done his research. The tone is similar to the first book, a lot of snark and humour contrasting with the darkness that is involved. It definitely feels more of the same for the first half though we learn more about Nightingale and magicians in England though I imagine there’s still a lot more to come on that front. I think we might have met the big bad in this series, or one of them anyway as things start to point towards a dark magician that’s behind everything which is going on. Leslie doesn’t feature as much in this book but we do learn more about Peter’s family.

I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first but there is still enough to it that I will continue the series. I find myself hitting the same walls as with the Dresden files, can’t do more than two or three of them in a row. Think it’s to do with their episodic nature, each book is self contained with a larger story going on in the background. All in all though still a decent read.

3.5 stars rounded up

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

Enjoyed that more than I thought I would for some reason.

So Peter Grant is a junior police officer in London who is called to patrol a murder scene and there he proceeds to interview a ghost. Thinking he is going crazy he jokes around with a gentleman called Thomas Nightingale who turns out to be an Inspector in charge of the paranormal in London and gets reassigned to him. From there he starts to learn that magic is real and that there all sort of supernatural entities living in and around London and begins to understand the protocols that surround them, all the while investigating a growing series of horrific murders with his fellow officer Leslie.

These books have been on my radar for a while, I was meant to read it years ago as part of a book club but didn’t get around to it that month for whatever reason. It has similar vibes to Dresden (my only other urban fantasy I’ve read much of) in that it’s to do with investigating and the supernatural but there it ends fairly abruptly. Grant is an incredibly sarcastic narrator and his light tone can be fairly drastically contrasted with some of the terrible stuff that actually occurs here. However as his is the sole POV it can be quite engaging and entertaining and it helps to move the story on quickly.

The author clearly knows London quite a lot as it feels like another main character in the story. I’m not sure if he is an ex officer as the minutiae of procedures etc is quite thorough, if he isn’t it certainly appears as if he put in the research. The other characters feel real enough, with a lot of mystery still surrounding Nightingale, but as I find with most first person POV’s, there is always a distance there which can take a few books to overcome. It’s well written and as mentioned has a strong thread of humour running through it which helps get through some of the slower scenes.

I enjoyed this and will move on to the next book but I don’t see myself reading them all through in one go, will probably dip in and out.

4 stars

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Short but intriguing and beautiful.

This is the story of a man, who after returning to his boyhood home town for a funeral, starts to remember a summer from when he was seven and met a girl called Lettie and her family. Things immediately start to become quite strange, especially once a new nanny comes to live with them, Ursula Monkton.

As mentioned this is a very short book, I think I read it in one evening. It is very well written in that I think the author really manages to capture that dream like state of an adult remembering a childhood, especially one which was so strange. We never get a name for the narrator though it’s not really an issue, I didn’t notice until I was half way through. It starts off relatively slow but there are jarring moments of something being wrong almost from the start which increase as the story progresses. Since our main POV is a child we notice more than they do.

The characters are all straight out of a dark fairytale. Lettie first appears as a somewhat mature child but with those odd notes that don’t ring right. It’s pretty much the same with her grandmother. Ursula Monkton is proper terrifying, I found myself a bit disconcerted once she really got going. The scariest part of all of course is what happens to the father and the betrayal of an adult to a child. A certain scene in particular will stick with me for quite a while.

I’ve been a bit hit and miss with Gaiman. I loved American Gods and Good Omens with Terry Pratchett but didn’t really like Stardust or Norse Mythology, so this was good in that it is firmly on the side of his books that I’ve enjoyed. It is even a bit scary in parts and I love that most of it is still a mystery by the end. The main flaw I found was that the kid seemed far too old for a seven year old but I do wonder if that’s deliberate in that it is supposed to be a (flawed) memory rather than a straight-forward telling.

If you’re looking for a short, standalone read then you couldn’t go too far wrong here.

5 stars

The Light of All That Falls by James Islington

Brilliant end to a great series.

I’m not going to go into the plot here as usual, this being the last book of the series. Let’s just say that a year has passed and all the characters are getting into place for the epic conclusion. The character growth in these books are amazing. They are the same people but they really feel like they’ve matured naturally. They are more serious understandably, and what they’ve gone through has obviously affected them.

Caeden especially is brilliantly done in that he truly now feels like a blend of characters which is as it should be. I loved that in his talk with Alaris that they say they are jealous of his friendship with Davian etc as it makes total sense in the context of what they’ve gone through in their many years together. Half the POV from Caeden in the main story is his regrets about what has to be done.

I read that the author regrets pigeon holing himself at the start by calling this a trilogy and it is obvious to see. There is a whole storyline that had to be excised which he explains in the after note. I think I mentioned it in the second book, and it kind of applies here too, that the story does feel rushed even though these are all mammoth books. Another book, or even two, could have let the character’s breathe a little more and probably allowed more time to explore the wonderful world that he created. It’s not usual that I think more is needed in a series as the fantasy genre tends to lean towards bloat but here I actually think it was required. It’s still a brilliant series, especially for a debut, but I have a nagging feeling it could have been even better.

This series had everything I love in an epic fantasy series and I am very much looking forward to reading more from this author.

5 stars

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

DNF at a little over 100 pages.

This just wasn’t for me, at least at the moment. It’s about six super intelligent and annoying teenagers who have been selected to go on a mission to a new planet. Just before launch there is a tragedy and someone else is drafted in at the last minute.

They’re probably written well in that they all actually come across as teenagers but I just couldn’t deal with it. I disliked them all and the thoughts of reading another 400 pages with their company was just too much. The world is the same as ours except space technology is more advanced for whatever reason. Just before launching, these kids who’ve spent half their lives so far in intense study and training, all go mad and do stupid things and, what is worse, are seemingly allowed to. Like where is the security around these kids?

I don’t know, between certain story choices and disliking all of them intensely, I decided to cut my loses. I might get back to it at some stage but we’ll see.

2 stars

Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed

Definitely one of the more interesting tones of a Star Wars book that I’ve read so far.

This is the story of Namir, a sergeant in the Rebellion’s Twilight Company. We follow him and the company as the rebellion are getting pushed back after the events of A New Hope. It starts shortly before Empire Strikes Back and moves on past it, though it has little to do with the movies except for a bit at Hoth.

Namir is young, we’re not quite sure how young, but he’s from a small planet and has been fighting for most of his life. He comes across as a lot older due to his cynicism and battle weariness. The side character’s aren’t the most fleshed out I’ve come across but they stand out enough though some of the other soldiers do blend a bit. It’s all pretty much from the POV of Namir, though there are a few short chapters from the POV of a Stormtrooper and an Empire aristocrat. Chalis, the defecting governor was very interesting and I would have loved a few chapters from her.

What let it down for me was the nature of the story, or lack of it. It went from one fairly random engagement to another and I found it hard to distinguish between them until the end. I don’t think this is the author’s fault, though it is his first novel, probably more to the nature of the tie-in to the video game. It was fairly relentless, and though I love a good military fiction book, there wasn’t enough down time to balance.

However what I did love was the tone of it. Think more Rogue One than A New Hope. It’s pretty dark, pessimistic, and the characters don’t change too much from the start to the end, maybe a little more optimism but they’re not singing down the yellow brick road. The empire as we know is not a very nice place but life in the rebellion is not much better either, most are basically cannon fodder, and though some are driven by idealism, most are there for revenge or just to escape from where they came from. I can see why the author was drafted in to write the Rogue One novelisation (which I haven’t read yet) and I am very much looking forward to trying the author’s new trilogy where he won’t be as limited with a direct tie-in.

3.5 stars rounded up

Crowfall by Ed McDonald

My favourite of the trilogy.

There’s a long gap between the second and third books, six years. Galharrow has been spending most of his time in the Misery and has become irrevocably changed by it. He has become something more and less than human as his plan he came up starts to come to its conclusion. The Deep Kings are coming again and with the Nameless in disarray, it will be up to him and his companions to stop them.

I’ve really enjoyed these books, they’ve gotten better as they’ve progressed. The first felt raw and was trying too hard but the author’s style has really improved over the series. There’s no getting around that these are pretty bleak books but there is a fair bit of heroism and hope that goes through them, so in some ways I didn’t think they were as depressing as some ‘grimdark’ books can be.

Galharrow has come a long way since the first book. Though some of the things he has done have been questionable, overall he has become a much better and sympathetic character. His relationship to the people around him and to the Misery is great to read about and I love that we learned more about how the whole world works, though it’s still pretty mysterious in a lot of ways. A Sanderson system and world this is not.

The great mystery of this book was to see what the plan Galharrow, Maldon and Dantry had come up with. I was mostly right. I actually thought it was going to be what did happen rather than what they planned but it was great seeing it all come together. I have no idea if there is going to be more books set in this world but I think after seeing the progress of the author over the series I will definitely be interested in seeing what he does.

4.5 stars.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Great as always, I always find myself returning to Pratchett when I need a pick me up.

Set pretty much straight after Witches Abroad, Granny, Nanny Ogg and Magrat are back home after their adventures. Things seem mostly normal but it looks like things will change as the Queen of the Elves has set her sight back on Lancre again.

So this is the fourth Witches book and the characters are quite firmly established at this stage. It is also right in the middle of Golden Age Pratchett which (in my opinion only!) loosely goes from Small Gods to Night Watch, not to say there aren’t amazing books outside of this but these contain nearly all my favourites. We also have Ridcully and a few of the other wizards here which adds a nice touch.

The characters go through nice arcs, Granny dealing with age, new witches and some limitations (and a healthy dose of nostalgia thrown in) and Magrat deciding (or not) with what to do with her life after being a witch. Nanny is still just Nanny. It’s all blended well to create something that is both funny and intriguing while pondering some of life’s major issues. I’m not sure I’ve yet to see any other author do it quite so deftly this blend of humour and insight. We also have one of my favourite versions of Elves which rings more true to the legends than Tolkien’s for example.

What can I say that probably hasn’t been said better already? It’s a great read with great characters that moves well. Another Shakespeare kind of re-telling here with it broadly following A Midsummer Night’s Dream and maybe the Taming of the Shrew? It is kind of linked to the previous witches books, you’ll get more from it if you’ve read them but you could easily get away with reading it by itself. Thoroughly recommended but I always recommend Pratchett.

5 Stars

Ravencry by Ed McDonald

A better balance than the first.

There’s a four year gap between the last book and this. Galharrow is a little sadder, still drinks as much, but now has some wealth, status, and responsibility by running a full Blackwing company. After a few years of relative peace, things are starting to deteriorate again. There are sightings of a mysterious woman in the light around the city of Valengrad and a cult called the Bright Order has formed from them and it’s causing unrest by highlighting class differences. There are also sightings of Darlings and rumours of an old enemy re-surfacing. The Deep Kings have also not been resting and are about to unleash a new weapon against the city.

The first half of the book re-orientates the reader with the city and the current state of it while also being a bit of a mystery in that Galharrow and company need to figure out what the hell is going on. The second half takes us deep into the Misery again and we learn a little more about it. Galharrow is definitely more relatable in this book though by the end, and the changes that he undergoes, who knows how he’ll end up. This is genuinely a much more melancholy book compared to the first one, and though is still firmly in the grimdark sphere of writing, it has matured into something more compelling and seems to rely less on gimmicks than the first book.

The first half was interesting but it really came into its own once we enter the Misery again. There’s something about the idea of it I love and I find I thoroughly enjoy all the time that is spent there. This section once Galharrow finds himself alone (mostly) was my favourite part and honestly probably raised more questions than it answered.

The end, except for one part in particular when Galharrow went all Iron Man which was preposterous, was good and has made me very curious about where the whole thing is going. So far each book seems relatively standalone in that the main story of each book gets an end in that book compared to whatever the overarching plot is, of which I have no idea. I can kind of see what might happen in the next one but where the main plot is going I don’t know, will there be some sort of climax between the Nameless and the Deep Kings? I’m not so sure. Anyway a better read than the first and looking forward to finding out what happens next.

4 stars

Blackwing by Ed McDonald

Tried a bit hard to be edgy in places but it was a good read.

Our sole POV in this book is Galharrow, a disgraced former soldier and now Blackwing mercenary who works with small crews to chase criminals for bounties. A Blackwing is a kind of servant for Crowfoot, one of the Nameless, godlike magicians who are in an eternal war with their enemies the Deep Kings. He ranges out into a kind of tear in reality that distorts the land and creatures in it and is called The Misery, a not very hospitable place as you can imagine. On a routine mission he is called upon by Crowfoot to go to a station and protect a magician there. From there the story really kicks off.

Well where to start? It’s a seriously cool world this, the Misery is quite a unique setting and really draws you into its weirdness and danger. The way it is described and portrayed really emphasises how messed up it is, and considering it was created by the Nameless, the ‘good guys’, it does make you feel sympathy for the humans trapped between these godlike warring factions. It’s a bleak world and our protagonist is well suited to it.

Galharrow is an alcoholic ageing soldier whose idealism has mostly eroded and he does just enough to survive, keep himself in drink, and look after his loyal comrades Nenn and Tnota. He’s pretty ruthless and does pretty much anything for money. Of course there’s a tragic past that is gradually revealed through the story, and we find out that he’s not lost all idealism, especially as he’s thrown into the path of Ezabeth, a woman from his former life who’s now a spinner, a kind of light weaving magician.

This is definitely trying hard to be Grimdark with a capitol G. There’s lots of blood, brain and entrails descriptions along with plenty of curses, and pretty much everyone you meet is messed up in some way. To be honest I think it almost strayed into parody in places and actually took away from what was a very interesting story and world. Side characters are all great and though I usually actually prefer sole POV’s, I wouldn’t have minded a few chapters from Nenn and Ezabeth.

The concept of the Nameless, the Deep Kings and the Misery were all brilliantly realised and though the story chugged along nicely it did stall in a few places though not too majorly. It is a debut so some of the inconsistencies in characters and plotting I noticed can be given a pass for that. I’ve read a few reviews that are overflowing with praise and though I wouldn’t go that far, it was very enjoyable and promises more as the author gains more experience.

3.5 stars rounded up.

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