Tag Archives: Urban Fantasy

Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon, Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

First Published: 2014
Pages: 301
Form: Novel

Rating: 1.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/51.5/5

 A star fall from the sky. A woman rises from the sea. The world will never be the same.

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering the beach outside Lagos, Nigeria’s capital city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before. But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world…and themselves.

‘There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.’

Normally, when I dislike a book as much as I disliked this one I get a sort of perverse pleasure out of going over all its flaws but not this time. This time I just feel bad. I desperately wanted to enjoy this book, there was so much in there that I liked and admired. The author is a woman of colour in a genre (sci-fi) that is still disproportionately weighted towards white men, and an author I’ve read widespread praise for too. It’s sci-fi set not in Britain or the US, but Nigeria (how often does that happen?). Almost the entire cast is black, the primary leads are both women (a scientist and an alien), and it touches on a hell of a lot of social issues; some that are topical specifically in Nigeria but many that are applicable everywhere (evangelical christianity, LGBT rights, prostitution, domestic violence, military rape culture, internet fraud…). But, in the end, and despite my attempts to like this book, I thought the best thing about it was its gorgeous cover.

I tried, I really fucking tried. And I still don’t want to completely dismiss the book because it’s at least interesting and experimental and different. But I still could not make myself like it. The characters fell flat, the narration felt dull, it was a lot of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, the sic-fi elements were completely unbelievable, and nobody seemed to react to aliens in any way I would expect an actual human to. Continue reading

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Broken Homes, Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes, Ben AaronovitchBroken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

First Published: 2013

Pages: 357 (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: Peter Grant #4

Rating: 4.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/54.5/5

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there any connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

I hesitate to call this book the best in the series only because Rivers of London holds a very special place in my heart that is impossible to replace. It was the first book I read after seeking help to manage my depression – and as such marked the first time I had managed to truly and unreservedly enjoy anything for months, possibly years. But, if I try to remove that from the equation, Broken Homes is definitely the best written and best plotted of the Peter Grant books so far and, without a doubt, has the most exciting climax.

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The Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire, Abigail Gibbs

Dinner With a Vampire, Abigail GibbsThe Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

Publisher: HarperVoyager
Pages: 549 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Dark Heroine #1

Rating:

For Violet Lee, a chance encounter on a darkened street draws her into a world beyond her wildest imaginings, a timeless place of vast elegance and immeasurable wealth where a decadent group of friends live for pleasure alone. A place from which there is no escape…no matter how hard Violet tries.

Yet all the riches in the world can’t mask the darkness that lies beneath the gilded surface embodied in the charismatic, sexy and very dangerous Kaspar Varn.

Objectively the worst book I have read, not just since I started thinking critically about books or reviewing, but ever. Dinner With a Vampire combines all the worst traits of paranormal romance – a bratty and self-absorbed female narrator, an unlikable physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive love interest, vampires who are ‘perfect’ with no faults or weaknesses, the human character being somehow more ‘special’ than other humans, barely fleshed out side characters, forbidden love etc. etc., you name it. Just a few of these would be bad enough on their own even if written competently, but instead we have them mushed together nonsensically into a big mess where basic principles of writing such as ‘plot’, ‘continuity’ ‘character development’ and ‘worldbuilding’ seem unheard of. It’s a genuinely terrible book, and one I wouldn’t recommend to anybody (and would advise people who have ever been raped or in an abusive relationship to steer well clear of) but somehow I couldn’t  bring myself to actively hate or abandon it. It’s so bad that I had to keep going, just to see how much worse it could get (the answer: lots) but too bad for me to hate it. Rather than resent her poor writing, I can’t help  but feel rather sorry for the teenage author (I certainly wouldn’t like my teenage writings published!). This is, essentially, a first draft of a book that should never have got past the publisher’s slush pile, let alone seen the light of day as a published novel and as such it feels very harsh to judge it even by the basic standards of what I expect in a published work.

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Poetry: Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Publisher: Heinemann (Random House)
Pages: 313 (Hardback)
Format: Free-Verse Novel

Rating:

An ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A. and its numbers are growing as packs convert the city’s downtrodden into their fold.

Stuck in the middle are a local dogcatcher and the woman he loves, whose secret past haunts her as she fights a bloody one-woman battle to save their relationship. Meanwhile, dog packs fight and scheme all around them, hiding out in old warehouses, city kennel cages, or the plush comfort of suburban homes.

Paying no heed to the moon, these packs change from human to wolf at will, squaring off against one another as they seek dominance at any cost.

Sharp Teeth is a novel-in-verse that blends epic themes with dark humour, dogs playing cards, crystal meth labs, and acts of heartache and betrayal in Southern California.

I have to confess that, sometime between hearing about Sharp Teeth for the first time and actually getting round to reserving a copy at my library, I completely forgot that it wasn’t written in prose. So when I got my hands on a copy and saw the words ‘novel-in-verse’ my brain did a little ‘oh shit, what have I let myself in for?’. Poetry is something I tend to struggle with, free-verse even more so than most because ‘what the fuck, it’s just putting awkward line-breaks into awkwardly structured sentences!’. Thankfully I ignored this little voice, plowed on anyway, and really enjoyed myself.

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Whispers Under Ground, Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Publisher: Gollancz (Orion Books)
Pages: 418 (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: Rivers of London/Peter Grant #3

Rating:

In Tufnell Park, North London, a pair of railway tracks dive under a school, taking trains from Kings Cross. Wet, filthy, dangerous. Lovely place. And one Sunday before Christmas a sweet (sort of) kid called Abigail took me and my long suffering colleague Lesley May down there to look for a ghost.

We found one.

And that was that, I thought, because come Monday I get to do some proper policing. Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been involved. And sure enough, in the blood; vestigia, the tell-tale trail magic leaves.

Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘International incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds and her firmly held religious beliefs are on my case.

And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian sewers, I’m hearing whispers of ancient arts and tortured, vengeful spirits. . .

Ok, before I start let me do my little happy dance. Wheeeeeeeeee! It’s out! And it’s good! The second book is almost forgiven!

Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beautiful cover (the UK editions are gorgeous) and spent a lovely day lying out in the park getting myself very sunburnt as I totally immersed myself in the story. I got home, book finished, and preordered the next two in the series straight away. In the over-a-year I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, however, the second in the series arrived and it was…well…no where near as good as the first book. In fact I barely liked the second book at all and was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong about the series, maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I thought and I only enjoyed it so much because it was the first book I read for fun after sorting my life out and seeking help for my depression. Thankfully, with the arrival of Whispers Under Ground, I can rest easy that the series is good after all, very good, and that Moon Over Soho was just a blip in an otherwise very promising urban fantasy series.

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The Undrowned Child, Michelle Lovric

The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric

Publisher: Orion Books
Pages: 417  including Author’s Notes on Venice (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Undrowned Child #1

Rating:

Teodora has always longed to visit Venice. And at last she has her chance. But strange and sinister things are afoot in the beautiful floating city.

Teo is quickly subsumed into a secret world in which salty-tongued mermaids run subversive printing presses, ghosts good and bad patrol the streets, statues speak, rats read and librarians turn fluidly into cats.

And where a book, The Key to the Secret City, leads Teo straight into the heart of the danger that threatens to destroy the city to which she feels she belongs.

An ancient proverb seems to unite Teo with a Venetian boy, Renzo, and with the Traitor who has returned from the dark past to wreak revenge. . .

But who is the undrowned child destined to save Venice?

First thing’s first – I adore Venice and so am horribly biased in this books favour. It’s a far from perfect book, and I’ll get onto that later, but it really does capture the magic of the city. Or at least it did for me; how someone who has never visited the place would find it though…I’m not that sure. In fact I would probably only gift this to a child who already had some knowledge of, or better yet had actually been to Venice. There’s a handy map with key locations on at the very start of the book and a fantastic set of very accessible author’s notes at the back, but to get full enjoyment from it I do think the reader has to have at least seen a photo of Venice. Because, putting aside the beautiful and lovingly depicted setting, the storyline and characterisation are fairly standard children’s fantasy fare.

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Kraken, China Miéville

Kraken by China Miéville

Publisher: Pan Books (Macmillan)
Pages:
481 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:5/5

An Impossible Theft. A Legendary Beast. A Holy War.

Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?

For curator Billy Harrow it’s the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he’s been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it’s a god.

A god that someone is hoping will end the world.

So that’s the blurb, colour me intrigued. Now I’m not as up on my modern fiction as I would like to be so the first I heard of Miéville – despite him winning multiple fantasy awards – was when someone on the internet got excited that he was going to be writing comics for DC. Now since I can neither afford to nor have any interest in following anything set in the main DC universe I didn’t pay it too much attention until someone got ridiculously butthurt and indignant about the fact that Miéville is a fantasy writer who (shock, horror!) doesn’t like Tolkien and isn’t afraid to say so. Despite loving Lord of the Rings (jury’s still out on The Hobbit) I read the ensuing argument and pretty much thought ‘well that’s criticism I’ve had for years and Tolkien copycats do annoy me with their crappy writing and tired fantasy tropes’. So naturally I decided that I had to read one of his books. I wavered a bit when someone else said that a lot of his writing was ‘weird for the sake of weird and not as clever as he thinks’ but nevertheless I approached the fantasy bookshelf of Waterstone’s anyway, if with a bit of trepidation. Continue reading

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