Tag Archives: fantasy

Retro Review: Low Red Moon (2010)

Ivy Devlin

Bloomsbury (2010)

ISBN: 978-1-59990-618-8

This is one of those books you would really want to have on your bookshelf, in print form, rather than just experience on the e-reader. With a gorgeous, glowing red cover, and red print used for page headers and illustrated footer, it’s beautiful to look at. I’ve not come across a regular paperback that splurges on using a coloured print before, so it is really worth commenting on, and, for me, reflects some of the quality of the book itself.

Avery Hood is found in the woods, by the remains of her murdered parents, covered in blood and with no memory of what happened to them. With the support of her previously somewhat estranged grandmother, Avery starts to try to pull her life back together, but events don’t make that easy. Used to living close to nature, Avery struggles to assimilate to life with her grandmother, and fights to keep her family home in the woods. Then a new boy, Ben, makes her feel things she has not experienced before, but she wonders if she can actually trust him, with the secrets he holds. And then there’s the mystery of her parents’ murder – is Ben involved, or is there some motive that Avery has not yet grasped.

In case you haven’t guessed by the title and the protagonist’s name, this is a riff off the Red Riding Hood fairytale, just one of many books, films and television programs currently riding the fairytale retelling wave, but Low Red Moon does it in a way that really just uses the bare bones of the tale as inspiration for the narrative. And while I did pick the resolution to the crime element of the story, that did little to detract from my overall enjoyment of the novel. Recommended, but do try to get a copy of the paperback – it’s lovely!

Leave a comment

Filed under ActiveReviews

Retro Review: Magic Under Glass (2010)

Jaclyn Dolamore

Bloomsbury (2009)

ISBN: 978 1 4088 0212 0

This is an impressive debut from first-time novelist Jaclyn Dolamore, but it certainly had a journey and a half on publication. After the cover debacle that raged on the Internet over Justine Larbalestier’s novel Liar, it was quite unbelievable to most that publisher Bloomsbury could turn around and make the exact same mistake AGAIN. The international version of the book originally showed a very light-skinned model on the cover, despite it being made very clear in the book that the protagonist Nimira is “dark and foreign” (p. 5). Furore erupted once again, and once again Bloomsbury pulled the cover, replacing it with a more appropriate model. Clever marketing or complete ignorance, it’s difficult to say, but it did get this book a significant amount of exposure it may not otherwise have garnered as a debut book. It’s worth noting that the Australian cover has avoided the issue entirely (just as Larbalestier’s did) by being a romantic-style artwork instead of using a live model.

Nimira is a “trouser-girl”, an exotically foreign dancer and singer down on her luck. Her life is changed when the upper-class sorcerer Hollin Parry employs her to sing with the automaton he has purchased. Nimira suddenly finds herself in a new lifestyle, with new prospects, but all is not well in Hollin’s house, and certainly not everything is what it seems with the automaton. Nimira soon discovers the secret of the automaton, which throws her newfound happiness into disarry – can Nimira solve the strange mysteries that plague the Parry household and still stay true to herself?

I found this book very easy to read – Dolamore’s writing is lush and elegant, without being overly flowery. The world she has created is many-faceted and full of surprises; I liked that it wasn’t excessively complicated and was simply presented. However, I’m not sold on this as a Young Adult novel (which is how it has been marketed) – Nimira is living a grown-up life and acts as an adult, including falling in love with men older than she who are CLEARLY adult. There’s nothing inappropriate in content – in fact it’s very sweet – but it just doesn’t hit my YA buttons.

Magic Under Glass is not presented as a series, but the ending is sufficiently open enough that more books are sure to follow. I shall look forward to them.

Leave a comment

Filed under ActiveReviews

Retro Review: Red Gloves / White Star

Red Gloves

Beth Vaughan

Gollancz (2008)

ISBN: 978 0575084001

Epic of Palins #1

The most disappointing part of this book was the back cover blurb. It didn’t do justice to the story inside the pages and was a bit of a turn off for the seasoned fantasy reader. Hence, this book languished on the “to be read” pile for some weeks before I finally picked it up, with no little trepidation. Fortunately, the story is far better than the cover implies, and it was easy to enjoy.

Under the guise of a fantasy novel, Vaughan has spun a romance, where the main story really seems to be the growing relationship between the emotionally and physically scarred mercenary, a woman known as Red Gloves, and the mage lord who lost his power and his people, Josiah.

For me, the evolving love story worked better than the fantasy elements, which were not as fresh or believable as I would have liked. This was punctuated by seeming anachronisms (or, perhaps, Americanisms) which didn’t fit the tone of the book (such as “sexy” and “mom”). The action and plot were serviceable but at times felt forced.

I did find the mystery of the title character’s red gloves unusual, and the way this was dealt with was interesting. But what I remember best about the story afterwards was definitely the romance. With the female character taking the dominant role in the pairing, and the male having the greater emotional investment initially, it makes a nice change from the usual fare in a medieval setting, without feeling forced. Josiah is sweetly endearing while still retaining his manliness, and Red Gloves comes to regain trust and femininity through her relationship with him.

The overarching plot of regaining a lost throne with an unlikely monarch is nothing new but, as I’ve said, was well written, with enough action, magic and interesting characters to maintain pace, and the engagement of the reader.

I recommend Red Gloves as a foray into fantasy by readers who usually forage in the historical romance shelves of bookstores; long time readers of the genre may not be as enamored but newcomers and part-time readers will enjoy.

White Star

Beth Vaughan

ISBN: 978 0 575 08424 7

Gollancz (2009)

Epic of Palins #2

White Star is the follow up fantasy romance to Red Gloves, Vaughn’s debut novel of 2008. Fantasy romance is not a phrase I have used before, but that’s completely how I felt reading this book. While Red Gloves had a romantic element to the story, the plot and magical parts of the story outweighed the romance so that it became much more usual fantasy fare. White Star has a different balance altogether.

The Lady High Priestess Evelyn is a healer, trained in many of the magical arts, but dedicated to serving others. Orrin Blackhart appears to be at the opposite end of the human spectrum, known as a murderer and mercenary of the darkest sort. When Evelyn’s goddess insists she save Blackhart from a death sentence, neither could be more astonished. And a bond begins to grow between them.

But there are other forces at work, and Evelyn finds herself out of favour and sent away from those she loves, while Blackhart is sentenced to rid the land of the zombie-like creatures left behind when his previous employer was killed. Even now, they are fated to work together to not only destroy the walking dead, but save the country from those working from within to tear it apart.

When I was reading White Star, I was frequently put in the mind of the historical romances I read as a teenager – overwhelming odds stacked against two protagonists, the clearly misunderstood dark hero, the somewhat naïve but still wonderfully endowed (with brains, I mean!) heroine, thrown together by forces outside themselves, seemingly incompatible but somehow turning out to be the other halves of each others’ souls… And while this book is well written, with a bit more polish than it’s also enjoyable debut predecessor Red Gloves, it almost felt like I was reading a romance under false pretences – it was a bit obvious.

I still enjoyed it, but hard core fantasists might choose something a little more edgy and a little less fluffy. However, for transition readers, or those new to fantasy, this might be just what you’re looking for!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

New Review: Den of Wolves (2016)


Juliet Marillier

Pan Macmillan Australia (2016)

ISBN: 9780451467034

Blackthorn & Grim #3

Blackthorn is under a geis of sorts to alway provide help when asked, a stricture that has become less difficult for her as we have followed her adventures during the preceding two books. So when the princess Flidais requests that Blackthorn help her with a young woman recently brought to court under unusual circumstances, it isn’t really a hardship. However, when Blackthorn’s companion Grim begins a huge job for the girl’s wealthy father, it soon becomes apparent that there are some very odd things happening. Strange enough to be dangerous to everyone involved, which Blackthorn and Grim cannot turn their backs on. And not only is there a weird and perilous mystery afoot, but Blackthorn’s old enemy Mathuin is also on the move, which terrifies and unsettles her beyond reason. The pair must for the first time fight separate battles – but will they be strong enough to overcome if they are not together?

I have absolutely adored this trilogy (if indeed a trilogy it is – I certainly wouldn’t be averse to more instalments…) and was thrilled when the author sent me an advance reading copy of this book. The world Blackthorn and Grim inhabit is fascinating, detailed and raw, with a rich tapestry of characters weaving their stories on the page. Marillier’s writing is sublime, a gorgeously captivating style that draws you in and simply won’t let you go. This has been one of my favourite fantasy series in a long time, and I will admit to more than once having to stop reading this final book to prolong the experience further (and wipe away tears – it’s that darn good!).

You really don’t need me to tell you how wonderful Juliet Marillier’s work is, with her apparently effortless manner of writing that builds on folklore with astonishingly good characterisation and subtle, clever plotting to create beautiful books. She is a stunningly good Australian writer with a well-deserved international reputation. If you haven’t read her work, the Blackthorn and Grim series is a highly recommended starting point, and you should go out and get your hands on them right now.

I previously reviewed Tower of Thorns

Leave a comment

Filed under ActiveReviews

Retro Review: Wings of Wrath (2009)

Celia (CS) Friedman

Orbit (2009)

ISBN: 978 1 84149 533 0

The Magister Trilogy #2

Kamala is the only female Magister in a brotherhood of magicians – except that most of them don’t know she exists and has accessed the secret of their power. Outsiders don’t know the secrets of the Magisters, so Kamala is a massive threat to their supremacy, being not only a woman, but not being as constrained by the rules that bind the rest of them to keep their secrets. Kamala has secrets of her own, and is forced to keep her powers hidden under the guise of witchery, the only other option for a woman with her abilities. She has proven to herself and her master that she can hold her own as a Magister, but the events unfolding before her test her will and her own self-belief. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under ActiveReviews