Book Review | ‘The Mandibles’ by Lionel Shriver

27064345In the midst of writing a dystopia of my own, it strikes me on an almost daily basis the degree to which society has come under the thumb of a very fickle dictator: money. Further, money within the context of an inherently unstable and unjust neoliberal capitalist system. For a searing criticism of the failures of this system, flawlessly melded with a scintillating story, I point you in the direction of Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.

The Mandible family has a sizeable fortune, but when a bloodless world war wipes out their millions they, like the rest of America, find themselves out of their homes and on the brink of starvation. Crammed into their poorest relatives’ house, the financial crisis brings out the best in some, and the worst in others. But, as society continues to devolve and culture breaks down, the choices ahead only get tougher. Continue reading Book Review | ‘The Mandibles’ by Lionel Shriver

‘Mister B. Gone’ by Clive Barker

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Spoiler alert: This review contains massive plot spoilers about Mister B. Gone.

For some years, I was under the false impression that Clive Barker wrote exclusively in the fantasy genre, and had no idea he wrote horror at all. However, when I was a teenager, I discovered his huge collection of horror works and, while horror is by no means my favourite genre, I loved his writing enough that I thought I’d give it a go. Turns out, horror is still not particularly my thing – but I did stumble across Mister B. Gone, which offers much to the faint of heart and horror fans alike.

Told directly to the reader by a demon who was removed from hell, Mister B. Gone focuses on a building war between heaven and hell. The magical reveal moment – and to my fourteen-year-old self it was masterfully done – is when you realised that the devils and angels are fighting over Continue reading ‘Mister B. Gone’ by Clive Barker

‘Promise of Blood’ by Brian McClellan

PromiseOfBlood_FINAL_RPI’ve been doing some work experience in the Publicity department at Little, Brown recently, helping out particularly with their science fiction and fantasy imprint Orbit.  I cannot express how happy being this close to so many SFF books makes me, and how much I don’t care that aside from travel and lunch, I am being paid in books.  I become more convinced by the day that living on books is a perfectly feasible plan.  I can eat dust-covers right?

Anyway, I digress: I have been reading Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan in light of the upcoming release of its sequel The Crimson Campaign on the 6th May, a delay from its original release date.  The first instalment of The Powder Mage trilogy, Promise of Blood is the beginning of a fantasy epic about gods, kings, mages and, of course, gunpowder.   The book opens with a bloody coup, undertaken by Field Marshall Tamas, in which every dying member of the Royal Cabal utters the sentence,”You can’t break Kresimir’s Promise.”  What does this mean? Continue reading ‘Promise of Blood’ by Brian McClellan

‘John Saturnall’s Feast’ by Lawrence Norfolk

John Saturnall's FeastIn an attempt to embrace the changing times, it’s not very often that I recommend specifically buying a book in print anymore, but John Saturnall’s Feast is really worth getting a physicla copy of. If you can, get it in hardback. The design team worked a charm on this book, with crinkle-edged pages and sumptuous illustrations, that all go toward making the reading experience. But beyond that, this is a genuinely fabulous read: well-paced, well-written, well-characterised, and with an enchanting hint of destiny.

There are two protagonists in this novel: the first is the orphan-boy John Saturnall and the second one is food. Left with nothing after the death of his mother, John Saturnall is taken into the 1620s kitchen of a grand manor house. Living through times of great political upheaval and cooking feasts for both peasant and king, John Saturnall is a fire-filled protagonist whose passions for food and love light up the pages of the book. Continue reading ‘John Saturnall’s Feast’ by Lawrence Norfolk

‘Sarnia’ by Hilary Ford (AKA Sam Youd)

Sarnia cover, SYLE PressI will warn you before we begin, this is not a book for the faint hearted. It is, however, a brilliant, painfully emotive evocation of the powerlessness of women in patriarchal societies, and also in a more subtle way the miseries we inflict on those suffering mental illness by not approaching them with due humanity. As such, I strongly recommend it.

As it typical of Sam Youd (writing here as Hilary Ford), the plot is character-driven, fast-paced and gripping from the outset. Our protagonist is a young lady, apparently orphaned, working for a forward-thinking banker in the 1800s. Without great wealth, but with the love-interest of a solid young man named Michael and a steady income, Sarnia is pragmatic and positive. However, when her unknown relatives, the Jelains, turn up on her doorstep determined on reuniting her with her estranged father, she undertakes a trip to Guernsey which will change her life. Youd paints the darkness into this novel slowly, building an increasing sense of doom and captivity until you can hardly breathe. Continue reading ‘Sarnia’ by Hilary Ford (AKA Sam Youd)

‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

The-Coral-ThiefAnother historical fiction novel for you this week, this time Rebecca Stott’s The Coral Thief. Set in Paris in 1815, just after the expulsion of Bonaparte but before the status quo had been restored, it follows the adventures of a highly ambitious medical student named Daniel Conner as he undertakes a placement in the Jardin des Plantes. Unfortunately for him, as he is about to enter Paris, he encounters the stunning and mysterious Lucienne Bernard, who steals the letters of note and rare fossils he is carrying to ensure his entrance into the Jardin goes well. Unable to take up his placement until he has recovered the stolen artefacts, he is quickly consumed by the underworld of Paris.

Above everything else this is the coming-of-age story of a late-blooming young man, whose world is turned upside down by the still-lingering philosophical developments of Revolutionary-era Paris. It is portrayed in a neat and charming style, Continue reading ‘The Coral Thief’ by Rebecca Stott

‘Restoration’ by Rose Tremain

RestorationLike many of the best books, Restoration was an accidental find.  It appeared on my desk with a remark from my mother that I had better read something by Rose Tremain before we went to see her in interview as part of the Norwich Hostry Festival.  It was, I hasten to add, a very happy accident: she is a really fabulous writer, and I have since read two collections of her short stories and am partway through the sequel to Restoration, Merivel: A Man of his Times.

Restoration is a historical novel, set in England during the reign of King Charles II.  Focussing on the ambitious young medical student Robert Merivel, the novel covers his journey from the son of a glove-maker to the king’s favourite courtier.  The King, under duress from his wife, marries his mistress, Celia, to Merivel, making him swear that while he can do whatever he likes with other women, he must not touch Celia.  Of course, for poor Merivel, it is not long before he falls in love with her and his fortunes are destined to fall once more.  Continue reading ‘Restoration’ by Rose Tremain