Tempests and Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

With the Numair Cronicals, Pierce is doing what she does best, and is taking us back to school. But this time we are not learning to hit things with sticks, but Numair is learning how to practise magic. Not only Numair though, we are back with his closest friends, Osborne and Varice.

We don’t start with the fiercely competent Numair from the Daine books, but an awkward Arram Draper, who is sick when watching the gladiator games when his father comes to visit. But we follow him being escalated through the normal classes as an obviously extremely talented student.

“And magic depends on perfection,” Cosmos interputed.

I love that instead of making the teachers difficult people, for the most part Pierce makes them motivated good mentors, who share their research and work with a gifted boy, as long as he works. And work hard is what he does, what all three of them do to work out how to find their own places in the world.

How Ozorne is shaped through this period, instead of being a cruel tyrant this now becomes a tragic story arc to those of us who know its conclusion. His starting place is just to be a boy who wants his own home and a place to practice magic, and he is renowned as the boy who will never get to be emperor. He does not get the same safe supportive mentors as Draper, but instead is manipulated through his grief-stricken state.

I look forward to seeing where Pierce next takes this arc, and the Numair we know is being shaped from the boy Arram.


La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favourite rereads. Lyra’s journey is many things: a commentary on faith, a fantasy multiverse and a coming of age story.

La Belle Sauvage is a prequel, and opens in the setting of an unfamiliar pub. But we are swiftly moved into a world of Alethiometers, scholars and the Magesterium. The nostelgia trip is complete with dæmons, witches and gyptians too.

I loved this. Pullman’s fantasy world is as rich as ever, and he continues to explore the dynamics behind abuse of power and how that affects real people.

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett

I’m starting to get a feel for title puns here: Reaper Man is not only mostly about Death, but about Death becoming a man. And of course, if Death takes a sabbatical, all manner of chaos is set loose across Discworld. No-one can die, and energies are building up.

‘But I don’t think Death ever came for a potato,’ said the Dean doubtfully.
‘Death comes for everything,’ said the Archchancellor, firmly.

This is fast-paced, chapterless, and flits between viewpoints. Ultimately though, there are three-four main threads to the story, which all pull together for a very tidy ending. Death learns humanity and the value of a temporary existence, and the internal politics of Ankh-Morpork nearly prevent the world from being saved.

The supermarket trolleys made me laugh, and the wider theme of compassion made me think, as it was supposed to. The next book as arrived on my ereader via the library app, so I’ll be diving into that soon.


Mort – Terry Pratchett

I have spent about 20 years telling people I don’t like Pratchett’s writing. Periodically I’d pick one up and give it a try, but it never quite chimed with me. Then a few people convinced me to give it another go, and I ran out of books with only my ereader on me, and spotted Mort (start of the death series) was immediately available.

For everyone who over the years has shook their heads at me not liking Pratchett, I apologise. Mort was unputdownably brilliant.

I now have Reaper Man on order at the library, only because I am too short on shelf space to buy every Discworld book right now (the long-planned library remodelling will be the subject of a later post).

I liked Mort as a character, but Death himself really was what dragged me in. His attitude to life, and kittens, along with the attempt to find an apprentice were all very compelling. The plot is perfectly paced, and the humour light.

Sadly the library auto-returned my copy before I wrote this post though, so I have lost my bookmarked quotes. I shall do better next time…


Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

Gaiman leads us on an adventure through Norse mythology, as we discover the complex network of relationships and characters that make up this mythology. As he states, it is a shame that many of the supposed tales have been lost through time, and Gaiman only works with those that remain.

The Norse myths to me do speak of a cold mountainous land. One where powers struggle against each other to gain an upper hand, and giants roam the lands beyond. But it is a fully-realised world, with details filled in to make compelling tales.

Gaiman celebrates Loki’s cunning, whilst slightly mocking Thor’s excessive use of strength. And they are all very fallible. In fact the fallibility of the gods is most of what the stories are about, combined with their willingness to sacrifice each other for personal gain, and inhuman speed, strength and stamina.


Tortall: A Spy’s Guide – Tamora Pierce

Despite me doing so, this isn’t really a book to be read in a single sitting. It is a collection of “papers from George’s work” which hang together to build an image of what was going on behind the scenes in Tortall.

But there are gems of worldbuilding in here, and what fan could fail to love the tidbits of information that are sneaked out, including the backstory of why George wouldn’t let Aly do spy work. And how initial treaties with the Immortals were formed.

I also love that for the first time really since the Song of the Lioness, Jon becomes fully human again, a father who could do anything to protect his children, rather than the very distant and responsible figure he became under the Protector of the Small (although Aly knew him as a human, it was an abstract human given her separation from Tortall).

An essential read for any Tortall-world fans, but not a standalone piece of writing.


The Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

The first two books in this series are covered in an earlier review.

After a wait for Voyage of the Basilisk (acquired through inter-library loan), I devoured the last three books of this series. The setup for the twist in Within the Sanctuary of Wings was sufficiently obvious through that I had spotted it mid-series. Especially once Isabella married.

But whatever the lack of surprise, it is more than made up for by the fast-paced adventures, foolishness and the Victorian woman willing to risk her family life in order to make scientific discoveries. The “science” is good fun, and the weaving in of other disciplines adds depth. Regular readers may recall I was quite taken by a drive to discover a lost language, and the Temeraire series which is another non-traditional “dragon history”.

If fast-paced fantasy novels are your thing, then these are good reads, and Isabella makes a fabulous heroine, always ready to try something foolhardy and usually win out. At a fair few points I could only bring myself to keep reading in the knowledge that as the writer of her own memoir, she surely couldn’t die in this adventure.


A Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents – Memoirs of Lady Trent – Marie Brennan

As a lover of both science writing and fantasy, especially that not set in pseudo-medieval worlds, this appealed to me instantly when recommended, and was promptly ordered from the library. Lady Trent is a wonderful character, a wilful daughter of the aristocracy when scientific careers are only permitted for men, and finds her own way to happiness.

There are wild dragons, but in England they are tiny insects for a young girl’s imagination to be captured. But as she grows into a woman, she has a systematic study of the sparklings rather than just a habit of watching them. But as a woman she cannot (yet) speak in the scientific societies, but instead has to carve her own, more difficult route.

These books are wonderful for their dragons, Isabella’s passion, the science and the feminist journey. I am ordering book three as soon as I’ve made a dent in my TBR pile. For some reason that one is missing from the library set, so I can’t get hold of it that way.


The Temeraire Series (9 titles) – Naomi Novik

I first started the Temeraire series some years ago, but ran out of momentum on book 6 (The Tongues of Serpents) which had a very weak ending. But on this reread I felt driven to continue on through the rest of the books, which return the series to the high standards of the series start.

Set in Napoleonic times, dragons are as important to the defence of Britain as its’ navy is, and Temeraire is a large and talented dragon, so obviously forms a key part of this. But he is not given just this simple role, but instead we learn about more of his talents as he undergoes character development and finds his own place in the world. His companion Laurence has similar struggles as he makes life-changing moral decisions and deals with love, the war and friendship on firstly the terms of others, and gradually his own terms.

Each book moves around the world, although some settings are returned to, and the cast around Temeraire evolves as life for a deployed member of His Majesty’s Service continues. I like the imaginative way that dragons become part of the Napoleonic era without displacing true history too much, and how they do not instantly solve problems but instead present new ones. But the best subplot is the one around dragons’ personhood, set against a backdrop of the abolition of the slave trade by parliament. This beast that can destroy ships and kill soldiers without effort has far more interest as a political being than as a warrior.


The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

The King’s Justice is a short and punchy novella, with the mysterious character “Black” who turns up in town shortly after an unsolved murder. But this book is not really about that murder, but about the balancing of forces and the understanding of who makes up “The King’s Justice” and how they become who they are.

“Very well,” begins Black. “You are aware, I hope, that you are both charlatans.”
The priests stare…

As so many fantasy novels are, it is in a pseudo-medieval setting. My only complaint is the origin of the enemy, but at least that is not gratuitous, but rather necessary to explain how he has access to magic that the King’s Justice doesn’t.

Well worth reading