Empire of Sand – 5*

Books: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I have been wanting to read this book since I found out about it at FantasyCon and was lucky enough to meet the author and chat to her a bit. Sadly I missed out on picking up one of the five advanced copies they had on sale, but was lucky enough to get one at SFXCon on the 10th, so a few days before it’s actual release on the 15th.

I’ve been reading quite a few debut novels lately and I am very much enjoying this as you get to see such promise in them and they are often a breath of fresh air, something new and different to read, and Empire of Sand definitely meets that promise. One of the reasons I was so keen to read it was because I found out it was based on the Mughal Empire of India.

Now in case you start thinking that you can’t possibly relate to a story from a culture not your own, this story is a very human tale of love, loss, family, despair and hope and there is plenty for you to relate to, even if the culture it is based on is not your own. It’s not my culture but I absolutely adored this books.

The language does an excellent job of making you envision the world, I had a really good idea of what everything looked like in my head as the story swept me along with it. I loved the characters too, especially the fact that they get quite a lot of development time and the motivations felt very real, even those of the antagonist.

One of the things I loved was that the book does get quite dark in places, there is some nasty violence particularly towards women (though no sexual assault) and in places it also deals with forms of slavery and lack of free will. Despite this, the book never loses its sense of hope and the characters never entirely lose their agency either. None of the violence feels gratuitous or done just for effect either, it has a point in the story and also real consequences for the characters.

I read a lot of books with female protagonists and one of the reasons I loved Mehr in this book is that she is not a fighter, she doesn’t kickass through everyone who tries to hurt her, but she doesn’t need to do so to be strong. Her courage in getting through dark times, in trying to protect her family and those she loves is wonderful to behold and her own journey of realising what she is capable of and her place in the world is fantastic.

Well I have gushed quite a lot so far on the book so did I think there were any issues with it? To be honest I have only one minor niggle. There is a bit early on in the book where the main character details that men get to remove their marriage sigil at a certain point, though it’s clear she doesn’t know when and then later on she gasps when someone removes his when he hasn’t earned it. There is an explanation then of how she found that out, but it still felt jarring as where she learned it is skipped and so that scene didn’t quite work for me.

But seriously, I can’t really think of anything else bad to say about the book, it’s better than many books I have read that were someone’s third or fourth books, let alone being their first.

Having read the brief blurb about the second book in this series you can be guaranteed I will be awaiting the next instalment with baited breath.

Under the Pendulum Sun – 5*

Book: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

I first heard about this book last year at Nine Worlds, but I only made a note of it in the margins of my panel notes (like a fool) and then got distracted by life and forgot to track it down later.

Thankfully I then heard about it again at Nine Worlds this year and then it was for sale at FantasyCon when the author was around so I managed to finally pick up a copy and get it signed (just before she won an award for it too!)

When talking about the book the author described it as “come for the faeries, stay for the theology) which is a pretty apt description of how things work. The book is told from the point of view of Catherine Helstone, the sister of a missionary who has been sent to spread the word of God in Faerie and she follows him there to help with that task.

The book is written in the style of a Gothic novel, with all the haunting imagery, strange occurrences and mystery that this generally evokes. It’s beautifully crafted, not just the use of words but the establishment of the different characters and the slow unveiling of the plot until you are finally brought to a crashing conclusion that you do not quite want to believe.

It makes you root for things you would never expect to be rooting for, has twists and turns that can be seen ahead if you manage to stop being swept up in the story, but even then I don’t think if you do work out what is happening that it will actually ruin anything for you (though I shall have to wait and see how a second reading plays out).

There’s so much I could say, but I am very cautious about putting anything that could be spoilery into this review because I honestly do not want to ruin the experience for anyone else who reads it.

I will say that the book deals with themes of sin, belief, the nature of souls, religion and a great deal more and it does get incredibly philosophical at times. If you are expecting a fun light-hearted romp with fairies then this is not the book for you,  but if the gothic novel style appeals then this will be right up your street.

The main character is very well written, I found her journey to be very relatable, the story of a woman restricted and restrained by the time period she is a part of and trying to make what she can of herself as a result. The complex relationship with her brother is excellent depicted and the depths of it unravel in a very intriguing way, as well as how she relates to the other people/Fae in the house.

The setting of the book is also mostly around this crazy rambling mansion called Gethsemane, which is incredibly fitting for the gothic style and brings it’s own mystery as to where the house came from and why it looks the way it does. Even the otherworldly nature of the land, with it’s pendulum sun and moon made of a fish chasing a lantern, give you an excellent picture in your mind of how this strange land might look and how it might feel to those not from there.

One of the other things I loved were the quotations at the beginning of every chapter. I grew up reading books like Watership Down and I have always retained a love for these sort of thematic inserts that tell you something of what might be about to happen, without saying so directly. The ones in this book are a mix of real historical pieces of writing, or altered ones to fit with the Fae theme more. Either way I found they added a depth to the work that put it on a whole new level.

The fact that this book is the author’s debut work blows me away and I can only hope that there will be many more in the future!

The Sudden Appearance of Hope – 5*

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

This is me trying to get through my backlog of books I have read this year but haven’t reviewed yet. This one I bought back in February at SFXCon after I met the author and decided she was cool and I wanted to get something and get it signed and this one stood out to me from the books on offer.

It’s a story about a woman who everyone forgets, the amount of time it takes her to be forgotten depends on how long the interaction has been but as soon as she is out of sight the process starts and after a short while they have removed all memory of those interactions. Given it’s hard to hold down a job or a place to live when everyone forgets you, she makes her way in the world as a thief. The story takes place with the rise of a social media device that aims to make people “perfect” and she gets involved with someone who wants to bring that device down.

I don’t want to go into much more detail than that because otherwise it will get too spoilery so instead I am going to gush about some other things instead.

Basically I loved this book, one of the best things I have read this year. The writing style is very interesting, there are a few places in the book where she plays with how the words are written on the page to invoke certain feelings and effects and it really works. The language is also lovely and evocative and results in a very clear idea of who the character is and isn’t.

Also, how often do we get to see a book with a female protagonist who is a thief and yet still has a clear moral code despite her situation in life and the aching loneliness that is forced on her. Hope is a flawed person portrayed in a very realistic way and you find yourself desperately rooting for her and the ending of the book is both lovely and also in some ways still unexpected.

Seriously, read this book because it is wonderfully written and carries you along with it through a fascinating and very well crafted story.