Our Child of the Stars (4*)

Book – Our Child of the Stars by Stephen Cox

Our Child of the StarsBrief disclaimer: Stephen is a member of my writing group, though I joined just before the book came out so I wasn’t involved in the actual process of giving him feedback on it as he went along.

As with the last review I am going to be breaking this into two parts, a spoiler free one and one with spoilers. The second part will be under a cut for those who wish to avoid it.

The book is the story of Molly and Gene Myers, who sadly have lost their own child. In the aftermath a meteor strikes their small town and changes their lives forever as hidden in that event is the crash of a spaceship. The sole survivor, Cory, is a young boy who the Myers end up adopting.

Cory has to be kept secret though for fear of the government taking him and that means not telling anyone in their lives, not friends or family, but can such a secret be kept forever? And can Cory help heal the Myers and can they help him deal with the trauma of his own loss?

The story is a beautiful tale of family and the love between one, no matter how the family comes to be constructed. As the relationships are central to the story I wouldn’t call this a high action book, though it does get more tense as it progresses. I would also say that it doesn’t need to be. Like Becky Chambers Wayward series, the focus is more on the characters so what it needs to carry it is strong voices and that is what you get.

Gene, Molly and Cory are all well developed people who jump off the page at you. None of them are perfect and that makes them more real. Likewise you get to see a number of people in the town, many with differing views on politics and other things, yet most with a strong sense of community in spite of those differences and that is really refreshing to see.

Overall the messages in the book are pretty positive. Not all of the people are nice and some make terrible choices, but they all have their own motivations and differing goals so the cast feels pretty solid. The nicer parts of human nature are shown more but that feels like a deliberate choice to be more positive and that works well.

I have been struggling to put words to why I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5, because it is a good book and I definitely enjoyed it. I think it’s likely that something just isn’t quite clicking with me in the way I require for it to be 5 stars, but it is also a debut novel so plenty of room to grow and I am very much looking forward to the sequel.

Spoiler part below

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Lord of Secrets (3.5*)

Book – Lord of Secrets by Brenna Teintze

Lord of SecretsBrief disclaimer, I received an ARC of this from Jo Fletcher books in exchange for an honest review. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I love giving new books a go so I requested one and was really pleased when I received it.

I am going to try a new format for this review and if I like it I may use it going forward. I have found that writing up my full and spoilery opinion on TV shows and films has been much easier and more fun to write, so I am going to split my reviews in two going forward. The start will be a spoiler free brief description of the plot and some thoughts, then I will go into a more detailed plot summary and spoiler review for those who have either read the book or don’t mind spoilers.

The second part will be as clearly marked as I can make it so those who don’t want the spoiler review can skip it until they have read the book for themselves.

No Spoiler Review

The story follows a man called Corcoran Grey, a mage who isn’t part of the guild that all mages are supposed to follow. He meets up with Brix, a slave woman on the run from the priesthood and together they team up as he needs her knowledge to break into a temple in order to try and help his Grandfather, who has been arrested by the mages. Things don’t quite go according to plan of course and now they must deal with conflicting loyalties, necromancy and whole lot of powerful people hunting them.

Firstly I have to say that the magic system in this story is absolutely fantastic as a premise. Basically magic is poisonous to the user so most mages try and push that poison into other people so it doesn’t hurt them. All spells need to be written on something, or someone so some mages tattoo spells onto their skin, others use members of a race who seem to be immune to the poison and mark their spells on them instead.

Honestly it was such a refreshing idea and I really enjoyed learning how it works and what impact it had on the world. There were a couple of areas which felt a little convenient or inconsistent, but overall I rank it highly.

In regards to the story, the fact that the main character had a long-term knee injury which causes him pain and difficulties almost made me cry. As someone who has severe cartiledge damage in both her knees and often has to deal with pain and mobility issues, getting to see something of that in the hero of a fantasy book meant a great deal to me.

I also loved that the female character had her own goals and motivations that were completely separate from the main character, that can be pretty rare so it was good to see. I do wish that there were more female characters in the book though, I can’t see any real reason why so many of them were male and that was a frustrating detail to me.

The main character is also complicated, not dealing well with his emotions or trusting others and as such felt quite real to me in many ways. I also liked that he wasn’t the usual sort of hero you get, not able to just solve problems with physical strength and needed to be careful with magic as well due to the whole poison issue.

Overall I did enjoy it though not as much as I would have liked, I had some issues with how the story developed that I won’t go into in this section as that would contain spoilers.

The next section contains spoilers so should be hidden below.

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Love, Death and Robots

Love, Death and Robots

love death and robots

I was pretty excited when I saw this anthology pop up. I mean a collection of sci-fi stories that have been animated? Yes please! Then I saw that almost all the stories had been written by men and it was in fact a very male project and I deflated somewhat. There are still some good stories in here that are worth a look, but the fact that it’s not a massively diverse production shows and that was a shame. I hope if they do more in future they will look at that.

There are only two stories written by women as far as I can tell, it’s harder to be sure about other diversities without looking up the authors in more detail. One story is for sure written by a person of colour, unsure about any of the others though and certainly no idea about sexuality representation except to say that the stories don’t have much of that in them.

 

Sonnie’s Edge (4*)

Written by Peter F Hamilton

sonnie

The first short is about a feminine presenting person who pilots a fighting monster in an arena, the only woman to do so. She is asked to throw the next match by a rich man and refuses. It is suggested that the fact she was gang raped a year previously is what gives her the edge in fights and why she has had such a long-running streak in the arena.

Bad: Rape as a background for a female character is very, very tired and was only necessary as a misdirection.

Good: Above motivation does not turn out to be what gives her the edge she has in a fight, which I actually appreciated. Also liked the casually queer character, that was a nice touch.

Generally this is fine to watch, with the caveats regarding her backstory as mentioned above. The ending is quite satisfying.

 

Three Robots (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

three robots

Three robots are on holiday in a post-apocalyptic Earth. There’s a beautiful nod to Terminator a short while in where one of the robots steps on and breaks a human skull. It’s overall a very humorous look at them not really understanding human things and making a lot of wrong assumptions. The bit with the cat is absolutely perfect, especially the reference to Exploding Kittens.

Bad: There is use of pussy as an insult early on which always annoys me. No need for that really. I don’t mind genitalia-based insults, but where there is no equivalent male swear that means the same thing I dislike it.

Good: Overall one of the best ones in the anthology, well written, makes some interesting points about the fate of humans and manages to be really quite funny at the same time.

 

The Witness (2*)

Written by Alberto Mielgo

thewitness

A woman in a hotel room witnesses a man murder a woman in the hotel opposite her and runs. He starts pursuing her across time and she becomes more and more desperate to get away from him.

Bad: It’s extremely oversexualised, which for something with violence at the core of it was not a good look for me. There’s a particular scene in a private club which spends ages lingering over shots of naked women or people in BDSM gear and it adds very little to the whole thing other than to titillate and I definitely could have done without it.

There is a “twist” ending which is set up right from the start if you pay close attention and smacked to me of thinking it was way more clever than it actually managed to be.

Recommendation is to give this one a miss the premise isn’t good enough to make up for the way it treats violence against women and in fact women in general if I am honest.

 

Suits (4.5*)

Written by Steven Lewis

Love-Death-Robots-Suits

A group of farmers have some mech suits to help them defend against an incursion of massive bugs. A new wave of them is approaching and the farmers take to their suits to protect what they own. It has a very sci-fi frontier feel about it, helped along by the soundtrack. Mostly it’s a story about normal people working together in difficult circumstances.

Bad: Not much if I am honest. My main complaint would be that it’s the guys who pilot the mechs for the most part whilst the women do support systems, but none of them are useless and the older woman pilot is a badass. There is also a random mother-in-law joke, kinda tired of those.

Good: Pretty much everything else. It’s a good story, well told and it draws you in from start to finish. You find yourself rooting for these people very quickly which makes the events poignant and something you definitely care about.

One to watch, one of the best ones in the anthology.

 

Sucker of Souls (2*)

Written by Kirsten Cross

suckerof souls

The story starts with two men running away from some sort of monster. They appear to be underground. It then flashes back in time to when they uncovered the tomb of something called the sucker of souls.

Bad: The team involved in the expedition appears to be pretty much all men, not a woman in sight.

Good: For some reason I am deeply amused by random monster penis. Was it needed? No, but it was funny. Also, Dracula being afraid of cats which I did appreciate, though it did lead to a pussy joke that I definitely could have done without.

Please note this story does contain ridiculous anime levels of gore so if that is a problem for you then definitely skip this one. Other than that, it’s not bad. It’s not a great story, I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting about it though.

 

When the Yoghurt Took Over (5*)

Written by John Scalzi

yoghurt

This is a bizarre little story about how humanity was taken over by sentient yoghurt. The narrator appears to the same voice actor who voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain and that is distracting. Not sure what else to say about the plot, watch it and see how it unfolds is what I recommend.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a fun little story with an excellent point to it.

Good: It’s surreal, it’s weird and it’s well done. Definitely watch it.

 

Beyond the Aquila Drift (4*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

aquila

The crew of a ship execute a jump to their destination, but something goes wrong and they end up a long way from home and must deal with the consequences of what that means, with the help of someone else who is stranded out there.

Bad: Not much really, it’s a very human portrayal of what would be a pretty terrifying experience.

Good: It’s nice to see something that plays with perception and reality and also shows that compassion is by no means solely a human thing.

 

Good Hunting (4*)

Written by Ken Liu

good hunting

The son of a spirit hunter makes friends with a spirit and together they navigate a world changing from one of magic to one of technology, both being harmed by the influence of the British Empire on China.

Bad: Lots of sexualisation of women, there is a point to it but it’s still frustrating, especially when the motivations of the main female character are largely based on revenge for her treatment at the hands of her clients.

Good: It’s one of the few stories in this collection with diverse representation at the heart of it. It also does not shy away from being quite blunt about the effect of colonialism and racism on a people. I also enjoyed the Steampunk elements of it, as well as seeing how that sort of genre can be approached in a different way.

 

The Dump (2*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

dump

An old man who lives in a dump faces eviction and tells the guy a story about what happened with a friend of his not that long ago as a delaying tactic.

Bad: I really didn’t like this one, no female characters in it to have an issue with, but my main problem was just that I hated all of the characters and as a result found it impossible to care about their predicament or what was happening to them.

Generally I would say skip this one as well, not worth bothering with.

 

Shape-Shifters (3*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Love-Death-Robots-Shape-Shifters

A group of werewolves are part of US operations in the middle east and are not well liked by the rest of the soldier, derogatorily called dog soldiers, they run into some trouble with some local werewolves.

Bad: Another entirely male orientated story with the typical sorts of sexist jokes that is expected and taken for granted as being part of the military and whilst that may be true, perpetuating that it is OK does not help make the service comfortable for anyone not coded as your typical male.

Good: It’s overall not a bad story, I quite like the idea of how a military force would deal with deploying supernaturals. It also has a strong core of male friendship at the core of it and that’s definitely something I can get behind.

 

Helping Hand (5*)

Written by Claudine Griggs

Love-Death-Robots-Helping-Hand

A woman on a solo mission runs into trouble and has only herself to rely on to get her out of it. It’s a pretty harrowing tale of what can go wrong in space and the lengths people can go to in order to try and survive it.

Bad: Um, nothing really. It’s one of the few stories in this collection told from the perspective of a woman that isn’t sexualised or deals with sexualised violence.

Good: All of it really. Excellent characterisation, it shows well the dangers that someone might experience in space and the things people are capable of doing in the direst of circumstances to help themselves. She doesn’t need rescuing, she manages the whole thing herself and I loved it for all of that.

 

Fish Night (3*)

Written by Joe Lansdale

fish night

Two Salesmen get stuck in the desert when their car breaks down and they witness the ghosts of ancient seas flying around overhead.

Bad: It’s pretty predictable about what will happen in some ways, at least after the initial weirdness happens.

Good: The ghosts are an interesting concept and drawn very beautifully onscreen, I mostly wish more had been done with this concept than once but it’s enjoyable enough.

 

Lucky 13 (5*)

Written by Marko Kloos

Lucky-13-Love-Death-and-Robots

This story is about a female pilot recounting her time when she flew a ship called Lucky 13, which was assumed to be anything but.

Bad: Nothing really.

Good: Seriously I really loved this one, the main character is a black, female pilot and the story is told well and is a lovely look at the bond between a pilot and ship, especially in the midst of war. It’s also another one of the few stories where the motivation of the female character

 

Zima Blue (5*)

Written by Alastair Reynolds

love-death-and-robots-zima-blue

An artist known as Zima Blue tells the story of his origins to a journalist before he unveils his last artwork and it is not quite what she expected to hear.

Bad: Nothing really, it’s a lovely story and it’s portrayed very well on screen.

Good: It’s a beautiful story about the nature of art, being a person and what true fulfilment can look like. The ending is a bittersweet triumph and I really enjoyed this story.

 

Blindspot (3*)

Written by Vitaliy Shushko

blindspot

A group of cyborg thieves try and pull off a heist and things do not quite go quite as well as would be expected. Pretty gory and very anime in feel.

Bad: One female character who almost immediately has to defend herself from sexist jokes thrown her way, so very tired of that.

Good: It’s fun enough I guess, and the ending isn’t something I saw coming, though also annoyed me though I won’t explain why as that might ruin it. It may be pretty obvious when you see it though.

 

Ice Age (5*)

Written by Michael Swanwick

ice age

A couple find that they have an entire civilisation developing in their ancient fridge at a highly accelerated rate and watch it evolving in front of them.

Bad: It’s not a massively original premise, but it is done well so it’s not a big detriment.

Good: It’s well done, it’s amusing, though the very end shot does make my inner archaeologist twitch a bit.

 

Alternate Histories (4*)

Written by John Scalzi

alternate histories

Multiversity is an alternative history app which shows you a demo of what would happen if Adolf Hitler’s death had happened in different ways. The deaths get increasingly sillier and more amusing.

Bad: It does use sex as one of the deaths, which made me roll my eyes.

Good: It’s a very entertaining and pretty hilarious parody of alternate history as a genre, instead of the more usual what if questions, it does wilder and wilder until you can’t help but laugh at them and I definitely enjoyed that.

 

The Secret War (4*)

Written by David W. Amendola

the secret war

A group of Soviet soldiers hunt monsters that have been killing villagers and track them back to where they came from with the hopes of destroying them all and stopping the onslaught.

Bad: Mostly it’s very brutal and gory so may not be for all. Also all male, which whilst could be seen as accurate, I know that women fought in WW2 so did not have to be that way.

Good: It’s a compelling story and handles it all very well with an ending that is both poignant and pleasing.

David Mogo: Godhunter – 4*

Book – David Mogo: Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

godhunterBrief disclaimer, this is the first book I have received since signing up to Netgalley so I read an advanced reader copy for free in exchange for this review. I had been wanting to read the book since I first heard about it (also look at that cover, it is absolutely gorgeous). It’s described as Godpunk, which isn’t a term I have heard before, but sounded fascinating.

The review is pretty spoiler free as I know it isn’t out yet and I don’t want to ruin anything for those who want to get it and read it themselves.

The story follows the titular character, who lives in Lago, Nigeria and works as a freelance Godhunter. Something called the Orisha war caused the appearance of thousands of gods in Lagos, forcing many people to relocate to other parts of the city. Into this turmoil steps David, a demigod who uses his abilities to deal with troublesome gods. He’s set to find and capture a couple of very powerful deities for a local wizard and that one event will spark a chain that will cause upheaval to his life and make him confront his own origins.

It’s a very well-written book. I have never been to Lagos, but the author conjures a sense of the place very well and it didn’t surprise me to learn that he is from there. It’s wonderful to see a non-Western setting for an urban fantasy and I got very pulled into the world that he creates.

The main character is physically powerful in many ways, but that doesn’t always work in his favour and his inability to properly rely on others around him often causes him problems. He definitely goes on a distinct journey from the start of the book to the end and Suyi does make you care for where he is going and what is going to happen to him.

There is a decent supporting cast to the book, though it’s written in first-person perspective which does mean that they do not come across as strongly as I might have liked. I have nothing against first person narratives (my WiP uses this in fact) but combined with the introspection and occasionally rather self-involved nature of the main character, it does result in the secondary characters not standing out as much as I might have wanted.

I did appreciate that there are a number of female supporting characters and generally they are treated well, they have their own agency and in places David is the one who is often swept along by events and struggling to get control back, which I actually quite appreciated.

As a note, this is a book in three distinct parts and you may, like me, get to the end of part one and wonder where on earth the book is going to manage to go from there. Do not worry and keep going is my advice, it’s one part of a larger story and it does all come together quite nicely in the end.

My biggest criticism of the book (and to be honest I don’t have many) is that I would have liked to see more quieter moments between the characters to cement their relationships. It is not utterly lacking in them, there are several poignant parts which help, but the story is very action driven so sometimes the pauses can feel a little too short. To be honest, that has been a common criticism of mine of late and I think it’s just because I love a more in-depth character than perhaps is typical so what is normal for others feels a little lacking to me.

One of my other loves in the book was the use of what I would guess is a hybrid local language. It is understandable enough and adds a flavour that I feel was really great. I must admit that I do find that sort of detail just makes the book come more alive with the environment it is set in without putting you off by being incomprehensible. It also tells you about the characters who use it and, for me, helped to solidify the relationship between David and his foster father.

The book features plenty of action, deals with themes of being trapped between two worlds and not being sure of who you are or what your place in the world is as a result. If you love urban fantasy, then this is a refreshing take on the sub-genre and definitely worth a look. I will definitely be getting myself a physical copy with its oh so pretty cover when I can.

Captain Marvel

“I don’t have to prove anything to you.”

captain marvelI had fun reviewing The Umbrella Academy so I definitely think I am going to try and do more TV and film reviews when I am moved to do so. This time I wanted to talk about Captain Marvel. I may try and do so in two section, the first spoiler free for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, the second includes them. There will be some dead space inserted between the two.

But anyway, I have been looking forward to this film for a while. Definitely about time Marvel gave us a female-led superhero film and it shouldn’t have taken DC succeeding with Wonder Woman to bring it about. It is likely that there will be comparisons to Wonder Woman in the review, mostly because the only other films I can compare it to that are led by women are Catwoman and Elektra and I would rather not.

Please do note that I do not intend to do comparisons to put one against the other. It’s great that we can have more than one lead female superhero. I would like far more than two. In fact it would be lovely if I didn’t have such scant material to draw from, but here we are so I will just have to make do.

So brief overview of the story in case anyone doesn’t know. Vers is an amnesiac Kree warrior who ends up getting separated from her team and crashing on earth along with a number of Skrull shape-shifters who appear to be after a scientist. She ends up teaming up with Nick Fury to try and track down the Skrull, at the same time winds up finding out that she has memories that connect her to Earth.

Of course it ends up being more complicated than that and she finds out that she is a human called Carol Danvers, not only that but her Kree mentor Yon-Rogg killed her previous mentor, Dr Wendy Lawson (who was a Kree called Mar-Vell) and she in turn exploded the engine he was after and the energy from that fused with her being, giving her the powers she possesses. She also finds out that the Skrull are not the enemies, they have been systematically hunted by the Kree for not submitting to their rule and Dr Lawson/Mar-Vell was helping them hide and wanted to get them far away from the Kree.

In the end she defeats Yon-Rogg and the Kree sent to eliminate the Skrull, along with the help of her best friend, Maria Rambeau and a cat called Goose (who turns out to be a creature called a Flerken).

Firstly I want to say that overall I think I enjoyed this film more than I enjoyed Wonder Woman. Mostly because the love interest thing in Wonder Woman really annoyed me, as did the lack of any significant female interactions with Diana after she leaves her home fairly shortly into the film. I am not opposed to love interests in films, but that one felt pretty weak and too quickly formed and it bothered me. Whereas Captain Marvel features a lot of strong relationships between the women in the film and I was all there for that.

So to start with we see her meeting the Kree Supreme Intelligence, an AI being that appears to someone in the form of the person they most admire. In Vers case it is someone she doesn’t recognise, but we later find out is Dr Wendy Lawson. We then find out she designed the planes that Carol and her friend Maria fly. I do wish we had perhaps a few more flashback scenes to get even more of a connection between the two, but the fact that they gender flipped the character to give her an older female mentor was extremely well done.

Then we have the relationship between her and her best friend Maria. Again, similarly to her relationship with Lawson, I do wish that more was seen of this before, but the scenes we do get between the two show a strong bond which is only strengthened when the obvious love and care of Maria’s daughter, Monica. That Monica also looks up to both Carol and her Mum as heroes and inspirations is wonderful to see and I adored it.

My biggest gripe about any female character in the film is that they criminally underused Gemma Chan as Min-Erva and if she doesn’t make an appearance in future films with a bigger role I will be absolutely fuming.

In regards to relationships in the film, they did still centre a lot of it more around Carol’s interactions with Fury, Yon-Rogg and the leader of the Skrull, Talos, which was somewhat frustrating. Personally I would have preferred the film to be braver and take more of a step in the direction of representation of women than they did, but given how long it’s taken Marvel to actually make a female led super hero in the current MCU, I am guessing they were taking baby steps here.

It is frustrating though considering how well Black Panther showcased its excellent female characters, giving them their own stories and letting them show off their talents, even as supporting characters and honestly out of the two films I would generally say Black Panther’s portrayal of women is better, even though they are not the central character of the film. The part when T’Challa is thought dead and is unconscious means that they are actively driving the plot at that point and there is no way he could have managed half of what he did without their help.

The specific bits of acknowledging women’s issues were on the lighter end of the scale and not dealt with in much depth either. We have the comments about Maria and Carol not being allowed to be combat pilots in the 90’s and this being because they lacked the necessary equipment to be in the cockpit.

At one point she is told she should smile by a random biker, who she ignores at first but after he goes into a shop she steals his motorcycle and some clothes and rides off.

There is also a theme of comments from Yon-Rogg throughout the whole film about Carol being too emotional, about her letting her emotions get the better of her and that’s why she can’t beat him in a fight without using her powers. The weird thing there is that she isn’t particularly emotional at the start, somewhat jokey at times, but generally she’s calm and level-headed for a good chunk of the film. I did appreciate that her accepting her humanity and being more comfortable with her emotions did not make her weak and in fact helped her to unlock the powers they had tried to control in her.

Right at the end she fights Yon-Rogg (I also loved that she actually got to fight many men in this film and not in the overly sexualised sorts of fights we tend to get) and he taunts her to try and get her to fight him without powers and she blasts him and then just says “I don’t have anything to prove to you” and I honestly loved that.

Overall it is an good film, doesn’t quite have the sparkle I would have liked to see and I honestly think that is because they played this too safe. If they had pushed more into the exploration of a female hero and did more than the brief nods to what being a woman can be like, I think they could have had something as special as Black Panther.

Still, it’s doing well at the box office so I have every reason to believe that future solo Captain Marvel films may well appear.

To end with here’s a picture of Goose, everyone’s favourite scene-stealing cat (Flerkin).

goose

The City of Brass – 4*

Book: The City of Brass by S A Chakraborty.

This is a fascinating book based in middle eastern mythology I think, sadly it’s an area of mythology I don’t know much about so I can’t speak with any certainty on the matter. It’s a source of perpetual annoyance to me that I can get hundreds of books on Celtic, Norse, Greek or Roman mythology and very few on any other area of the world.

But anyway, enough of my personal gripes (though if anyone has any good recommendations for books on Myths and Legends by all means contact me!) This book follows a young woman called Nahri who grew up alone on the streets of Cairo and now makes a living as a conwoman, though she has some strange powers she does not really understand.

Her life is changed when she accidentally does magic and attracts the attention of a creature that seems to want to cause her harm and other that insists on taking her to the City of Brass, a place where all the Djinn/Daeva live.

It’s incredibly well written and carries you along with it into a strange world populated by powerful, yet somehow very human beings (who would loathe being referred to as being so). There are politics between factions in the city that are done very well and the relationships in general are excellent. One of the other things I love is how the book plays with the concepts of what is moral, what one faction thinks is good, another thinks is evil and you learn all the various motivations for them which makes it much harder to believe that any of them are entirely correct.

The only complaint I have about the book is that the ending is a bit too sudden. The rest of the book takes its time unfolding and it felt a bit to me that everything then happened all at once at the end and that was a shame because it meant that some of the elements felt more forced than they should have been.

It’s a pretty minor point though as the book is utterly gorgeous and had me on tenderhooks as to what was going to happen. I am currently greatly disappointed in myself for reading things only in paperback (I find kindles awkward and my joints won’t let me hold up most hardbacks without pain) as now I have to wait until the paperback is out and that is frankly going to be an agonising wait.

City of Ghosts – 4*

Book: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I have been pretty excited to get hold of and read this book since I heard of it. I know that the author has now moved to Edinburgh and it is a place that is very close to my heart. I grew up in Fife, the county to the north of Edinburgh and we visited a fair few times when I was growing up. When I went to University I went to Edinburgh and I fell in very deep love with the city. Even though I have been living in England for the past eight years now, I still miss it and whenever I go back to visit it always feels like I am coming home.

There’s not many of the sort of books I tend to read that are set in Edinburgh, which I have always though was a shame given it’s long history and very gothic architecture. So a ghost story set in Edinburgh? Yes, sign me up please, the city has a wealth of ghost stories to draw from and I was really curious to see how the book would read.

The book is the story of Cassidy, or Cass, a young woman with ghost hunting parents who can actually see them herself and whose best friend is a ghost called Jacob. Her parents get their own TV show investigating the most haunted cities in the world and their first stop is Edinburgh where Cass stumbles across a really scary ghost who could threaten everything as well as meets another young woman with the same abilities that she has.

One of the things I really loved about this book is how well it gets the atmosphere of Edinburgh right. It helped that I know the city so well I was walking the places with the main character and it made me really happy. The other fantastic thing is that the main character had never been to the city before so I got to see my city from the perspective of someone totally new to it and it made me think of it a little differently.

It’s a YA book and pretty short on length, in fact that is about the only thing I can hold against it. The story moves along at a pretty fast clip and I suppose I would have preferred the ending to be a bit more drawn out and perhaps a little scarier, but then of course would that fit the main market it’s being aimed at so I can see why the author made the choice that they did.

Still, the characters are very clear and the ghost stories within it are suitably creepy. There’s plenty of information in the book that comes straight from Edinburgh’s history and ghost stories, which I absolutely adored. The Mackenzie poltergeist in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is well known and has his own ghost tour (Edinburgh has many ghost tours). So all of the weird and creepy places in the book are real and you can go there.

As someone who loves both Edinburgh and ghost stories I admit that it would have to have been pretty bad for me to hate it, but I had every faith that the author would deliver on the potential of this idea and to me she very much did not disappoint. I am looking forward to seeing what other places future books might explore. I hope that she manages to bring them to life the way she has done to Edinburgh.

Shattermoon – 3.5*

Book: Shattermoon by Dominic Dulley

So first things first I just want to clarify that I won my copy of this book in a giveaway on Twitter. I don’t think that really influenced me, but it seemed reasonable to mention it.

The book follows Orry, who is a swindler and a liar, as she gets sucked into danger with a whole lot of people coming after her due to her acquiring a pendant they all want for some reason she doesn’t understand.

It’s a very fast paced story with little time for pause between one action sequence and the next and I will admit that I found this to be a little bit too much at times. I would have preferred some quieter and more personal moments snatched in the midst of the chaos to heighten the emotional impact of the story, but I will say that the book is quite a ride and certainly isn’t boring!

The setting is quite curious as well, mostly centred on humans with a previously hostile alien race mostly kicking around in the background. It has a very similar society to ours in many ways, the rich are in charge, many people live in poverty and sexism is apparently alive and kicking. I found that a little disappointing if I am honest. Perhaps it is foolish of me to hope that we will leave some of our prejudices behind if we venture out into the stars, we will probably find new ones, but it would be nice to see that change.

Still, the book is quite a fun ride, though be prepared for it to get pretty bloody in places too, to a degree that surprised me, probably because it comes across as being very Space Opera and then got quite graphic. Note that it wasn’t the violence but the fairly brutal descriptions of it that surprised me.

I am definitely interested enough in the band of criminals and outcasts trying to do the right thing to read more, I mean I am a massive fan of Firefly, and it definitely has nods in that sort of direction within it. But yes, perhaps some slower moments to beef up the relationships between the characters would be nice, would break up the pace a little and let the reader breathe.

If you are a fan of action packed Space Operas with kickass female heroines then I have to say that this book will definitely be your thing and you should check it out.

House of Shattered Wings – 3.5*

Book: House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I picked up an uncorrected proof of this book at one of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meetings after having heard good things about her writing, so I was pretty excited to read it and see for myself what her writing is like.

The setting for this book is utterly gorgeous and really unusual. It’s set in a version of our world (in Paris) where Fallen Angels live in social (and physical structures) called Houses. There was a war some years ago that left many things in tatters and one House struggles on the edge of destruction.

According to the back of the book there are three main characters, a newly fallen Angel, a human alchemist and a man from Asia who has strange powers. In reality the book is told from three main perspectives, but one of them isn’t that Fallen Angel, it’s the leader of the House they are all associated with, which was a bit confusing (not also likely not the author’s doing).

Both the Alchemist, a woman called Madeleine, and the man, called Phillipe, are very interesting and flawed people who I really enjoyed getting to know their past and what they were likely to do in response to what is going on. The other supposed main character is called Isabelle and sadly she was the weak link for me, incredibly dull and not fully explored so when towards the end she becomes more important I struggled to particularly care about anything that happened to her, which definitely detracted from the story.

The politics of the interactions with the Houses are excellently done and the antagonists are cruel and nasty without being ridiculous caricatures and that was well done. The story itself interweaves a strange sort of murder mystery and a curse on the House with flashback visions of the past very well.

There were some elements of the book I struggled to get on with. Phillipe seems occasionally rather inconsistent in his morality, which doesn’t quite strike the tone of believable (though of course people are entirely capable of hypocrisy). There are some threads that I am hoping are more explored in the later books as they were left dangling in a very untidy fashion, though without a clear tug to being explained in the future and that was a little frustrating.

None of that has put me off wanting to explore the setting further though so I am hoping that when I pick up and read further the books will improve on what is a decent starting point and fantastic setting.

The Umbrella Academy (TV)

I keep meaning to do some writing about more things than books and I have failed so far, but with the arrival of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix I finally feel inspired enough to write something.

Firstly I want to say that overall I did enjoy it more than not and it is likely I will keep watching into season 2. But there are elements of it that I found problematic and I want to discuss them further. Warning this blog most definitely contains spoilers, lots of them, so you may want to avoid reading it till you are done watching the whole thing.

One final thing, I know that the series is based on graphic novels. I have not read those so I am only referencing things that happened in the show in this post.

 

 

**WARNING: PAST THIS POINT THERE BE SPOILERS!**

Now I am done leaving a little spoiler space, let’s get onto the meat of the matter.

Soooo… where to begin. I mostly want to address the treatment of women and PoC in the series because it really does leave a lot to be desired, which is a shame, because the series could have done so much better. This isn’t all going to be negative, don’t worry, I shall try and end it on a positive note, but I do want to cover what I felt were failings.

I shall start with the female characters as I am on more familiar ground there. Firstly I want to say that I do appreciate how many female characters that actually is, it’s nice to see in a series. We have the two female students of the academy out of the 7, Allison and Vanya; Cha Cha the assassin; their mother, Grace; Agnes the waitress at the donut place; Detective Patch; and The Handler.

Allison 

Allison is one of two PoC in the academy group. Her power is basically making gossip true, well it’s supposed to be reality bending through her words, but since she has to start every use of her power with “I heard a rumour” it basically comes down to gossip. So that annoyed me to start, it’s something of a bad female stereotype that we are all terrible gossips so it felt a bit frustrating that this was her power.

I did appreciate that she genuinely cared about her sister, though so many of their conversation seemed to revolve around men that I am not entirely sure the relationship passed the Bechdel test. The fact she was so willing to forgive Vanya and tried to get Luther to let her go when she was imprisoned was excellent, him using his superior physical strength to block her and then creepily following her to her room and deciding to watch her even when she physically brushes him off and turns her back on him was not OK, not when they spent episodes building up the relationship between Allison and Luther.

When I thought they had killed her off towards the end I was absolutely fuming. the last image where there are all the guys looking at her on the ground was such a blatant sense of fridging that it made me visibly grind my teeth together. Yes, she’s not dead. But now she may have lost her power, thus rendering her in some ways weaker and if she ends up having to be looked after/rescued by the rest of them in the next series I will not be remotely surprised.

Vanya

For a good chunk of the series we are confused as to how Vanya can possibly be powerless if she was born in the same circumstances as everyone else. We also watch her be excluded, belittled and pushed away by her family. I see her loneliness and it made me ache for her.

So a guy comes along who actually seems to like her for her, who treats her with love and kindness and then naturally turns out to be a manipulative horror who is using her as a weapon against the rest of her family because he hates them because they laughed at him when he was a teenager. I am not saying that coercive controlling behaviours are not a real problem, but I am not sure it was a good choice with everything else that was going on. Her discovering that people had been lying to her and hiding what she was her whole life could easily have been reasone enough to lose it.

The other thing that confused me is that when we see her with her powers as a child she basically seems to be a callous horror who just casually kills her nannies because she can. This doesn’t remotely fit with anything we see of her later personality and it is pretty unclear if it is trying to say that the power has a separate personality to main Vanya or not.

The fact that her adopted father doesn’t bother trying to teach her control when she is older than four years old, but just sticks her on medication for the rest of the life whilst giving her a complex about never amounting to anything is just adding insult to injury. I would also appreciate the fact that she seems to be the most powerful of all of them if that didn’t automatically come with her becoming the villain.

Cha Cha

Generally I thought she was done quite well. I genuinely liked the partnership with her and Hazel throughout the early stuff and she seemed like the more competent of the two. She was a bit too much kickass woman stereotype at times though and given how much time they spent giving Hazel character development and such, it would have been nice if they had bothered to do the same with Cha Cha.

I kept trying to work out if she was angry with Hazel over the dissolution of their working partnership, or because he was in love with something. Never quite managed to make a decision on how they wanted me to view it.

So not too bad I think, would have liked to see more of her (another female PoC in the same series no less!) and her ending was incredibly disappointing if I am honest. Randomly killed off in the big blast felt a little cheap.

Grace

The mother to the academy children and a robot who seems to basically have been designed to a 1940/50’s stereotypical housewife. I mean, she wasn’t a sex bot so that is a plus point, but I am not sure a nanny bot was really raising the bar for the portrayal of women in the series.

There is also the episode when her own son shuts her down because she seems to be malfunctioning, which I am not entirely sure I got the whole point of. She is taken to be the emotional core of the academy group in some ways, but again she doesn’t have much personality or development and mostly seems to get used as motivation for other characters.

Agnes

Firstly I have to say that I adore that there is an older female love interest subplot in the series. Yes please, more of that. The relationship between her and Hazel is also done really slowly and sweetly, which I also enjoyed.

In fact I was really loving all of that until Cha Cha kidnaps her, ties her to a chair and then threatens her life just to make Hazel suffer. More fridging, no thanks.

The end where she and Hazel die as they share a last kiss I am pretty ambivalent about. On one hand it’s a darkly cute moment, on the other it’s another dead female character and I can do without that for no good reason.

Detective Patch

We basically get introduced to her just long enough for it to be a, hey, this is a kickass police woman who has a history with Diego. She’s smart as hell and good at her job and oh look she’s been killed just to provide motivation for a male character.

More fridging. Seriously, how much can you stick into one series? This was the first instance, but as mentioned above, hardly the last. Oh and she’s another PoC, which just rubs salt in the wound.

The Handler

I am not sure I have much negative stuff to say about her. She’s clearly in charge, definitely competent at her job and pretty darn intimidating at times. As an antagonist she is excellent, though I would love to have more of an understanding as to why she believes so much in the The Commission. Hopefully fuel for season 2 and there will be more of what she is up to and why.

Other Points

So I have gone through the treatment of all the main or commonly recurring female characters and I do want to say a little about the men before I stop. There was a diverse cast, which was excellent, though I think they could have made some more interesting choices in what roles those characters played. The leader of the Academy children seems to be either Luther or 5, depending on how you want to look at it, both white, and Diego’s attempts to be in charge seem to be generally considered with eyerolling by the rest of the group.

Then we have Ben, the only Asian character, who is killed off basically in narration without any explanation of what happened to him. His power is also basically being possessed by Kaiju so yeah… a little bit of a problematic choice there as well. We see very little of him, hear very little of him even though he haunts Klauss and it was honestly pretty frustrating.

Good Things

Honestly this show is worth watching for Klauss alone. He is an amazing character and manages to shrug off being too much of a stereotype. A goth type who can see and hear ghosts and takes drugs because he is scared of them is definitely an interesting idea. He is also gay, although the fact that he is portrayed as the weakest of all of the brothers is therefore somewhat worrying.

Still, he is wonderfully acted and if you are not entirely in love with the character by the time he is dancing around listening to music whilst a fight rages all around his home, then I worry for your soul.

The kid who plays 5 is also absolutely amazing. Honestly I am not sure how he manages to pull off Adult in a child’s body quite so convincingly, but he is extremely convincing and without him the series would not be anywhere near as watchable as it is.

The fight scenes overall are very good and the whole show has a sort of madcap nonsense to it in places that balances the darker material quite nicely.

Oh! And there aren’t any rape plots or sexual assault plots of any kind that I can recall (and they usually stick with me). Wish this wasn’t something I have to raise as a plus point, but in a show with darker themes it’s very much a rarity.

So yeah, overall a pretty good show that I did enjoy, but it’s good to be aware of its problematic elements. The show could have been so much better if they had more awareness of what they were doing, which is a shame because then it could have been truly excellent.