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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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.

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.

Dreams Before the Start of Time – 3*

Book: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock

This was a book that we did for our Sci-Fi and Fantasy bookclub and I must admit that I was really excited to read it ahead of time. A science-fiction novel about parenthood, what it means to be a family, shown as time and technology changes sounded absolutely fascinating and definitely up my street.

Unfortunately I found the end result a little disappointing. I am still glad I read it, but it just wanted as good as I hoped for, which I thought was a definite shame. It may not have helped that I read this after I had read Before Mars by Emma Newman and thus could not help making unfair comparisons in my head.

Firstly I should say that this is less of a novel and more of a series of connected short stories and viewing it in that light will probably make it more enjoyable. As it is I struggled to keep the characters straight in my head as there were quite a lot of them and very few stood out to a degree that made them memorable, which didn’t help.

The ideas in the book are excellent, I mostly wish that there was perhaps a longer book with a little more depth to it than this was. The book mostly presents the scenarios without particular comment, which is not a bad thing, but with everything else did leave me feeling a little unfulfilled.

So weirdly I think my biggest complaint is that I could have done with more flesh to the bones. Perhaps a few less characters in there. I also wish there had been more diversity in families in some ways than there were. Not many lower class families, not much in the way of racial diversity, that sort of thing. There is diversity in terms of sexualities though, which is very welcome.

This was a book that other people in the club loved though, they felt the pace was perfect and really enjoyed the vignettes so definitely strongly divided by individual tastes I feel. Probably won’t re-read it, but interesting enough subject matter to be worth a look.

The Silent Companions – 4*

Book: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

I bought this book after meeting the author and listening to her doing a reading of her new book, The Corset, at a Super Relaxed Fantasy Club meeting. I don’t read much horror these days but I do love gothic novels full of weirdness and this promised to deliver so I picked it up.

The book follows the story of Elsie and covers multiple timelines from her current life inside an Asylum, to her past spent in the ancestral home of her late husband. The book slowly unravels what happened to Elsie that led to her current state and it does so whilst building up wonderful atmosphere and suspense.

One of the reasons I don’t read much horror is that I am very much a fan of subtle is better. Where you may see monsters or know for sure exactly what is going on with no questions left unanswered, I will often feel dissatisfied as a result. I am the same with horror movies, usually the second I see the creature I am bored. So this book was a lovely, refreshing change where I found out bits and pieces of the puzzle but still had unanswered questions at the end in ways that leave a shiver down your spine.

Also I love that the story is centred around the tales of women and for a horror story to do that without sexualising what happens to them or being full of many other irritating tropes was a joy.

So I loved this one and I am definitely going to be picking up The Corset when it’s out in paperback. If you like more nuanced horror that leaves you unsettled and wanting more then this is worth a look.

The Copper Promise – 3.5*

Book: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

This book has been hard to get round to reviewing because I really did enjoy it and I definitely want to read more of the series, but there were elements of it that threw me and the most confusing thing is that I am not sure I can think of a better way they could have been done so I don’t know exactly why it didn’t quite entirely come together for me.

But anyway, brief overview of the book is that two friends, Wydrin: A woman who is excellent with knives and Sebastian: an ex-Knight, are off into a dungeon that used to belong to very powerful Mages along with a nobleman called Frith. The two friends are in search of a friend of theirs who already went into the dungeon and didn’t come out, the other is paying them to get him into the place as there is something in there that he wants.

The book doesn’t actually stay as long in the dungeon as you might expect, in fact the number of directions the book takes can be dizzying at times. I am an avid roleplayer and at times it felt like a party of PCs who refuse to follow the GMs instructions and keep haring off on their own in different directions, which can be disconcerting at times. But every split up and reunification makes perfect sense in light of what is going on so the most I can say is that it doesn’t fit what you might expect from most fantasy books.

There is quite a lot of emotion in the book and it definitely packs a good punch at a couple of points. I think I would have liked more slow bits at times and less frantic action (though again, given the plot the frantic pace makes sense). The characters make you very fond of them and their very human flaws are wonderful to see.

I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series at some point and I am also bearing in mind that this is Jen’s debut novel and I know she has recently won a British Fantasy Award so I think overall there is great potential here for her later books to be even better.

So worth a look if you don’t mind imperfect gems and I am sure her later series is definitely worth a read (and I shall certainly be doing so at some point!)

Note that I gave this book 4* on Goodreads because I feel that it’s much better to round scores up rather than down. 3 would be doing it a disservice.