Book Review: The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan

The Gloaming Kirsty Logan image shows two stylised mermaids framing the title

That last Summer, the sea gave us jellyfish.

I really enjoyed this book. And at the same time, I was a bit disappointed. I think this is mostly due to where I am myself, rather than anything wrong with the book or the author. You see, The Gloaming is a gorgeous book. It is a strange world of small and casual magics, and I loved the reality that Kirsty Logan built. I love the language that Kirsty Logan uses – it’s something that I have really noticed in previous work by her; her ability to use language to weave something simultaneously fragile and resilient.

Personally, I would say that The Gloaming is about grief. And maybe that’s why I found it difficult. Because the grief in The Gloaming was a grief of metaphors and unreliable narrators (although I thought it was less that they were unreliable, and more that different people’s realities are never going to line up completely) and people turning slowly into stone. It was Mara and Islay, two sisters, unable to work through pain together and their parents struggling. It was a portrait of a family falling apart, edged with fantasy, and I… I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

I would still recommend this book, as it is lovely. And I was excited by the language and by the reality of the island. I like the way Kirsty Logan juxtaposes the fantastical and the ordinary. I like how she delves into people, slowly unwinding these characters in front of us and letting us look at them from all sorts of angles. I enjoy the different narrative voices that she employed, and I will probably read this book again at some point. It is simply that I am tired of beautiful, metaphorical representations of grief, and I think this is because I am working on my own grief at the moment which is enormous and messy and, if it were to have fairytale edgings, would mainly be teeth.

Rating: read this book, sink into the water.



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Book Review: Penny Blackfeather by Francesca Dare

Penny Blackfeather by Francesca Dare

Before we begin, there is just one point I want to make absolutely clear; there was no ‘coincidence’; there were no accidents. It was all that bloody parrot’s fault.

So, this is a charming book that I read quite a while ago and am now reviewing from memory. It is therefore going to be a bit haphazard!

Good stuff about this book:

  • The art is gorgeous – warm and funny and compelling, I really enjoyed the character designs and the backgrounds, and the way that things move (one day I will have good describing words for comics).
  • The characters are hilarious.
  • Penny is a fantastic protagonist – charming and determined and relateable.
  • “Gothic, but with more parrots” xD
  • The parrot, by the way, is a brilliant character all on it’s own.
  • It made me laugh. Genuinely and repeatedly.
  • TENTACLE BEASTS OF DOOM!
  • Witches.

I recommend this as a fun and charming read, and I believe the sequel is out shortly so if you enjoy it there’s more coming.

Rating: read this book, shoggoth…



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Book Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

‘Mom, can I go see the stars?’

Reviews of the previous two books can be found here and here.

Becky Chambers takes us somewhere else in her world. I am really enjoying the fact that she keeps writing in the same universe, loosely connected books that sometimes happen at the same time as each other. It feels like we get to stretch out across the world, and try things out from new and interesting perspectives. In previous books, the Exodus Fleet has been mentioned and one of the main characters in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is originally from the Exodus Fleet.

This book is set (mostly) on the Fleet. It happens at the same time as TLWtaSAP, but elsewhere. The Exodus Fleet is mainly a human place – it is the fleet that left Earth after the rich people had gone to Mars with all the resources and abandoned the scarred planet. It is the fleet that took so long to build that those who conceived of it knew they would never see it fly. And it just went, out into the black not knowing if anyone would find it, if there was anything to find. I have a lot of feelings about the Fleet.

This book, even more than the previous two, is an ensemble piece. It is less a plot, more a snapshot of a culture at a particular time. Of various lives in and around the vast spaceships, how they are shaped by where they live and how they shape it. We have Tessa and Isabel and Eyas and Kip and Sawyer. Tessa, raising her children on the Fleet and worrying about her wayfaring brother. Isabel, an archivist (and also an adorable old lesbian). Eyas, who works with the dead (the dead are composted on the Fleet, because they need something to grow their food in, and it’s rather wonderful). Kip, disaffected teenager trying to find his place. Sawyer, descended from Exodans but raised elsewhere and hoping to come home. And Ghuh’loloan Mok Chutp, a Harmagian ethnographic researcher visiting the Exodus Fleet.

And it’s wonderful. There is so much to talk about here, and I found it all so touching. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is another lovely book from Becky Chambers, different from the other two but wonderful.

I got very emotional over the culture of the Exodus Fleet, how much it had been thought through. The basic idea of ‘everyone has a home, and everyone is fed’ as the starting place of their culture, and working up from there. That in their culture, everyone is provided for. Resources are shared out, and then people barter for skills or extras. Everything is used, and everyone is meant to be cared for. And that this was a choice that was consciously made when they left Earth, because they had already been through so many alternatives. That jobs are not paid for, but about helping the community function. When you are asked what your job is, you are being asked what you do for the community. Terrible jobs, like cleaning sewers, are doled out on a lottery and everyone has to take a turn regardless. And it’s not perfect, not at all, but Becky Chambers made it very very believable and I had a cry because this is a thing we are told is impossible.

Increasingly, we are told that everything is a commodity. People are commodities, or resources, and we are meant to keep capitalism going and increasingly if the state cares at all it is only in terms of keeping us all going long enough to contribute to the machine. In the UK, our healthcare is being chipped away, and we are still in austerity even though it kills people and it is being made harder and harder to receive Benefits and they are being cut and cut and cut. If you are poor, nobody cares. And we are told that it is impossible for anything else to exist, that anyone telling you otherwise is lying or deluded. But we’ve had a health service for seventy years and it’s worked. In Finland, they trialled Universal Basic Income, and the results were good. I remember reading (though I can’t recall where) that the amount that poverty costs the state in terms of related health problems, desperation crime, benefits etc is far far less than what it would cost the state to just give people money. We live in a world where there is a bloke, the richest person in the world, and he could give every homeless person on the planet 100k USD and still be a millionaire (and there’s a petition here) Just take a moment to digest that. There exists a person who could single-handedly end homelessness and still be a millionaire. That is something that exists and is real. And people sort of just shrug. But try suggesting that maybe people should be given money because they are alive and they are people, and that fine, if this world is going to function on money then let’s distribute it, and watch people go red in the face telling you why that wouldn’t work and why it’s wrong and why, basically, certain people just deserve to suffer. Or watch people nod along right up to the point where they might have to do something. So it was a relief to read this book, to find something so enormously and simply counter to that attitude.

Rating: read this book – spin slowly through space.



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Book review: Under The Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

My brother and I grew up dreaming of new worlds.

This is a stunning, incredible, difficult book. Or at least, there were aspects of it that I found very difficult. And there was also a huge and incredible imagination at work, doing things that I hadn’t precisely seen before. There is also MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER MAJOR SPOILER a pretty big trigger warning for incest that I think is worth putting out there. It’s not rape, and there are some identity things going on in the book, but incest happens. END SPOILER END SPOILER END SPOILER.

So, the premise is that we are in an alternate Victorian era, and Catherine Helstone’s brother has gone on a mission to Arcadia, also known as Elphane or Faeryland. And she has not heard from him in long enough that she organises to follow him.

To be bluntly honest, I am enormously conflicted about this book. On the one hand, the writing is exquisite. The imagination of the world, the claustrophobia of the castle in Arcadia, the relentless feeling of creeping insanity, is all incredible. I loved the layering of the world, the little reveals, the attention to detail. In Arcadia, the sun is a lantern swinging across the sky and the moon is a fish. The weather is bought in from other places. The housekeeper is a Salamander, who prefers not to talk to anyone. The gardener is the only convert that has been made since missionaries reached the land of the fae, a gnome called Benjamin Goodfellow. And there is a changeling called Ariel Davenport, though she is clear that that was never her name precisely. Each chapter starts with an extract from a publication in the world that this is set in, and it is full of theology and strange and bizarre things. I could have spent happy hours just exploring the faeryland of Jeanette Ng’s imagination, and a lot of the characters in it.

And I enjoyed Catherine, mostly. She was an interesting, intelligent, and unreliable narrator. But the story… Well, it was very compelling, and I really wanted to know what would happen. What the Pale Queen, a cruel faery who looked perhaps like an owl or a moth, was planning and what she wanted. What was she planning for Laon (Catherine’s missionary brother). I wanted to know and then… Then I really really did not like where it went. Again, this part is going to be ENORMOUSLY SPOILER-FILLED. But incest. uuugggggghhhhhhhhhhhh yeuck. There was a sort of sense to it, and as a way of the Pale Queen constructing Laon’s downfall it made a sort of sense, especially with the identity issue that was going on at the time: the reveal that Catherine was a changeling (or thought she was). But but but but but there were way more interesting things going on in the plot: like, well, everything: What happened to the previous missionary? Who is the person writing in his journal? Why is there a second chapel in the garden? What did Catherine’s sister die of? What do the moths know and who is the woman in black and why does the tower door refuse to lock? I wanted to know these things. I really, really didn’t want Laon and Cathering to have sex. I wanted her to run away with the faeries covered in Enochian writing. I wanted her to find her own life and interests and not shag her brother. I just felt that there could have been a way out. Like, maybe that could have been a temptation or a possibility of it, but that something else could have happened?

And it sort of ties into this trend I have noticed in certain genres where women are only allowed to enjoy bad sex. Bad guilty sinful bad sex where everyone ends up feeling awful and terrible or maybe one of them is a creature of the evil bad night or someone is mute or it’s all just tragic and terrible and the rest of their life is going to be terrible and full of guilt and repentance and it would just be really nice to have some characters in a book have sex and enjoy it and not feel dreadful afterwards or find out that they are related.

Aside from that plot thing, I really loved the world and the writing, and I think I would cautiously read further writing by Jeanette Ng. I just really hope there’s no incest.

Rating: read this book. Feel terribly conflicted.


For anyone looking for fantasy with, yanno, a sex-positive attitude to women, I would personally recommend The Song of the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (Alanna: The First AdventureIn the Hands of the GoddessThe Woman Who Rides Like a Man and Lionness Rampant). Very different genre from this book, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind!

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Book review: A Natural History of Dragons – A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan wraparound cover

Not a day goes by that the post does not bring me at least one letter from a young person (or sometimes one not so young) who wishes to follow in my footsteps and become a dragon naturalist.

This was a surprising book. I didn’t really know what I was expecting from it, if much. It is written in the style of a memoir, so the narrative voice is that of an older woman (fifty?) recalling her youth, and it worked very well. Lady Trent is now known as the foremost expert on dragons, but this story is of her origins, back when she was merely Isabella. It charts her early interest in dragons (which was a source of great distress to her mother), and how she came to go on her first ever expedition to study them (having persuaded her husband).

What was striking about it was how solid the world felt. It was a fantasy world on the cusp of the industrial revolution, unusual in itself. There were many things that contributed to how real it felt – the fact that there were different interpretations of the imaginary religions, the precision of the descriptions, the absoluteness of the social mores, the presence of sciences and archaeology and differing cultures. And the dragons, which were rare and glorious creatures, being described through the eyes of a scientist in terms of bone structure and preserving their bodies. I liked Isabella, especially as the voice was that of her older self who was occasionally terribly embarrassed by her younger self but luckily had a good sense of humour. I grew very fond of her.

This was not a book that was quick in terms of plot. It didn’t grab me and pull me along. Rather, it grew on me and snuck up on me and then suddenly I realised I was absolutely invested in everything. Likewise, the emotions of the characters are at a remove caused by the narrative style; I found that they also snuck up on me until I was invested. A Natural History of Dragons proved to be a surprisingly unique treasure, and I intend to go to the library and dig out the rest of the series.

Rating: read this book, and preserve your dragon samples carefully!


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Book Review: Hopeless, Maine: Sinners by Tom and Nimue Brown

hopeless maine sinners cover shows woman standing in flying boatHello, traveller.

This review will contain spoilers for Hopeless, Maine: The Gathering which I have reviewed here. You have been warned! This is your final warning! Don’t go below this line unless you are okay with major spoilers for The Gathering!

We return to the island of Hopeless. Some time has passed. And Owen, who left the island at the end of The Gathering, returns. In the nature of these stories, he is now expected to have all the answers. Which he doesn’t, although he does have a nice earring and better hair.

This time around, there is something in the air of Hopeless. Perhaps it is getting into people’s heads, or perhaps people are simply very good at building their own hells. One of the wonderful things about the worldbuilding here is that it could be either, or both, and the story would still work. There is an inexplicable illness going round, and there are, maybe, vampires. There are things in the mist.

And there is Salamandra, living in her granfather’s lighthouse, stubbornly trying to figure out what to do now. She is still not a witch. There are still not a lot of options available. And things thought buried keep bubbling to the surface in a way that is both fantastical and wholly believable, while her and Owen struggle with, well, everything.

The art, as ever, is exquisite. All of the chapter title pages are plays on famous art pieces, and there is a series of pencil-coloured spreads in which a whole other story is taking place. I’ve read Sinners twice now, and re-read The Gathering, and I can say that it is always worth looking at the art for a while – there are generally things hidden in it.

Sinners has the same sense of bittersweet humour that was in The Gathering, and I found it very touching. I particularly enjoyed the sense that, although we are on a strange island in bizarre circumstances, the people are all very much people with hopes and dreams and fears (lots of those), who have histories, and who make terrible mistakes. And I had a great deal of fun picking up all the strings that ran through The Gathering and continue into Sinners. My only complaint is that, if you have eyesight that isn’t brilliant, the text is all a bit small.

Read this book: remember the sun…


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Also, for anybody confused about reading Hopeless Maine – there are multiple copies out and about. My understanding is that the series was published with Archaia, and that they published Personal Demons and Inheritance. The series then moved to Sloth Comics. Sloth comics published The Gathering, which includes the main story parts of Personal Demons and Inheritance as well as the Blind Fisherman prelude (which is really rather vital!), although it does not have the same extra tentacles as Personal Demons and Inheritance (information on the island’s famous families, for example). There are still copies of the Archaia versions floating around, but the writers don’t get any money from those any moreSinners (now published by Sloth) is technically volume two.

Also, a disclaimer, I know the authors. But I’m still reviewing honestly, because that’s my jam.

Book review: Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti The Night MAsquerade by Nnedi Okorafor

It started with a nightmare.

This book is so good! This whole trilogy is so good! You should definitely read all of them! Nnedi Okorafor is a genius. Because of the way in which this trilogy is structured, it is really very hard to review this book without dropping big spoilers for books one and two (reviewed by me here and here). So this is going to be a vague and excitable review, done partially in bulletpoints.

Things in this book:

  • Really interesting thoughts about aliens.
  • Binti. I love Binti.
  • What is home? Where is home?
  • Okwu. I also love Okwu.
  • Incredible narrative. Somehow sprawling despite being in this little little book, and covering so so much – historical narratives, war, prejudice, family, home, humanity, growing up, life, death…
  • Spaceship fish!
  • PTSD and coping with it.
  • Lots of maths, but in a good way (I struggle with maths).
  • Thoughts on peacemaking.
  • Read it!

Binti: The Night Masquerade was the perfect finale, and it took me by surprise! Had I made guesses at where this book was going to go, I would have been wrong. The Binti trilogy is a stunning piece of science-fiction/afrofuturism that has reshaped my expectations of science fiction writing.

Read this book: look out at the stars, and ask if they are looking back.


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